ses serving each purpose: An initial phase, a central phase, and a final phase. The phases are not equally long. At a 20-minute oral exam, time must be deducted for discussion, feedback, and students getting in and out of the exam room, which means that the time for the actual exam is reduced to about 15 minutes. The 15 minutes could be distributed as follows: Start 3 minutes, central phase 9 minutes, and final phase 3 minutes. You have to be aware, – timekeeping is essential, and all students are supposed to spend the same amount of time in the exam room.
In the initial phase, the most important element is to play down the situation. Many students are unduly nervous, and the intention is not to have them perform under extreme conditions. It will thus often be useful to start by asking general, broad questions or, by means of a question or an invitation, just allow the student to begin. Some exam descriptions or degree regulations provide that the student should start by giving a presentation of a given duration.
Students tend to perceive specific questions as very tough questions that they risk answering incorrectly, and general questions as soft questions they can talk themselves out of by being evasive. However, answers to general questions are just as indicative of what the students know or do not know as specific, narrow questions.
In the central phase, the examination should normally deal with the topics the student wants to talk about as well as other themes. This means that the examiner must be able to move the student from the “home ground” to the ”away ground”. In order to make the examination proceed smoothly, the examiner may benefit from having written down a number of questions in advance. The written questions must not, however, have the effect that the examiner is so focused on asking all the questions that he or she neglects to ask elaborating questions. Elaborating questions are vitally important to allow the examiner to find the limits of a student’s performance. However, elaborating questions are often used to a different end, namely as a tool to emphasize the student’s performance. If elaborating questions are to serve as an assessment tool (as indeed they are), the following principle must be adhered to: If you get good answers, increase the complexity of your questions. If you get poor answers, lower the complexity. Experience shows that many examiners do the opposite.
In the final phase, a suitable tool to get the best conditions for assessment is to ask the student if there are themes that have not been touched upon in the exam, but which he or she finds important. If there are, it is an excellent opportunity to discuss one of the themes. At the same time, it gives the student the opportunity to demonstrate his or her general knowledge and overview of the issue.