Teaching & Learning


Oral assessment

Oral assessment is a common practice across education and comes in many forms. Here is basic guidance on how to approach it.

The words Teaching toolkits ucl arena centre on a blue background

1 August 2019

In oral assessment, students speak to provide evidence of their learning. Internationally, oral examinations are commonplace. 

We use a wide variety of oral assessment techniques at UCL.

Students can be asked to: 

  • present posters
  • use presentation software such as Power Point or Prezi
  • perform in a debate
  • present a case
  • answer questions from teachers or their peers.

Students’ knowledge and skills are explored through dialogue with examiners.

Teachers at UCL recommend oral examinations, because they provide students with the scope to demonstrate their detailed understanding of course knowledge.

Educational benefits for your students

Good assessment practice gives students the opportunity to demonstrate learning in different ways. 

Some students find it difficult to write so they do better in oral assessments. Others may find it challenging to present their ideas to a group of people.  

Oral assessment takes account of diversity and enables students to develop verbal communication skills that will be valuable in their future careers.  

Marking criteria and guides can be carefully developed so that assessment processes can be quick, simple and transparent. 

How to organise oral assessment

Oral assessment can take many forms.

Audio and/or video recordings can be uploaded to Moodle if live assessment is not practicable.

Tasks can range from individual or group talks and presentations to dialogic oral examinations.

Oral assessment works well as a basis for feedback to students and/or to generate marks towards final results.

1. Consider the learning you're aiming to assess 

How can you best offer students the opportunity to demonstrate that learning?

The planning process needs to start early because students must know about and practise the assessment tasks you design.

2. Inform the students of the criteria

Discuss the assessment criteria with students, ensuring that you include (but don’t overemphasise) presentation or speaking skills.

Identify activities which encourage the application or analysis of knowledge. You could choose from the options below or devise a task with a practical element adapted to learning in your discipline.

3. Decide what kind of oral assessment to use

Options for oral assessment can include:

Assessment task

  • Presentation
  • Talk
  • Debate
  • Role-play
  • Interview
  • Dialogue
  • Question and answer session.

Individual or group

If group, how will you distribute the tasks and the marks?

Combination with other modes of assessment

  • Oral presentation of a project report or dissertation.
  • Oral presentation of posters, diagrams, or museum objects.
  • Commentary on a practical exercise.
  • Questions to follow up written tests, examinations, or essays.

Decide on the weighting of the different assessment tasks and clarify how the assessment criteria will be applied to each.

Peer or staff assessment or a combination: groups of students can assess other groups or individuals.

4. Brief your students

When you’ve decided which options to use, provide students with detailed information.

Integrate opportunities to develop the skills needed for oral assessment progressively as students learn.

If you can involve students in formulating assessment criteria, they will be motivated and engaged and they will gain insight into what is required, especially if examples are used.

5. Planning, planning planning!

Plan the oral assessment event meticulously.

Stick rigidly to planned timing. Ensure that students practise presentations with time limitations in mind. Allow time between presentations or interviews and keep presentations brief.  

6. Decide how you will evaluate

Decide how you will evaluate presentations or students’ responses.

It is useful to create an assessment sheet with a grid or table using the relevant assessment criteria.

Focus on core learning outcomes, avoiding detail.

Two assessors must be present to:

  • evaluate against a range of specific core criteria
  • focus on forming a holistic judgment.

Leave time to make a final decision on marks perhaps after every four presentations. Refer to audio recordings later for borderline cases. 

7. Use peers to assess presentations

Students will learn from presentations especially if you can use ‘audio/video recall’ for feedback.

Let speakers talk through aspects of the presentation, pointing out areas they might develop. Then discuss your evaluation with them. This can also be done in peer groups.

If you have large groups of students, they can support each other, each providing feedback to several peers. They can use the same assessment sheets as teachers. Marks can also be awarded for feedback.

8. Use peer review

A great advantage of oral assessment is that learning can be shared and peer reviewed, in line with academic practice.

There are many variants on the theme so why not let your students benefit from this underused form of assessment?

This guide has been produced by the UCL Arena Centre for Research-based Education. You are welcome to use this guide if you are from another educational facility, but you must credit the UCL Arena Centre.