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Improving oral assessment implementation
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Improving oral assessment implementation

Research 5 minute read

Oral examinations are a common feature of higher education and professional training and certification, used to assess higher order competencies such as critical reasoning and professional behaviour.

While oral assessments are valued for their perceived authenticity, flexibility and interactive format, their value can be compromised through inconsistent implementation, particularly of examiner questioning or prompting of candidates.

ACER’s work with specialist medical training colleges has revealed considerable uncertainty among examiners about what kind of prompting practices are permissible. To address this, we have published a guide to the different forms of prompting available to examiners and their potential effects on candidates, and principles for practice in the Journal of Medical Education and Curricular Development.

The guide is applicable to a wide variety of oral assessment contexts, beyond specialist medical training. And with current global conditions leading many oral assessments to be conducted virtually, clarity around what prompting means and principles for practice are highly important.

Types of prompting

The term ‘prompting’ may refer to any of the five following activities:

  • presenting the task using specific wording on a script
  • repeating information, either by rephrasing the original prompt or re-directing the candidate back to the original prompt
  • clarifying questions that ask the candidate to be more specific
  • probing questions that seek to ascertain how well the candidate understands the specific piece of knowledge
  • leading questions that search for an alternative response.

The first type of prompting is the minimum level of interaction from the examiner and the most neutral form of prompting. The next three types of prompting may be useful, depending on the assessment context. The final type of prompting threatens the validity of the assessment result and is rightly discouraged in most high-stakes assessment contexts.

Guiding principles

The appropriateness of different forms of prompting depends on the purpose of the specific assessment. This should be clear and well understood by all stakeholders. For example, if the assessment context is a high-stakes examination, prompting beyond mere repeating information or clarifying information may be outlawed by assessment leaders. If the assessment context is lower-stakes and primarily used as a learning opportunity for candidates, more probing questions may be highly useful.

Six guiding principles for prompting practice:

  • Strive to be neutral in interactions with the candidate
  • Use prompting in a consistent way for all candidates
  • Be clear and transparent about the required forms of prompting
  • Ensure assessors are adequately trained in prompting techniques
  • Ensure candidates are adequately briefed on prompting expectations
  • Encourage ongoing reflection in prompting practice.

Regardless of the assessment context, better understanding the role of prompting and the different ways of implementing it will improve the validity of its use. ■

Read the full article:
‘Prompting Candidates in Oral Assessment Contexts: A Taxonomy and Guiding Principles’, by Jacob Pearce and Neville Chiavaroli, Journal of Medical Education and Curricular Development, Volume 7: 1-4 (2020).

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