Implement oral exams

Jade Harris, Assistant Opinion Editor

As departments struggle to find a solution to ChatGPT’s threats to student integrity, the school’s curriculum continues to pull students towards written, in-class exams. Even though in-class exams have assessed students’ capabilities for years at the school and remain a crucial pedagogical tool, other efficient methods have become more effective. It’s time the school shifts towards a method that better addresses the growing concern of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and better prepares students for their future: oral exams.

Oral exams already have had a successful track record, especially in European schools; countries like ItalyGermany, and France have long had oral exams as a part of their schooling curriculum. That being said, oral exams have also become prevalent in the United States, with the Ivy League and a variety of other top colleges like the University of Chicago implementing presentations and discussion-based exams.

Oral exams are intrinsically more valuable because of their application to a variety of jobs. They prepare students for future interviews, presentations and public speaking, requiring them to draw from a multitude of ideas and sources; these are all critical skills that remain underdeveloped when using the generic examination structure. Students may never take finals in the gym in the real world, but they will always need the ability to communicate with people and host meetings.

A massive benefit of oral exams comes with the recent development of ChatGPT. Fearful that students will use it to cheat on take-home assignments, the school is trying to compensate for any Honor Code violations by using more in-class essays. While that can be a viable solution, shifting to oral exams will make it nearly impossible to cheat.

Students cannot consult a computer and use ChatGPT while in a room of proctors, and because of how teachers can vary the questions regarding the topics, students must have broad conceptual knowledge of their readings and assignments in order to properly prepare. Oral exams therefore maintain the benefits of typical in-class exams, as it is difficult for students to slack off on homework assignments, since they aren’t sure when this information might pop up on an oral exam.

Even if students use ChatGPT when preparing for oral exams, the nature of these exams forces students to come up with answers on the spot, prompting more critical thinking and scholarly conversation. Students must have a full grasp of the topic in order to respond beyond what an AI can produce, so students using ChatGPT to prepare doesn’t serve nearly as much of a threat in comparison to a take-home essay.

According to the New York Post, some college professors have advocated for impromptu oral exams to catch students off guard, where they cannot utilize pre-written AI responses; while this could solve the cheating issue with AI, it could also cause significantly more anxiety among the student body. One could argue that even announced oral exams would create more anxiety than an in-class essay; however, many of the school’s classes already have a built-in participation requirement. Additionally, it’s better for students to mess up in high school, where teachers are more sympathetic to any public speaking errors, than in a job, college or internship interview.

The school can utilize oral exams in our history and world language courses through one-on-one questioning, debate, discussion or practice dialogues. They have already been incredibly successful in preparing students for Advanced Placement (AP) Language classes and for boosting student confidence. According to the school’s 2022-2023 profile, the majority of students get 5’s and 4’s on their foreign language AP exams, and most exams require multiple oral presentations.

For other classes, however, the implementation would be more difficult, such as in literary analysis in English classes and coding projects in computer science. Even though oral exams cannot replace the value of written exams in these classes, they still serve as useful tools. For students who aspire to be software engineers, one notorious obstacle during job interviews is that applicants must solve a problem in front of the interviewer. Oral exams would offer students the ability to practice these skills in a lower-stakes environment.

Although oral exams are not perfect, we shouldn’t be locked into believing that in-class written assignments are our only options — instead, we should acknowledge the merits that oral exams have in comparison and how they can open up new opportunities for students without jeopardizing the school’s commitment to rigor.