The Oral Exam

Learning for Mastery and Appreciating It


  • Shylaja Akkaraju CUNY Bronx Community College



oral exams, mastery learning, threshold concepts, deliberate practice, pedagogy of care


To reduce academic dishonesty and strengthen learning outcomes, I adopted in-depth oral examinations as my benchmark and summative assessments in a Human Anatomy & Physiology course taught in an online asynchronous setting. This decision led my students and me down the transformative path of mastery learning. This was a threshold experience for my students who were learning how to think and express themselves as physiologists. This was also a threshold experience for me as I explored the scope of the oral examination in promoting skill acquisition while nurturing a relationship-rich learning environment. By employing deliberate practice principles including basic drills, one-on-one weekly check-ins, and small group recitation sessions, students exceeded benchmarks for conceptual understanding, mastery of fundamentals, and application of concepts to clinical scenarios. Students consistently reported that they were happy within this learning environment. With meticulous planning, it is possible to motivate students to learn for mastery and acquire expertise by employing oral exams as the pivotal assessment strategy in an online course thereby also making academic dishonesty almost irrelevant.