Can oral tests improve presentation skills?

Andrew:The majority of our students are unable to convey an idea. They don’t have the skill or ability to explain an idea clearly and thoroughly to an audience. I think schools should introduce oral exams [a viva voce test] to help students improve their oral skills. The sooner it is done the better.

Catherine:Don’t you realise that students and teachers already have too much on their plates? They’re too busy! Can’t you understand that it is not practical at all to have a viva voce exam in secondary schools because of the syllabus and the teaching materials?

Andrew: I think our secondary students are excellent in absorbing knowledge. But they have a problem trying to present the knowledge they have acquired. An oral exam can force students to process their knowledge and then present it in a logical manner.

Catherine: A viva voce exam is usually conducted in university where a student has to explain his or her thesis. In a secondary school, all students follow the same syllabus so what’s the purpose of such a test?

Andrew: You are missing the point. The aim of the oral exam is not only about correct answers, but also the way the answers are given. And I think such a system will be ideal for Liberal Studies where students are asked to present their findings and ideas in an interesting way. It can be done!

Catherine: When you have 30-plus students in a class and all have the same syllabus and model answers, I don’t think an oral exam is a good idea at all. But schools and teachers try to find a way forward.

Key arguments (Andrew)

1. An oral exam helps students with presentation skills.

2. Students would benefit more from an oral exam than a written one.

Key arguments (Catherine)

1. It is impractical to conduct a viva voce exam in secondary schools.

2. Teachers do not have the time to conduct such an exam for every student.


1. Who do you think was more convincing in this imaginary conversation? Andrew or Catherine?

2. What does the term ‘soft skill’ mean to you?

3. “Most students do not have adequate soft skills.” Do you agree?

Did you know?

Viva voce is a Latin phrase literally meaning ‘by word of mouth’. A viva voce exam is an oral one on a given subject. The candidate answers questions posed by the examiners.

The purpose of viva exams is to make sure the candidate understands whatever has been learned and is able to communicate properly with the examiner to show that he or she has a firm grasp of the subject and is able to defend the findings. One big difference between a viva and a written exam is that the candidate has to respond instantly to the examiners in a convincing manner. This makes the nature of the exam much more challenging to the candidate.


exam 考試
oral exam 口試
syllabus 課程大綱
model answers 模擬答案
quiz 問答
knowledge 學問