Because life is a series of edits

On the Oral Exam

In Thought on May 15, 2006 at 1:16 pm

Learner and I are sitting in the student center, as he has just finished his last exam (Gospels – somewhat tough, but fair, and certainly not as difficult as the mid-term). It’s as hard to believe for him as it is for me – as of this morning, he has completed (successfully, no less) his first year of seminary. It’s a nice moment.

While the Gospels exam this morning was the more traditional written kind, one of the more novel experiences Learner has had in his first year of seminary is preparing for and “taking” oral exams, which the remainder two finals this past week were.

The routine goes something like this: two weeks before exam time, the professor(s) hand out a sheet of paper of approximately 15 questions, the topic of each could easily be made into a book or commentary series. With so much material to cover, students typically organize (reluctantly, at least for Learner) themselves into study groups, in which the questions are researched, answered (in theory), and then shared with the rest of the group.

For each test, Learner has been fortunate to have been included in study groups that have numbered 15 different students; thus, the labor of arriving at answers is significantly diffused. However, if the members of the group slack off (or worse, enjoy listening to themselves write, which is both annoying and immature), the model breaks down fairly quickly, people get frustrated, and a lot more work is required before one can begin cramming answers and anagrams into one’s head.

Once the complete study guide is assembled (usually numbering anywhere from 25-50 pages, depending on the thoroughness of the group), Learner’s process is to then read through it all and highlight what might seem pertinent (which, depending on if someone did a “data dump” cut and paste, can be a lot of work). He then makes his own handwritten outlines and notes to try to consolidate even more that which he has determined is important, and in so doing (as well as by way of random readings and re-readings preferably more than the night before) tries to remember some of what he wrote down.

His process seems to work well as the results seem to evidence: 94 on his Apologetics & Outreach exam; 93 on his Covenant Theology exam (the other nice thing about oral exams is you find out your grade on the spot). With major papers still out in both classes, his final grade is unknown, but with any kind of comparable score to his tests, he should walk away with A’s in both, which would be great (and different from his Gospels grade, which most certainly will be in the B range). His other two classes – Elementary Homiletics and God & Humanity – are both borderline A/B, depending how the percentages (which he never understands) work out, so all in all, he’s pleased.

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