Students’ preparatory processes and conceptions of oral exams in upper-secondary Danish high schools

Submitted by: Julie Marie Isager
Abstract: Introduction
The presentation is an in-progress part of a ph.d. project - an ethnographically inspired exploratory investigation of students' preparatory processes, their expectations and conceptions of high stakes oral exams in their final year of study in the Danish general upper secondary school advanced level - gymnasium. Theoretical inspiration spring from the tradition of rhetoric.
In May the Danish ministry will decide which two or three disciplines each student is to attend shortly before the exam season in June. Oral exam formats differ depending on the school subject, but usually students present and discuss with examiners for 20 minutes.

Research questions: How do students perceive the oral exam situation and its criteria? How do students act to be prepared and how do they explain these actions? Which materials and interactions inspire the perceived criteria and preparatory processes?

Methods & Data: In my fieldwork I followed four case-students age 18-20 in three classrooms in two schools for five months in the spring semester 2018 preparing for their oral exams. The four students attended a total of 10 disciplines taught by 18 teachers. Materials are fieldnotes, audio-recorded observations of teaching, observation of oral exams, interviews (with 15 students), students’ notebooks, social media-interactions between students ect.

Analysis will focus on two case-students’ trails in preparing for the exam to illustrate details, timing and social contexts for their understandings of the criteria and actions. Theoretical interests (for now) are concepts of rhetorical invention and construction of universal audiences.

Tentative results and significance: At the present analytical stage, it seems that written notes play a particularly important part in students’ preparatory processes. Written notes are organized, consulted, produced, evaluated, and shared. Students analyze the situational features of the oral assessment situation in painstaking detail. The ethnographically inspired study amongst students will (hopefully) be able to illuminate students’ perceptions on a very sensitive topic that would be hard for an insider to gain access to because of the complicated social dynamics in classrooms and assessment regimes.

Key words: Oral exam, case study, rhetoric, invention, students’ perspective


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