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Forms of assessment


The form of examination chosen for a given course must take several aspects into account. First of all, it must allow for reliable testing of academic objectives. This is important for the students’ learning process, for their legal protection and for quality assurance of study programmes vis-à-vis the outside world. 

What teachers should know about forms of examination 

The form of examination is set by academic regulations/the course catalogue and cannot be changed without approval by the board of studies. Consequently, like the academic objectives, the form of examination constitutes a framework for planning and delivering teaching. 

The teacher may give students an opportunity to practise throughout the course, for example by means of formative assessment of teaching activities that reflect elements of the final exam. This could be by training students’ oral skills if the course ends with an oral exam. 

If you are unsure about how you can work with a given form of examination, please contact the relevant faculty coordinators at CED

Exam design

Teachers need to make a number of practical-didactic choices based on the form of examination defined by the academic regulations. 

  • First of all, you need to make sure the exam is designed and conducted so as to enable assessment of the student's performance in relation to the academic objectives. If one of the objectives in the academic regulations is that the student should be able to assess the reliability of a scientific statement, the exam questions should not solely invite answers that require students to give an account of something. Thus, the important question you need to ask yourself is: Can all academic objectives be tested with the selected exam design? 

  • Furthermore, you need to consider the content focus of the exam design. Which questions, topics, cases or issues are best suited to test a given academic objective? 

  • Finally, you need to make sure that the specific exam design is possible within the framework set by the academic regulations. Thus, the important question you need to ask yourself is: Is the exam design possible within the given framework? 

To support the students’ learning process, it is important that the teaching activities  on the course support the academic objectives and students’ learning while keeping the final exam in mind (alignment). Moreover, when planning teaching activities for students, it is a good idea to use the academic objectives as a basis for feedback on various assignments or products. 

The potentials of different forms of examination

The sections below divide forms of examination into four categories, each with specialised sub-categories. These different methods for testing students have different advantages and disadvantages, and include the possibility for very different forms of learning and assessing performances. They can test different forms of knowledge, skills and competences, and can support specific study strategies. To create a good exam design within the form of examination set by the academic regulations, it may be useful to know about the potentials and limitations of the different forms of examination. Click the headings below to expand content on the four main categories and to read about the potential advantages and disadvantages and examples of sub-categories. 

Written exams

In written exams, students are given a list of questions and/or problems that they must answer/solve in writing. The length of the written paper can vary. Written exams involve fewer costs and require less planning than oral exams because students either administer the time themselves, or they all attend the same on-site exam during an allocated period of time. 

Since the examiner, co-examiner/external examiner and student are separated in terms of time and place, it is not possible to ask follow-up questions about the student's exam paper. Therefore, a clear assignment description is crucial to avoid misunderstandings. 

Written exams can be suitable to tests students’ knowledge and some types of skills. In written exams, students can report work at all taxonomic levels, but it will be difficult for them to demonstrate physical and creative skills and competences. 


  • Set take-home assignments and take-home assignment on a topic of the student’s choice 

  • Written on-site exams 

Oral exams

Oral exams involve the student's oral response to exam questions or assignments. They may or may not include preparation time, and aids may be permitted to varying degrees. Oral exams give the examiner and the examinee the opportunity to have a conversation or discussion about a given topic. They thereby allow for follow-up questions and for adapting the examination to test the student in the best possible way. 

In oral exams, the examiner has a special role, and as an examiner, you should consider your communication during oral exams. For example, consider the following: 

  • Give students a chance to demonstrate their abilities and knowledge in relation to the academic objectives. 

  • Make students feel comfortable at the start of the examination by asking questions at lower taxonomic levels. 

  • Ask relatively short questions and give the student time to think so the student gets as much speaking time as possible and so that the examiner will not end up "lecturing" during the exam. 

As mentioned above, oral exams may include preparation time, and if the student draws a question, the exam may involve a certain degree of chance. A high degree of chance and short preparation time encourages students to memorize as much of the material on the syllabus as possible. Conversely, an oral exam with good preparation time allows students to go into depth with a single topic and gives them a chance to demonstrate their abilities at higher taxonomic levels. 


  • Oral exam with or without preparation time after drawing an exam question 

  • Oral exam based on a synopsis (combination of written and oral exam) 

Practical exams

Practical exams used primarily to test practical skills. 

When students perform practical tasks, their skills and competences become easier to assess, and the design of the practical exam can provide a very specific framework for the assessment that makes it clear to the examiner as well as the student whether the exam was successful and to what extent. 

Practical exams can be difficult to plan and conduct because certain circumstances and technologies are often required for the exam. Consequently, practical exams can be more demanding in terms of logistic than both oral and written exams. 


  • Clinical exam, also known as OSCE (Objective Structure Clinical Examination) 

  • Choir conductorship exam 

  • Practical test of physical skills 

Combined forms of examination

The purpose of combined forms of examination is to provide a broader basis for assessment. The aim is to exploit the advantages of several different forms of examination, while eliminating some of the disadvantages and blind spots that may exist when choosing a single form of examination. 


  • Written synopsis combined with an oral defence 

  • Oral defence of any practical or written product 

Teachers should ask themselves the following questions:

In relation to planning your teaching: 

  • Focus on alignment between learning outcomes, forms of assessment and teaching activities when planning your course to ensure a better match between what is being tested at the exam and what students learn on the course. 

  • Familiarise yourself with the official guidelines and regulations relevant to your course, faculty or university. 

If you are involved in work on academic regulations: 

  • Does the form of examination contribute to variation across courses? 

  • Does the form of examination benefit students’ commitment and learning, and does it allow you to provide adequate formative feedback

  • Are there any practical issues to consider, for example time, place and available resources? 


    Examples of practice

      Further reading

      Carless, D., 2015. Excellence in University Assessment. Routledge. London


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