News - February 9, 2017

Column: Oral exam

Stijn van Gils

She stares ahead of her with a frown. I smile at her. She smiles back. That is: she regards me with a mixture of panic, concentration and a hint of a smile. In her sweaty hands she holds a file with her PowerPoint and her Master’s thesis. The result of months of hard slog. ‘Shall we?’ I ask gently.

We walk to the classroom where she is to give her presentation, followed immediately by her oral examination. I pity her and count myself lucky that I don’t have to go through this ever again. I can just relax. All I need to do is ask a searching question, and then sign. What luxury.

The room fills up slowly. The panic on her face gives way to a nervous smile. I look around me anxiously. I see the slides I helped her with and realize I am powerless now. I can’t help with anything else. And there is no need to: she’s doing great.

Then the oral examination begins. The examiner leafs through her thesis and asks a critical question about a careless error. Shit, I think: I could have spotted that. Should have spotted it. Another error is pointed out. I’m annoyed. Wait: let me ask a question that she can answer very sharply, and then everything will be alright.

‘Errrr…’, she stammers.

She passes, with a fair result but it could have been better. I stare ahead of me with a frown. I should have checked her work better, I should have been sharper. Then she would undoubtedly have got a higher grade. I leave the corridor head bowed. I sigh. Which of us was really being examined here, actually?