Oral Exams

One of the biggest differences we have from studying in Europe is how they grade you. Unlike in the North American system where most of your college grade depends on one big 3-hour exam written after the course, here it can depend on 10 minutes. That is what they call an oral exam: ten minutes in front of the professor and he can ask you any question that relates to the course material.

One professor always takes the exam to the point that you don’t know, and hence has a reputation. (Personally, I think it’s unjust for the most part as taking the argument to the point the student no longer knows the answer seems a fair way of judging if he knows the material.) Last semester I had an exam with him and I studied well so he had to push me to one name that he mentioned once in passing during class. I figure I succeeded.

For this semester, I logged some serious study hours, reading a text (fortunately in English) while studying class notes and making it all into some kind of map that my mind could understand; I struggled and sweated to learn it all but then in the moment, well…

Arriving early, I began reading C. S. Lewis’s Perelandra, which is a usual strategy to calm my mind. I entered to receive 20 minutes to prepare an outline on part of the course form the Old Testament before the oral exam proper. I sat down I started an outline, although I could have presented right away. I added 4 options for a conclusion so I could move to another section I knew well, thus avoiding tricky questions.

I was called, and I began explaining my outline which seemed to go well, citing verses and explaining them. Then, I was approaching the end and deciding whether I should use the conclusion that will burn most time or get most brownie points, he asked.

The question was simple, I knew I should know it, but where was it in my outline. Struggling, searching, digging delving, prying my mental map here and there, I couldn’t find the answer. He got up from his chair and peered out the window mentioning that he went over this more than once. Well, this is close, so maybe it will work. No! Well, what about this other part?

After that he switched topics and I easily responded to his other question. So I left, made a quick visit to the chapel and went back to the house. But here’s the worst part of it, as I left the Athenaeum, 4 minutes after the exam, it all came back to me – I had been searching in Ohio when what I needed was in Kansas.

I know he is just and I figured I still got a pretty decent mark. I think this is God’s plan to keep me humble – something far beyond a theology grade. Christ decided to press this point home by having my meditation the day after pre-programmed as the New Testament vision this exact point.

About Fr Matthew P. Schneider, LC

In 2001, I traveled from Calgary, Canada to join the Legion. Since then I’ve been all over North America and spent some time in Rome. I currently reside in Washington doing a bunch of writing and taking care of the community while studying my Licentiate in Theology (between Masters and Doctorate). I’m most well-known on Instagram and Twitter where I have about 6,500 and 40,000 followers respectively.
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