Special Section Spring Finals Edition

Oral finals, one of UH’s most unique exams, face changes

The Honors College hosts one of the most unique finals at the University, the oral finals, as part of their required the Human Situation course sequence.

The Honors College hosts one of the most unique finals at the University, the oral finals, as part of their required the Human Situation course sequence. | Michael Slaten/The Cougar

The oral finals, part of The Human Situation course inside the Honors College, that have been conducted every fall and spring semester for more than a decade and represent one of the most unique finals at UH are changing.

Instead of a 20-minute one-on-one discussion with a discussion professor, the oral finals will now be a panel format. Three students will meet with one professor for a 45-minute oral final.

“We’ve lengthened the exam from 20 minutes to 45 minutes to allow for deeper, more nuanced conversations to unfold,” said Human Situation professor Jesse Rainbow. “The small group format allows us to do that in the available time and creates a socially and intellectually more complex setting that mirrors the work students have been doing during the semester in their discussion classes and in study groups.”

The Human Situation is a 10 credit hour sequence course where students read and discuss a lengthy list of books every semester, such as Shakespeare and John Milton, and the class ends with an oral final. The class has been around for 40 years.

“The oral final is something of a rite of passage among Honors College students, and I think that if you asked any Human Sit professor, you would find that it is one of the elements of our course that we are most proud of,” said Rainbow, a leader of the college’s omega section.

The class is broken up into two sections of about 250 students each, alpha and omega. Students attend two weekly lectures with their large section. The large sections then break down into small group classes of about 15-20 students for discussion over the current class readings and past lectures with a discussion professor.

Traditionally, the oral finals are a 20-minute discussion with a professor the student did not have class with that semester. The topics in the oral finals can be wide-ranging based on the student and professor. Generally, most oral finals will discuss every book read in the semester to determine students’ depth of knowledge on each book.

Exploratory studies freshman Eryc Perez said the new panel format could help keep the oral finals moving along, since it isn’t reliant on one student talking for an extended period of time. He said the oral finals are unique, and how much time students dedicated to the course throughout the semester dictates how difficult it will be for them.

“You have to present yourself professionally and be respectful, so this final is actually great practice for job interviews,” Perez said.

Perez said he is preparing by practicing with other classmates by simulating what a professor might ask them. He said he tries to prepare a summary of each book read in the semester.

The Human Situation course was started in 1977 by Honor College Founding Dean Ted Estess and UH professor Stephen Langfur, Rainbow said. He said he’s made enduring friendships with students off a 20-minute final.

“Walking across campus, I often run into students whose names and faces are familiar, but I can’t quite remember why,” Rainbow said. “More often than not, when I ask ‘How do we know each other?’ it turns out they had me for an oral final.”


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