Long before Spencer Nelson ’16 took physical chemistry, he knew about the class’s reputation.
Not only is the senior-level course challenging, it’s also one of a few courses at Concordia that require students to take oral examinations.
Dr. Darin Ulness, who teaches the course, initially gave oral exams so students would experience a common graduate school format. As the examiner, he asks questions that the student then answers in spoken form.
But Ulness found the format had value beyond preparing students for graduate school.
“It’s important for a person who’s going to be a leader, like our Cobbers, to be in a situation where they might be in front of someone who knows a little bit more (than they do) and still be able to talk confidently,” he says. “It’s more of a preparation for the challenges they’ll have as a professional and in life.”
Ulness assigns three oral exams each semester. The exams don’t weigh heavily in the final course grade, but their value goes well beyond the end of the class.
Marlee Morton ’16 was nervous the first time she met face to face with Ulness for the exam, but she became more at ease as the semester went on.
“You had to learn how you were going to explain a concept, to articulate what he had taught you,” she says. “That’s an important skill.”
Nelson, too, says it was challenging to recall information in a pressure situation where it’s just the student and the professor.
“It offers you a greater opportunity to learn,” he says. “It’s not just a test. It’s more of a conversation about the material you’ve learned in class. That’s a skill you can translate to any business.”
Video by Evan Balko
Erin Hemme Froslie '96 is a freelance writer and editor.