Types of examinations: A brief overview


Written oral and practical types of examination

There are many types of examination. The form of an examination depends on the purpose, for which it is intended, the nature of the subject matter be tested and the age and status of the examinee.

A written examination determines, primarily, whether or not a candidate has remembered a special body of knowledge or to ascertain how far can he organize and apply his knowledge.

In a way written examinations are unlikely either to enable candidates to exhibit their knowledge and abilities in their entirety or to disclose all their deficiencies.

An oral examination conducted, conducted with skill, sometimes makes it possible for a candidate who has fared badly in a written examination to convince the examiners that he possesses ability and knowledge that his written answers did not make apparent.

On the other hand, many a candidate, who has performed creditably in a written examination, had his inadequacies exposed by an oral examination. Oral examinations are also used to measure skills which cannot be assessed with written examinations. In a modern examination, for example, it is important to assess not only a person’s ability to write and to translate the language but also his ability to use it in conversation.

Practical examinations bring out an individual performance when he is confronted with a concrete task. A candidate may well be able to show in a written examination that he understands a subject or topic, for example, the principles of radio transmission. A practical examination will tell whether he is also capable of locating faults in a receiver.

In some subjects examination may involve the use of written oral and practical examinations. In the natural sciences, for example, all the three methods of examinations are appropriate.

The form of examination which suits most for particular purpose can best be determined by empirical methods, the technique of follow-up study has been used to gauge the efficiency of a member of examination by the recording of their results and by observation of the subsequent careers of the candidates.

Essay types of examination

These are the most familiar types of written examination. It consists of a relatively small number of questions to which, particularly from advanced students, answers of fairly substantial lengths, written in the form of essays, are required. In assessing these, the examiner inevitably exercises a certain amount of subjective judgment. Answers of this kind cannot be assessed as wholly right or wrong.

They are generally awarded marks according to the extent to which the examiners considers that the candidate has introduced all the relevant facts or arguments or a sufficient number of them. The candidates ability to write with clarity and precision, or ever with what the examiner regards as a pleasing style, may also affect the results.

In essay type of examination, application or explanation of facts or principles is required, as for example, “describe the written policies in Middle East”, “describe the solar system”, “discuss foreign policy of Pakistan” etc. In case of essay type questions before writing and answer one should made all the questions thoroughly deciding exactly what each calls for and what it does not calls for.

An attempt should be made to grasp the scope of each question and of the examination as a whole. Before writing any answer, it is very often much helpful if one could note, on a rough sheet, salient brief points which his reply should contain. It will go a long way in making a reply clear and more complete. Irrelevant replies, besides wasting precious time, create adverse affect on mind of the examiner.

A candidate in geography included an irrelevant story of a fish covering some four pages in his answer to question which required a short note on Gawadar Port. The examiner was kind enough to grant two marks for his having used too much ink and his precious time.

Clearness and accuracy

In the writing of an examination one should try for accuracy and clearness, because, they pay much. Sometimes a casual bit of humor or not an apt comparison or an occasional genuinely penetrating remarks, can go in his favor.

If in an answer to a question or questions, one can be quite interesting and creates impressions on examiner, he stands a good chance of securing the highest position. But it all requires great tact and relevancy.

Gross misspelling, badly deformed sentences and grammatical mistakes are likely to give the examiner a bad impression. A good and accurate expression is very essential in securing a high position.

Planning the answer

It is very important to arrange the material to be included in your answer as also the time to be spent. If one does not organize his answer it will lead him to serious difficulties. He would not be able to emphasize important points.

His verbose discussion will ramble all around the subject without making any part of it clear. Moreover, he will devote much of his time and space to one or two possibly unimportant details and will be compelled to omit or tackle insufficiently more essential points. A plenty of material jumbled up with a reply fails to get good marks.


It is no use trying to bluff an examiner. If one positively does not know the answer to a question it is wiser to admit his ignorance by omitting to answer it wrongly.

Irrelevant and lengthy introductions are useless. One should begin either with a topic sentence, summarizing his main points or with one of the main points themselves. It prevents him from staying from the subject. It has the advantage of making clear the chief idea which his answer is to express.

In discussing controversial subjects it is necessary to show all sides of them. If authorities can be cited as relevant it is much paying.

Every examination is planned to a definite length of time. The candidate who utilizes all or most of the allotted time is usually more successful than the one who dashes hurriedly through his papers and leaves the examination hall when most of the candidates are just reckoning time half way mark of the examination. The entire time should be utilized.

A candidate answer to a question should reveal that he has adequate knowledge of the facts, the theories or whatever other information is required. It should also reveal that he sees the external and internal relationships of the various parts of information he is presenting.

His ability to separate relevant from irrelevant material should be apparent. It should show that he has the ability to present material in an orderly manner and that he can emphasize those parts which need emphasizes.

Observing convention of good composition, giving the answer a proper, tidy get-up with suitable margin, attractive handwriting, suitable headings and paragraphs, proper length of answers, attempting the required full number of questions etc, all go to secure good results.


Essay type examinations are criticized as having a number of inadequacies and limitations in them. Critics maintain that the results of these examinations can be shown to be unreliable in that they depend to a large extend on the subjective judgment of the examiners.

It has been demonstrated that the marks awarded, to the same paper by different examiners vary significantly, and a given examiner, when invited to assess the same paper on two different occasions, is unlikely to award it the same marks. It can be shown that the performance of the candidates is also uneven.

This types examinations contain only a small number of questions, representing a tiny fraction of the total number that could be formulated to cover every aspect of the field of knowledge with which the paper is concerned.

New types or objective type examination

Essay types of examination have been found less suitable for a number of purposes than examinations constructed on more scientific lines and known as “objective” tests, usually involving some combination of multiple choice questions.

Such tests consists of a large number of questions thus sampling more effectively than essay examinations the area of knowledge with which they are concerned, these questions are divided so that they yield only one acceptable response.

A marking key is usually provided by means of which any examiner can assess any script unambiguously, without having to rely on subjective judgment.

Some of these tests are standardized through administration to large samples of individuals, and thus it is possible to relate the performance of one person to that of a large number of others of the same age and status.

Objective types of examination is a factual memory examination, composed of mere recall questions. Here an examinee’s alertness of mind and recalling power are tested. A question may take a number of different forms.

There is a growing tendency in Civil and Military competitive examinations in General knowledge that questions of the “objective types” are set. The number of questions is quite large, sometimes, exceeding even one hundred.

Answers are to be written or marked on the question papers themselves. Speed and accuracy are required to do well. Careful reading of questions is essential. Overlooking of some important little word may alter the entire meaning of a question or statement. It pays to read carefully and completely the question in an examination.

Read also: Fear of being exposed


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