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Verbal assessment: the hard and the easy way

Recently, members of our faculty have started experimenting with verbal assessment across some of our Level 1 NCEA tasks. The above video shows one of our teachers and student in action. Below I highlight why I think this is the hard way, then outline a couple easier ways that verbal assessment could be performed.

There are a number of benefits in assessing students verbally, several of which have been identified by Joughin & Collom (2003). First of all, proficiency in verbal communication has a lot of value, as all students will encounter the need to communicate verbally with other human beings in almost every aspect of their lives as they make the transition from school to workforce. They also mention that verbal assessment can encourage deep approaches to learning – students learn differently when faced with a verbal assessment, determined to get a thorough understanding of the assessed content. Another advantage is the interactive form verbal assessment can take on, teachers can reformulate questions and give additional information to ensure students understand what is being asked of them. Finally, plagiarism can be reduced through the use of verbal assessment.

Joughin & Collom also identified potential problems of using verbal assessment, but for the case of this blog post, I will just highlight issues I feel our faculty had while using this form of assessment.

First of all, time was a big issue. Six classes used verbal assessment for this task, with teachers and students working through lunchtime and period 4 to complete the verbal. None of the teachers were able to get through all of their students and on average they needed one additional hour to complete the process with their class. How this caused problems for us: Being the first time using verbal assessment, I provided relief for one hour of the teachers classes. Across six classes, this is quite an expense. As this wasn’t enough allowance to complete the assessment, members of the faculty had to step in and cover the teachers classes while they caught up with the verbals. This means giving up teacher non contact time which nobody enjoys, and students had more time away from their teacher. We recorded all of the verbals using flipcams, which did become a problem when two teachers were verbally assessing on the same day, but we worked around by hunting down more cameras from other faculties. Finally, I think putting a shy, quiet student in front of a teacher and camera puts them at a big disadvantage.

If the above video highlights what could be a hard way to verbally assess, then what is the easy way? I feel there are two apps that could really help our faculty moving forward with verbal assessment. The first is Voicethread and the second is Explain Everything. Both applications can be used in a very similar way and each have some strengths and weaknesses. By capturing screen grabs of assessment questions, these can be uploaded into slides on each of these apps. From here it is a matter of hitting record and the student speaking / answering the displayed question. Once they have finished answering, they simply swipe through to the next question. A great thing about both apps is that students can draw as they speak. This can allow students to reinforce their points, and can be particularly helpful if analysing a diagram (such as base of support in biomechanics). Both apps have an exporting feature which allows assessments to be stored for moderation purposes.

Some brief pros and cons of each app:




  • Can be accessed on iPad and on PC
  • Seems a more popular application and has many more uses than Explain everything, particularly around collaboration
  •  iPad app needs to be connected to a network to use
  • Seems quite buggy on iPad and not very intuitive
Explain Everything
  • Very simple and easy to use
  • No need to be connected to a network to use
  •  Only available as an iPad app

While I believe Voicethread to be a far superior app, particularly its uses in other areas, for the sake of an easy to use app with the sole purpose of verbal assessment, I feel Explain Everything has everything we need to move forward with more efficient verbal assessment in our faculty.

There is no doubting the benefit of verbal assessment in the classroom. As long as it doesn’t impact on the teacher or student in a negative way, I would like to explore it as an assessment tool in other tasks and year levels.

Joughin, G., Collom, G. 2003, The Higher Education Academy,


Anne McKay

Aaron Mead at Paraparumu College is using voice thread and photo babble with year 11 for 1.1, 1.2 and 1.6. and finding it successful for many of the reasons you highlight above. He presented what he does at PENZ and generated great discussion and lots of great questions.
Fantastic to see the collaboration and reflection about what is working well for departments and students.


Excellent Anne. I will take a look at Photo Babble and maybe even flick Aaron an email – thanks!

Catherine Woollermrswooller

We tried using verbal rsponses for 1.5 this year at westlake girls. We intended to create a pirtfolio of verbal responses for this, however as you found we had major time problems with it. We only had two flip cameras available. It also caused an increase in teacher pressure to download asap for space on the cameras for other classes using them. We ended up resorting back to written towards the second half of the unit.

This was the first time we had tried vebal assessments in ourdepartment. So we did nit know what to expect. We also found our students still relied on writing their answers down before they videoed themselves, purely I think because it was so different for them and their confidence at using it was quite low. They did improve after a few times to doing it without, however this highlights the need for students to practice with this style well prior to assesment. At this stage I am unsure if we will try again next yearperhaps with a different assessment. I like the idea of using their own devices and apps for this as it would illeviate the time pressure on school devices perhaps?


Glad to read your response here Catherine – we have had very similar experiences by the sounds of it. I am looking forward to heading back and showing my faculty how much easier it is to verbal via iPad.

If all goes to plan, we will have a class set of iPads which will really help!

Cam Smith

At Heretaunga College we have used iPad recordings of students talking through their 1.2 assessments. This had great results for our school for this standard compared with previous years. We have also used verbal re- assessments for 1.6 for the past 2 years. This does take up more time but it suits our students so much more than a written response.


At St Paul’s Collegiate we did the same thing as Heretaunga College. However we only verbally assessed the anatomy part of AS1.2. We used a tick sheet so the we would give the students a movement and then they would explain the muscles, bones, joints types of movement at the joints etc. As they gave their answers we would tick the check sheet which had all the answers on it. We also had a written component allowing students to explain the how and why. It only took a few minutes for the verbal due to the checklist having answers already on the sheet. Then we gave them 20mins for the written test. So we used two periods in total but we didn’t have to get any relief in as it was quick and easy to administer/mark for the teacher.

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