Stijn van Gils

Column: Oral exam

She stares ahead of her with a frown. I smile at her. She smiles back. That is: she regards me with a mixture of panic, concentration and a hint of a smile. In her sweaty hands she holds a file with her PowerPoint and her Master’s thesis. The result of months of hard slog. ‘Shall…
Stijn van Gils

We walk to the classroom where she is to give her presentation, followed immediately by her oral examination. I pity her and count myself lucky that I don’t have to go through this ever again. I can just relax. All I need to do is ask a searching question, and then sign. What luxury.

The room fills up slowly. The panic on her face gives way to a nervous smile. I look around me anxiously. I see the slides I helped her with and realize I am powerless now. I can’t help with anything else. And there is no need to: she’s doing great.

Then the oral examination begins. The examiner leafs through her thesis and asks a critical question about a careless error. Shit, I think: I could have spotted that. Should have spotted it. Another error is pointed out. I’m annoyed. Wait: let me ask a question that she can answer very sharply, and then everything will be alright.

‘Errrr…’, she stammers.

She passes, with a fair result but it could have been better. I stare ahead of me with a frown. I should have checked her work better, I should have been sharper. Then she would undoubtedly have got a higher grade. I leave the corridor head bowed. I sigh. Which of us was really being examined here, actually?

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