Synoptic Oral Exams
What are synoptic oral exams?
Synoptic oral exams are carried out near the end of your third and fourth year. These exams are designed to test your core chemistry knowledge from throughout your degree and explore how you can problem solve using this knowledge.
The purpose of Year 3 and 4 Oral Exams
The purpose of the oral exams is twofold – to ensure retention of core concepts which are essential to functioning as a rounded chemist and to prepare you in case you have a viva by external examiners prior to graduation by virtue of being on a degree borderline.
These latter viva’s are conducted by the three senior academics (Inorganic, organic and physical chemistry specialists) who provide quality control to our exams process and attend our examinations board at the end of each academic year to approve the final degree classifications we award.
Arrangements for Year 3 and 4 Oral Exams
In year 3 you will be timetabled to attend three separate 10-15 min oral exams over the course of ca. 2 days. In each exam, two academic staff examiners (both from either the inorganic, organic or physical section) will typically take it in turns to ask you questions based initially on 1st year core chemistry. The topics will start with concepts and ideas you should be familiar with from either lectures or labs in the 1st year but depending on how you cope with these may extend to any core material (i.e. up to IIIA) and perhaps into more advanced territory if deemed appropriate by the examiners. The ‘synoptic’ element of these viva’s is that the questions will range across material from all lecture courses within ‘inorganic’, ‘organic’ or ‘physical’ chemistry, respectively. This format of oral exams gives you some time between oral exams to reflect on your performance in the previous one and hopefully develop your confidence and technique.
In year 4 a single ca. 30 min oral exam will be conducted by the two independent markers of your MSci project report. The examiners will have read your report and part of the viva will focus on your project where it is expected you will be able to demonstrate advanced understanding. The viva is also synoptic and the examiners will tease out synoptic themes that transcend classical sectional boundaries to illustrate how inorganic, organic and physical aspects of chemistry are interlinked and interdependent. The scope for questions will include all core chemistry (i.e. 1st year, 2nd year and IIIA material), irrespective of it having originally been presented in a formally ‘inorganic’, ‘organic’ or ‘physical’ setting. The examiners will test your understanding of concepts and ideas you should be familiar with from either lectures or labs, and depending on how you cope with these may again extend into more advanced territory. This style of viva is closest to how the external examiners conduct vivas.
Preparing for the Synoptic Oral Exams
As these exams are designed to test your core chemistry knowledge and explore how you can problem solve using this knowledge it is not straightforward for you to ‘revise’ specifically for them. The best preparation is undoubtedly to stay focussed throughout your degree studies on developing your core understanding of chemistry and practicing applying these ideas in problem solving situations. Working through questions in core text books is a good way to do this.