PhD Defence: Maria Njølstad Vonen

Maria Njølstad Vonen will defend her PhD thesis within pedagogical resources and learning processes in kindergarten and school. Her dissertation is about Conversation Analysis, Oral Examination and Oral Interaction.

08 Sep

Practical information

  • Date: 8 September 2023
  • Time: 10.00 - 15.00
  • Location: Vestfold, A1-30 Larvik
  • Download calendar file
  • Program:

    • 10.00-10.45 Trial lecture What may Conversation Analysis tell us about conversation as an assessment format in comparison with other relevant approaches.
    • 12.00-15.00 PhD Defence: En samtaleanalytisk studie av fagsamtalen under muntlig eksamen i norsk

    Chair of the day: Jørn Varhaug, Head of Department of Languages and Literature Studies, USN

    Join us digitally (Zoom)
    Meeting ID: 665 7852 3086
    Password: 312523

    Evaluation committee:


Any questions?

Maria Njølstad Vonen. FotoMaria Njølstad Vonen is defending her thesis for the degree philosophiae doctor (PhD) at the University of South-Eastern Norway.

Read her thesis here: En samtaleanalytisk studie av fagsamtalen under muntlig eksamen i norsk (

She has completed the ph.d programme in pedagogical resources and learning processes in kindergarten and school at the Faculty of Humanities, Sports, and Educational Science at USN.

You are welcome to follow her trial lecture and public defence on campus or by Zoom.

Join us digitally (Zoom)
Meeting ID: 665 7852 3086
Password: 312523


The Norwegian oral exam is an important final exam in both lower and upper secondary school, where results can have consequences for students’ further education and career opportunities. However, we know little about this form of exam, and especially about what takes place in the part of the exam called “subject conversation”. My dissertation shows that the subject conversation during the oral exam is organized in a way that creates an asymmetric conversation, where the examiner dominates and the students have limited room to maneuver. 

Using Conversation Analysis, I have examined oral exams in the subject Norwegian in lower and upper secondary schools. I have studied how the interactional organization of the subject conversation and the examiners’ interactional practices affect the students’ opportunities for participation and knowledge demonstration. The dissertation shows that the subject conversation has a fixed pattern for turn-taking, where the examiners asks questions that the students answer, and which the examiners in turn follows up/evaluates. This means that the examiner controls both who is allowed to speak – and when, and the development of topics based on their interpretation of the students’ previous answers. The thesis concludes that the subject conversation is to a small extent a dialogic conversation where the participants have equal rights, something that the word “conversation” in “subject conversation” might actualize. 

The dissertation further highlights that the way the examiners formulate their questions affects the students’ possibilities to answer, and thus also to display subject knowledge related to the question. This creates dilemmas in situations where students’ knowledge is put at stake, such as when the students cannot answer or answers incorrectly Examiners have to balance the considerations from the guidelines for the oral examinations to ensure that the students get sufficient opportunities to show as much knowledge as possible while ensuring to not pursue what the students do not know (UDIR, 2019).  

The results of the dissertation have consequences for oral examinations at several levels. Because examiners’ actions control opportunities, students have to answer in the next turn; thus, good and well thought-out questions are crucial. Further, when the student has problems in answering, the examiner must make good assessments of the student’s level of knowledge, to ensure that the student gets to show what he or she knows, while ensuring that the follow-up questions do not pursue what he or she cannot answer. The basis for assessment during the oral exam is the competence aims in the Norwegian subject, which, among other things, emphasize dialogic and exploratory skills. However, the strict organization of participation means that the conversation is more reminiscent of an interview; whether the exam format really brings out students’ oral skills is unclear. 

The dissertation points to a need for specifying or changing the guidelines for the subject conversation during the oral examination, which should clarify to a greater extent the kind of conversations the teachers are supposed to facilitate, the competencies that are to be assessed and how the conversation should be conducted.