How to Prepare for an Oral Exam?

I guess every student knows that feeling of growing anxiety before an upcoming oral exam. This is when the questions of how to study for an oral exam and how to perform well during the examination come to your mind. Oral exams are largely about making a good impression that you make not only by having a large knowledge but by showing your confidence. That’s why we’ve prepared a set of oral exam tips on how to pass your oral exam speaking with confidence and what to do to come prepared for such a type of examination.

Oral Exam, What to Expect?

Oral exams occur at every stage of education, whether it’s a school exam with an oral component or an oral examination for a college course. The primary purpose of oral examinations is to check the level of knowledge and mastery of a particular subject, but most importantly it is an opportunity to present your interpersonal communication skills and give a general presentation of yourself. That’s why it is not only crucial to prepare for your oral exam by studying but you should also pay attention to the way you’re going to present your knowledge. Speaking with confidence on oral exams usually helps to make a good impression and can score additional points for you.

The structure of the oral exams is in many cases very similar, but generally, two differentiations of such oral examination can be made. Formal oral examinations are often nothing more than a list of pre-prepared questions to which the examiner expects the student to give a concise answer. This type of exam aims to check a specific field of the student’s knowledge. We can also differentiate oral exams with a more loose formula that allows the examinee to make longer statements and generally demonstrate their ability to think critically and independently.

The structure of an oral exam you’re going to have may depend on your study or school program, the examined subject, and the person teaching the subject or administering the exam. That’s why it’s best to ask the teacher or lecturer of the subject you’re going to take an oral exam to find out what the exam will be like. You can ask about its formula, types of questions and what to expect. Don’t forget to write down the date and the room where the exam is to be held.

How to Pass an Oral Exam Speaking With Confidence?

Your oral exam is coming up and you’d like to perform at your best, but you don’t know how to do it or where to start? The key to making a good impression in an oral exam is the confidence you can demonstrate in the way you speak and behave. This is why we have put together a set of tips on how to speak with confidence on your oral exam that will help you prepare for the exam:

1. Control Your Tone of Voice

The tone of your voice is an important factor in how you are perceived. Normally our tone of voice is lower when we speak to ourselves, and higher in conversations with our family or friends as our energy levels increase. Since an oral exam tends to be a stressful situation, our tone of voice may change. That’s why it is important to control your tone of voice during the exam. If you speak too quietly, the examiner may find it difficult to hear what you are saying and it may show your lack of confidence. In contrast, if you speak too loudly in the heat of the moment, it can be tiring to listen to you in the long run. That’s why on your oral exam you should maintain the natural tone of voice that you use in regular conversations. Avoid a squeaky or shaky voice as it can disturb your exam performance and show that you are nervous and unconfident.

2. Optimize Your Speaking Rate

The rate at which you speak has a great influence on the clarity of the message you try to communicate, and after all, you want to be fully understood during your oral exam. When a student speaks too quickly, some of the information they want to convey may not be picked up by the examiner and they may fail to be fully heard. A fast speech rate occurs when you are stressed and feel insecure. This is why we should pay special attention to our speaking rate in situations that make us anxious such as public performances, a presentation in front of the class or just an oral exam. On the other hand, an extremely slow speaking rate with a lot of hesitation tends to be boring and gives an impression of being unprepared. To sound confident, try to keep a moderate speaking rate on your oral exam. If you naturally speak faster or slower that’s okay as long as you don’t go to extremes.

3. Avoid Filler Words

There is nothing more frustrating to a listener than a speaker who throws in “umm…” and “ahh…” after every word. These are called filler words, which we insert usually when we hesitate to say something, but more often they are nothing more than a speaking habit or a sign of nervousness that we no longer control. Such continuous interruptions can make it difficult for the examiner to listen to what we want to say and damage the confident impression you are trying to make. This is why you should reduce the number of filler words on your oral exam. To see if you are using an excessive amount of fillers, try to record your speech with your mobile phone at home, then listen to the recording and pay attention to the frequency of filler words as you speak. If a filler word appears every two to four words or at the beginning of each sentence you should try to clean up your speech a bit. 

4. Be Prepared

There is nothing as important as exam preparation. To speak with confidence you need to feel confident, and to feel confident before an exam you need to prepare properly. Being prepared means knowing well the subject you will be taking the oral exam in. It’s best to ask your teacher or lecturer what material is going to be covered in the exam and what you need to pay attention to. Sometimes lecturers provide a list of questions that may appear on the exam in advance. If you don’t have a pool of questions available, try to prepare a list of questions that may appear on the exam by yourself and work on it.

5. Don’t Forget to Listen

During an oral exam, it is important not only to speak clearly but also to listen closely. You should listen carefully to the questions asked by the examiner, and when you are not sure whether you have understood the question it is better to ask to hear it again than to speak off-topic. Some oral exams, especially those testing your language skills, are conducted in pairs and rely on the conversation between you and your partner. In this case, it is extremely important to listen actively to what your partner has to say, as this is the only way you will be able to follow the conversation and react appropriately. Try to use discussion phrases such as “How do you feel about ….?, “That sounds great!”, or “I quite agree/disagree”. These will show your confidence in carrying on a conversation as well as that you listen to your partner attentively.

6. Come to the Point

Sometimes a short but clear answer is better than the most elaborate statement. If your oral exam requires you to give brief answers, be concise, but when the questions are open you can provide longer productions. To deliver a long and confident answer avoid being chaotic in what you are trying to say and make your answer well structured. You should focus on answering what you’ve been asked and try not to make too many digressions. Also, to sound more confident, eliminate filler phrases including “I mean” or “Well” as they distract attention from the core of what you are trying to say.

Use Body Language When Public Speaking to Your Advantage

The tips listed above instruct you on how to speak confidently on your oral exam by paying attention to your voice and articulation. However, you can also boost your confidence by using body language including gestures or posture. Its proper use can be beneficial to you and will help you make a good impression during your oral exam:

  • maintain eye contact with the examiner/conversation partner
  • make your posture straight 
  • stride into the exam room
  • use gestures to underline your point
  • use facial expressions matching what you are saying
  • dress smartly 

It is worth bearing in mind not to exaggerate the body language. An excessive gesticulation may distract the listener’s attention while overreactive behavior may be misunderstood. To be seen as confident, your body movements should be positive. That’s why you should always remember to keep balance with your body language during your oral exam.

Things to Avoid on Your Oral Exam

Aside from the set of tips that can help you speak with confidence on your oral exam, there are also several of things you should avoid during the examination that can damage your confident impression:

  • shaky voice and hands – If you feel nervous take a couple deep breaths before you enter the exam room or try to visualize it as a normal meeting.
  • articulating your answers as questions – We tend to express our ideas as questions when we’re missing some information or we’re not sure about what we want to say. Don’t let the examiner get that impression!
  • bad attitude – Even if an oral exam can be a stressful experience and you don’t have to like it, you should still try to show a positive attitude. So how about welcoming everyone in the exam room with a smile?
  • having your mobile phone turned on – The last thing you would want to hear on your oral exam is your phone ringing or buzzing. Don’t forget to turn it off before walking into the exam room or at least mute it completely.

How to Stop Feeling Nervous Before an Exam?

Stress can be a bad friend during oral exams. In some cases, stress is motivating and stimulates active thinking, but when your nervousness makes you feel weak and dizzy so that you can’t gather your thoughts or pursue your confident impression, it’s best to learn how to fight it.

A day before your oral exam, you may try some relaxation techniques such as yoga or meditation to help you calm down and relax. You can easily find some yoga videos on YouTube or tutorials on how you can reduce stress through deep breathing, so if you haven’t done any relaxation techniques before they will instruct you on how to do it properly. You can also buy herbal tranquilizers at the nearest pharmacy. They are mild but they won’t make you drowsy before the exam.

Sometimes stress comes from the fear that we haven’t prepared properly for the exam and that something might surprise us. Therefore, in some cases, the best solution is to study hard and know the material well, which will make you feel confident about your knowledge. If you have already studied all the material but still feel anxious, try to do something you like to do in your free time that will take your mind off the exam, for e.g you can go for a walk, take up your hobby, or meet up with friends.

How to Pass an Oral Exam – Summary

In conclusion, when coming to the oral exam, pay attention to how you use your voice and body language. Speak in a firm voice and support your speech with appropriate gestures. Avoid unnecessary filler words and phrases that may make your message difficult to understand and distract the examiner’s attention from the core of what you want to communicate. If the exam involves talking with a conversation partner, listen carefully to what they have to say and react appropriately to the information you are given. During your oral exam, show a positive attitude presenting an open body posture when entering an exam or sitting and engaging in conversation. Therefore, you should avoid crossing your arms on your chest or making a sour face at all costs. And of course, don’t forget to study before the exam. Study the material well and work on questions or topics that may appear. And finally, remember to dress neatly and mute your phone before entering the exam!

With all the tips on how to prepare for an oral exam and speak with confidence, you are free to go and make a stunning performance on your exam. But don’t just rely on your personal charm and remember to study well before the exam. Making a good impression is only half the success!

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