Oral Exam Preparation Tips


While the oral exam demonstrates your knowledge and mastery of a subject matter, it's primary purpose is to demonstrate your presentation, speaking and interpersonal communication skills. Oral exams may be formal or informal. Both types of oral exams require careful listening and direct responding.

Formal oral exams usually have a structured format and follow a list of questions that have been prepared before hand. They typically seek concise specific answers to the questions asked and may be competitive in nature.

Informal exams are often less structured than formal exams and permit the speaker the opportunity to provide more open and lengthy responses to questions. As informal exams do not necessarily require a specific answer, evaluations are often more subjective as well. Informal oral exams also provide participants a greater opportunity to showcase their interpersonal communication and presentation skills.

Oral tests and exams can be intimidating and require preparation. The following strategies will prepare you to ace your next oral exam.



  • Prepare.
    Like any other test, the key to acing an oral exam is preparation. Spend adequate time studying for your oral exam. Be thoroughly knowledgeable about the subject you will be tested on. During your preparation, practice answering any question your teacher could possibilty test you on.

    Prior to the exam, ask your instructor about the concepts you'll be required to understand and whether you're permitted to use visual aids and other teaching materials. You should also inquire about appropriate dress. If visual aids are used, do not rely too heavily on them.

  • Be punctual.
    Never arrive late for an oral exam. Be sure to confirm the date, time and location of the exam ahead of time. Showing up late to an oral exam gives a bad impression and can result in a lower test score.

  • Give a good first impression.
    Your oral exam begins the moment you walk in the door. Enter the room with smile, look interested, pay attention to your instructor and introduce yourself. Make sure to look and act professional. Dress appropriate for the type of oral exam you're taking and make sure to turn off your cellphone.

  • Don't forget to listen.
    Oral exams are all about talking, right? No! Oral exams are about intelligent listening and intelligent talking. Make sure to listen, pay attention and stay focused throughout the entire exam. Listen attentively to questions and follow instructions given. If a question is unclear, ask your teacher for clarification. If you don't know the answer, say so but be direct and stay on topic.

  • Don't ramble.
    Rambling is one of the last things you want to do while taking an oral exam. If you don't know the answer to a question, say so, then outline a methodology you'd use to find the answer or solve the problem. Be direct, stay on top, answer questions thoroughly, but concisely, and don't ramble.

    Also, avoid mumbling or speaking in a monotone voice. Do not rush through the test and alter your voice tone. Practice speaking before the test.

  • Practice makes perfect.
    Practice for the test by creating possible questions and answering them. This will prepare you for what could appear on the test and help you improve your speaking skills. It's best to practice with a classmate familiar with the terms and concepts that could appear on the test, students who have already taken the test or a tutor. If available and willing, do a trial run with your teacher to get some feedback.

  • Use technology wisely.
    If you intend to use an overhead projector, computer or mobile device, be sure that it is working properly before the test. Technology can greatly enhance your oral presentation but it can also become a detraction. Don't use technology unless it enhances your presentation and don't go over the top. Your oral presentation should showcase you, not your new iPad Plus.

  • Pay attention to your body language.
    There is an old English idiom that says "a picture is worth a thousand words". While this idiom doesn't hold completely true when it comes to oral presentations, it's still important to realize that your visual appearance and your body language are vital forms of communication that you need to pay attention to if you want to ace your oral exam. Body language in particular can make or break an oral presentation. Your body language should be deliberate, it should exude confidence and communicate that you're happy to be there. Your body language is so powerful it will either reinforce your message or contradict it. The following are a few of the most important body language guidelines.

      Posture
      • Don't fold your arms across your chest or slouch. This disconnects you from your audience.
      • Don't clasp your arms behind your back. This makes you come off as aloof.
      • Don't rest your hands on your hips. This makes you appear matronly.
      • Don't fold your arms down in front of your waist. This makes you appear like a 'goody-goody'.
      • Avoiding rocking back or forth, or swaying. This makes you appear nervous, anxious and/or restless.
      • Don't put your hands in your pockets or hide them. People tend to trust you more when they can see your hands.
      • Don't fidget with anything. Playing with your keys, your clothing, your keys or a pen during your presentation communicates to your audience that you're nervous.
      • If you wear glasses, don't push them back constantly. Before your presentation make sure your glasses are fit comfortably and secure.
      • Make sure you are clean and kempt. If you have long hair, make sure it is out of your face and not covering your eyes.
      • Don't keep checking your watch. If there is a clock in the room you can glance at it to keep track of time. Alternatively, you can take your watch off and set it on the lectern or table.
      • Don't drum your fingers. This is distracting and communicates that you're nervous.
      • Avoid facing away from the audience or your teacher when you're speaking. If you need to write something on a flip chart or board, finish writing then turn around to speak. Speaking while you're facing away from the audience does not allow your voice to project in the right direction.

      • Walking
        It's okay to walk a little while you're presenting. In fact, controlled walking can enhance your presentation. Remaining in just one spot will make you appear rigid or nervous. Walking requires the audience to focus its attention on you and keeps them interested in what you're saying. However, don't pace. Pacing is simply distracting.

        Use the Podium (or Lectern)
        Remember, you always want to keep your hands visible while presenting. Using a lectern can be problematic if it hides your hands. We recommend following the example of former presidents and prime ministers. As you present, loosely hold the sides of the lectern so your hands can be seen. If you don't need your notes or microphone, it's okay to step away from the lectern. This will provide a more relaxed and comfortable feel to your presentation.

      The main goal here is to avoid doing anything with your body that distracts your audience from what you are saying. Remember, if you act uncomfortable, those listening to you are going to feel uncomfortable.

      Since body language is an important component of public speaking, prepare for the test by practicing in front of a mirror. It is also a good idea to make an audio recording to evaluate your speech.

  • Thank your instructor.
    Your oral exam is not over until it's over. And part of it being over is taking a moment to thank your teacher or your audience.

  • Follow-up.
    After your oral exam is over, sit down and take a moment to review your performance. What did you do well? What did you do poorly? How could you do better next time? If you have an issue with the material presented, questions asked, or your evaluation, speak to your teacher, but do not be confrontational or challenge their opinion.
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