Tips for taking oral tests

To do well on an oral exam requires a different set of skills than those called for on a written exam.
You still need mastery of the material, of course, but you need to access and articulate the material in a different way. Most people find oral exams harder than written, but some really enjoy them! In a well-designed written exam, the examiner has decided in advance what set of knowledge and skills is to be tested. Problems are designed to be completed within the given time limit, but some false starts and backtracking is expected. Each problem has a known correct answer.

The oral exam differs in each of these characteristics. Although the scope of the exam is given in advance, the examiner usually chooses questions dynamically, based on how the student answers the previous questions. Problems are designed to test the limits of the student's knowledge: often, an examiner will continue to ask questions in a particular area until a student no longer responds correctly.

Examiners design problems (or give hints) that elicit the correct approach on the first try, without backtracking. And often the questions are open ended, asking for opinions or ideas for future work or aspects of the research area that the student has not yet considered.

Because of these factors, preparation for an oral exam requires a new approach, even for seasoned veterans of written exams. You need to think on your feet. This is great if you have the skill. Otherwise, you can only compensate by great preparation. Some previous experience is helpful: teaching, debating, oral presentations tutoring, class participation, recitals, science fairs, etc.


Some differences between written and oral exams:
Written exams
Information that will be tested on is decided in advance.

• Exams can range from 15 minutes (quiz) to a few hours.

• Each question has a known correct answer.

• Feedback is received when the grade is provided and/or when the exam is returned to the student.


Oral exams
Usually, the scope of the exam is given in advance. These can be in the form of questions, suggestions or topic areas.

• Exams are usually 15 to 30 minutes in length.

• Questions may be chosen dynamically, depending on how a student answers previous questions.

• Questions are often open-ended, asking for opinions or ideas.

• Questions may be designed to test the limits of a student’s knowledge. Often, the examiner will continue to ask questions in a particular area until the student no longer responds correctly.

• Marks may be awarded for problem solving, analysis and method, as well as interpersonal communication and presentation.


13 Tips you should know before taking an oral test/exam:
Tip 01: Confirm the basics:
Confirm the time and place of the test with your teacher.


Tip 02: Find out the details:
Find out what topics you'll be tested on and if you are allowed to bring any props, visual aids, and how you should dress.


Tip 03: Study:
Be sure to prepare for the oral exam as you would any other exam.


Tip 04: Anticipate questions that may be on the exam:
Prepare answers for the questions and then Ask/answer questions that you think might be asked with another person, preferably with someone in your class who knows the material.


Tip 05: Practice talking in front of a mirror:
This will help you evaluate your body language and/or record your answers on audio tape and play it back to see how you sound or on a video tape to see how you sound and your composure.


Tip 06: Check your stuff:
If you are using the computer or other equipment for your exam, go through it several times and make sure everything is the way you want it to be.


Tip 07: Arrive on time:
They say that five minutes early is on time, on time is late, and late is fired! …Show up at least five minutes early so that you can gather your thoughts and not feel rushed. Being late can have an adverse affect on your grade.


Tip 08: “Don’t play your own sound track:”
Turn off your cell phone and/or pager before taking the exam.


Tip 09: Dress accordingly.


Tip 10: Watch your body language:
Maintain good eye contact and posture, don't slouch if you're sitting or lean if you're standing.


Tip 11: Pay close attention to the questions asked:
If you don't understand the question ask for clarification or ask your instructor to repeat the question.


Tip 12: Speak in complete sentences:
Try not to give one or two word answers whenever possible.


Tip 13: Wrap it up nicely:
Be sure to thank the instructor for his/her time when you are finished with the test.

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