Preparing for oral exams – OurWarwick

Preparing for oral exams

Studying languages, being from Coventry, being involved in different societies…
Find out more about me Contact Oliver

Many of us have just received dates for our oral exams, and it’s safe to say that no one is looking forward to them. For anyone taking a language degree, these might be the most fear-inducing 15 minutes of your life. Even if you’re one of those rare people who enjoy public speaking, doing it in a different language while under the pressure of being marked on fluency is a whole different ball game.

It’s very likely that when the dates for the oral exams start looming ever closer, you’ll be feeling a lot of anxiety. And while the right amount of nerves can give you the adrenaline to improve your performance, too much stress can stop you from achieving your full potential.

In this blog post, we’ll explore some ways to manage your anxiety, and help you prepare for the exams themselves. 

1. Make yourself some notes 

Before you do this, check the guidelines for the exam. Some exams allow you to have notes no bigger than an A5 piece of paper, or a certain word count. Prompt cards can be a life saver during that one moment where you need a reminder of your next point. 

2. Familiarise, don’t memorise 

For me, a lot of my oral exam stress comes from worrying about regurgitating a presentation I’ve memorised. The best way to combat this is to forget memorising it in the first place. You don’t need to learn your presentation word for word, just the points you want to cover. That way, it will sound a lot more natural when you’re speaking, and there’s not as much pressure for you to remember every single word. 

3. Practice! 

Rehearsing as much as you can for the exam will help you feel more prepared. Try to find another student to run through a mock version with you. It’s also good to continue revising vocabulary and surrounding yourself with your target language, because you will be more likely to understand the questions the examiner asks you. 

4. Make a list of questions you expect the examiner will ask

If your presentation is about the environment, for example, the examiner might ask you if you recycle. They might ask about veganism and climate change. It’s important that you try to anticipate the questions beforehand, then you can prepare the right vocabulary for it, and hopefully you won’t be caught off guard while you try to come up with an answer. 

5. Email your professor

If you are feeling really anxious, it’s okay to email your personal tutor and any other relevant staff to explain how you are feeling. They will reassure you, and remind you that everyone is in the same boat. 

6. Enjoy it! 

It might help to see the exam as a challenge. It’s a culmination of all the oral classes you attended, the vocabulary you learned, and the grammar you picked up so far on your course. This is your opportunity to show off, or at least prove to yourself that you can carry a conversation about the relevant topic. 

7. Take breaks

Sometimes it’s best to come back to your revision after spending some time relaxing. Don’t feel guilty about taking the time to see your friends and family, enjoy your hobbies, or just catch up on some sleep! Having a good balance between social life and studies is really key to making sure you’re firing on all cylinders.

8. Remember that this isn’t the be all and end all of your degree 

Ideally, your oral exam goes smoothly without any hitches and you answer every question perfectly. You even throw in a few subjunctive phrases, and some filler words – just like a native! But if that doesn’t happen, you have to remember that this is just one small part of your assessment. Professors understand that the exams are daunting, and they aren’t likely to be harsh if you’re trying your hardest. 

Oral exams aren’t fun, but they’re a necessary evil. Try not to worry, you can only do your best.

Challenge: What methods do you use to prepare for your speaking exams? 

Studying languages, being from Coventry, being involved in different societies…
Find out more about me Contact Oliver

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