Are you nervous about answering questions during a face-to-face exam? Who wouldn’t be?
Oral exams can be particularly intimidating for some students because they present two different challenges: the challenge of recalling material quickly and the challenge of speaking to an audience—even if the audience is made up of only one person.
Because oral exams are much like job interviews, you can prepare for these in the same way that applicants prepare. They predict and practice.
Start by collecting all of the material that is likely to be covered during your exam. Read over the information to recognize any possible themes or patterns. If you are working with a textbook, you can use titles and subtitles to find probable themes.
Now try to predict possible essay-type questions. Think about it: You’re not going to be asked true or false questions; you’re going to be asked questions that require a long answer. So what would you ask if you were the teacher?
If possible, go back over old tests and reword the questions you’ve answered before. This is how many teachers come up with questions for a comprehensive exam.
Write down each possible question on an index card. Use these like you would flashcards, and practice answering questions out loud, in front of a mirror.
Why Use a Mirror?
Using a mirror to practice will show you any nervous habits you might display as you’re speaking. Although it’s true that you would not be penalized for nervous habits, it is also true that you might create some contagious nervous energy. Your tester might become jittery if you are—and there’s no point in creating that sort of atmosphere!
The first time you practice in front of the mirror, play the role of the tester. Observe yourself as he or she would. Watch for visual clues: Do you smile with confidence, or do you twitch nervously? Signs of nervousness are important because your nerves can make you forget important details. Practicing can help put those nerves in check.
The mirror reflection (as strange as it seems) will make you feel as if somebody is actually watching you as you speak. But don’t really pay attention to the person in the mirror. Instead, try to “psych yourself” into thinking that this reflection is really a teacher or tester.
Next, make a list of vocabulary terms and create a flashcard for each one. Test yourself with the flashcards until you know every one.
Then, select three flashcards at random. Pretend to be the tester, and ask a question that connects the three terms together. This method helps you make connections between all the concepts that have been covered on your topic.
If you are a visual learner, you may want to draw images to enhance your memory.
Prepare the Night Before
When you feel good about your appearance, you feel more confident and self-assured. It’s a good idea to find the best outfit for the day in advance, whether that means wearing the most businesslike outfit you own or the most comfortable outfit you own. Dress in a way that is appropriate for your situation.
– Don’t drink caffeine the day before if it tends to keep you awake. You’ll need plenty of sleep.
– Pack any papers or visual aids you might need for the test.
– Practice your answers in front of a mirror again.
The Day of the Test
Here are a few tips for the day of the oral exam:
– Eat something for breakfast, even if you don’t feel hungry.
– Give yourself a moment to think before your answer.
– Recognize when you’ve said enough. It’s important to know when to stop.
– Back up a yes or no answer with evidence or reasoning.
– If you don’t know an answer right away, feel free to take time to think.
– If you are able to use a blank sheet of paper and a pen or pencil, use the paper to draw the images you created as memory boosters.