Oral Exams

During an oral exam, an instructor will pose a series of questions and then grade you on the quality of your responses. This means that, in order to do well on an oral exam, you need to have a strong knowledge of the subject matter and good public speaking skills. Unfortunately, this also means that oral exams can be some of the most nerve wracking exams of all because they require you to think on your feet. The following tips, however, may be able to help you maximize your grade in spite of this fact.

    • Practice: One of the best ways to prepare for an oral exam, by far, is to practice. This means that you should think of the questions that your instructor might ask, and then answer them aloud in the exact same way that you would if you were actually in the exam room. In fact, you may find it helpful to speak in front of a mirror or present your answers to a study group in order to practice your body language and/or receive feedback on your responses.
  • Ask for clarification: If you aren’t sure about a question, ask the instructor to repeat it or clarify it for you. This will give you a few extra moments to prepare and will help you to ensure that you deliver an appropriate response.
  • Bring some scrap paper: Ask your instructor at the beginning of the test if you can make a few notes on scrap paper before you begin speaking. Don’t try to write your entire response. Instead, just jot down a few key points that will help you stay on topic.
  • Avoid rambling: If you aren’t sure of a question, avoid giving a rambling or incoherent answer, as it won’t earn you any points. Instead, pass on the question, ask if you can come back to it at the end, or just state what you know about the topic and move on.
  • Look professional: You probably won’t be graded on your appearance, but looking professional will help create a positive first impression. Dress as you would if you were going to a job interview, refrain from eating, drinking, or chewing gum, and maintain good posture throughout the test.
  • Keep answers concise: Avoid straying from the question and/or stating every single thing that you know about a topic. Instead, give information that pertains directly to the question that you are being asked.
  • Repeat info if necessary: It’s possible that the same material will be addressed in more than one question. If this is the case, don’t worry about repeating the same information more than once. Most instructors grade oral exams on an answer by answer basis, so it doesn’t matter if you use the same information in different answers.

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