Kiosk Guides for Learning

How can I tell what I think till I see what I say?
E. M. Forster
1879 - 1970
English author

Testing with success series

Preparing for and taking oral exams

The oral exam is an opportunity for you to demonstrate your knowledge, your presentation/speaking skills, as well as your ability to communicate. They can also be good practice for job interviews!

The exam can be formal, or informal, but you should consider all exams formal exchanges in order to make a good impression. For both types, you must listen carefully to the question, and answer directly.

Formal exams follow a list of questions in a prepared format. The criteria for evaluation is usually set in a right/wrong format, and can be competitive. For this type of exam, if you wish to add "related" or qualified information, ask permission first as a courtesy.

Informal exams are more open, your responses are usually longer, and evaluations can be more subjective. Answers are often less exact (right/wrong), and value is added for problem solving analysis and method, as well as interpersonal communication and presentation.

There are three components to a successful oral exam:


Ask your teacher what will be on the exam.
Study. If you do not study, you will not do well.
See the Guide
"Test Preparation" in this web site.
See the Guide "Anticipating Test Content" in this web site

Write out questions you expect to be asked, then

  • Discuss answering techniques with people in the field
    or who have had the test.
    Practice answering with classmates
    Practice in a similar setting, in front of a mirror, to evaluate your "manner"
  • Verify the date, time and location;
    confirm these with your instructor
  • If you use computing, projection, or media systems,
    practice with the equipment the day before,
    and verify an hour or so before the test if possible.

The Exam

  • Look and act professional!
    Create a good impression.
    Dress well and appropriately, turn off cell phones and pagers;
  • Arrive at the location early
    to collect yourself and check out the situation, but wait until your scheduled time to keep the appointment.
    This is a time for relaxed focus, not cramming or review.
  • The exam begins the minute you walk in:
    Introduce yourself immediately
    Give the instructor all of your attention; look interested and smile!
    Keep good posture and eye contact;
    If there are distractions (noise outside, etc,) you may mention your distraction and/or nervousness.
  • Stay focused through the interview.
    Be an intelligent listener as well as talker.
  • Do not ramble
    if you do not know an answer.
    State directly that you do not know the answer but ask if you could outline how you would find the answer, solve the problem, or the method you would employ.
  • Maintain your self-confidence and composure
    if you feel the interview is not going well. The interviewer may be testing you.
  • Answer questions with more than "yes" or "no".
    Stress the positive and not the negative.
    Use two or three key points or examples to demonstrate your knowledge
  • Watch for signs that the test is over
    (i.e., the interviewer looks at the clock, moves the chair back, or completes a set of questions)
  • Ask if there is anything
    you could answer that would add to your evaluation

Thank the instructor


  • Summarize your performance;
    where you did well or poorly
    Keep a written record
  • Note how you could do better
    for the next time
  • Note if there was a significant "event"
    during the interview
  • If you have questions or comments
    on either the material or your performance, do not hesitate to speak with the instructor. Do not challenge the teacher, but seek to understand your performance.
  • If you have concerns
    about an inappropriate evaluation after raising concerns with your teacher, discuss them with that department's, or your school's, academic counseling center or a higher authority.
Testing with success series

Test preparation series |
Ten tips for terrific test taking | Taking online tests | True/false tests |
Multiple choice tests | Short answer tests | Open book exams | Oral exams |
Essay Exams | Essay terms and directives | Math Exams