How can I tell what I think till I see what I say?
E. M. Forster
1879 - 1970
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
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.
Guide "Anticipating Test
Content" in this web site
Write out questions you expect to be asked,
- Discuss answering techniques with people in
or who have had the test.
Practice answering with classmates
Practice in a
similar setting, in front of a mirror, to evaluate your
- Verify the date, time and location;
confirm these with your instructor
- If you use computing, projection, or
practice with the equipment the day
and verify an hour or so before the test if possible.
- Look and act professional!
Dress well and appropriately, turn off
cell phones and pagers;
- Arrive at the location early
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!
posture and eye contact;
If there are distractions (noise
outside, etc,) you may mention your distraction and/or
- Stay focused through the interview.
Be an intelligent listener as well as talker.
- Do not ramble
if you do not know an
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"
Stress the positive and not the negative.
two or three key points or examples to demonstrate your
- 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
answer that would add to your evaluation
Thank the instructor
- Summarize your performance;
you did well or poorly
Keep a written record
- Note how you could do better
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
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