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LEARNING HACKS The oral exam scares many students. Either they feel insecure during oral presentations, have not had the motivation to study enough or their passing depends on this exam. Knowing how such an oral exam works and how to prepare for it in the best possible way gives you security and self-confidence. You can find out about that in this article.
Note: Everything I present here relates to the German school system.
The oral exam is the final step towards your graduation and freedom (at least until your studies/voluntary social year etc. start …). The really last exam of your student life is expected by some to be relaxed, by others to be tense. It doesn’t matter whether it stays with one subject or whether more subjects are added: here you can put your knowledge to the test and boost your graduation average – provided you are well prepared and appear confident.
How do I prepare?
My first and most important tip is: start studying early enough! Even if the oral exam seems so far away, you should make a long-term study plan. I know how hard it is to get motivated again so close to the end of school, but remember that your oral exam(s) can raise your A-level average considerably. Having a firm grasp of what you’re learning also relieves stress and provides a sense of security right before the exam.
The best way to study depends on your learning style. For myself, I prefer to go through all the old binder documents and deal with specific topics in a concrete way. To do this, I not only use the typical learning overviews, but above all the Internet and further reading.
Also important: Take part in all consultations. This will give you an idea of what the teacher wants to hear from you in the oral exam, you can exchange ideas with the other students and you will have the motivation to learn something before the next consultation, if possible, so that you don’t end up empty-handed. Don’t be afraid to ask specific questions, because once the oral exams have started, no teacher will explain to you the uncertainties you still have.
Depending on the subject, it can be extremely helpful to study in pairs or in small (!) study groups. Have discussions about the subject, explain it to each other or ask each other questions. With a partner, it is also a good idea to simulate the whole exam. One person thinks up questions and plays the examiner, while the other plays through the exam in the original exam time (40 minutes). Of course, this can also be done alone. In any case, it takes away the nervousness if you have internalised the general procedure.
What should I keep in mind on the day of the exam?
- Be well rested and avoid trying to learn anything now -> This will only make you feel more insecure going into the oral exam. Sit back and try to distract yourself.
- Arrive on time and preferably 15 minutes early! Note whether the time given is the start of the exam or the start of the preparation time.
- Dress comfortably but appropriately (not in a suit, but also not in flip-flops and shorts).
- My personal tip: Bring a small watch (to keep an eye on your time during the lecture, for example).
What happens if I miss the exam?
- If you feel unable to complete the oral exam, be sure to sign out or let the teachers know before you receive your assignments.
- If you arrive after the preparation time has started, you will lose that time.
- If you arrive late for the exam without having registered, you will fail the exam.
How does the oral exam work?
- Before the actual oral examination, you will first be taken to a preparation room. There you usually have 20 minutes to deal with the tasks presented to you (which are structured similarly to a normal paper).
- You will be taken to the examination room, where an examination committee consisting of an examiner (your subject teacher), a secretary and an examination leader will be waiting for you. You now have 10 minutes to present the tasks from the preparation period in a lecture with the help of your notes.
- The examiner then asks you questions from all four semesters of your course.
- After a short or long period of deliberation by the examination board, you will be given your provisional examination result.
How do I look confident?
Don’t look down at the floor in front of the exam board, but make eye contact or at least look ahead. Also check your posture, facial expressions and gestures. It also doesn’t go down well if you stand there bored or walk up and down all the time. Just imagine you are standing in front of a good friend and want to explain something to him or her.
When you speak, both your volume and your speed of speaking are important. If you speak too fast, you can easily slip up. If you speak too slowly, your speech will seem boring and people will lose the context more quickly. Try to avoid filler words like “Um…”. If in doubt, admit that you are nervous or try to think out loud to avoid long pauses.
How do I make the most of …
a) my preparation time?
Read the tasks thoroughly and make notes on each answer. These should not be too short (after all, you have to use them to present your result), but not too long either, because you should still speak relatively freely. When working on the tasks, keep in mind that the tasks usually increase towards the end of the requirement range: I: learned knowledge, II: applied knowledge, III: self-reflection. Also, take some time to think about how long you need to present which task.
b) the 10-minute presentation?
Now the most important part of your oral exam starts. Introduce your topic at the beginning and announce which statements belong to which task. Make full use of the 10 minutes. If you don’t, the examiner will ask you more questions, but if you talk too long (up to 15 minutes), the time of the Q&A session will automatically be extended. You can also (after announcing it) switch the order of the tasks if you can say more/less about certain tasks or if it seems to make more sense to you that way. If appropriate, it is also possible to use the blackboard to illustrate your statement.
c) the question time?
Let the examiner finish (that also takes its time) and ask questions if you do not understand something. Answer the questions as thoroughly as possible (include technical terms, examples, parallels, etc. and explain their meaning). You can also direct the question in a specific direction. But be careful! Do not deviate from the actual topic. If you are completely unable to answer a question, say so. Of course, you will get a deduction, but maybe the next question will suit you better.
The best tip at the end
Don’t drive yourself crazy! The exam committee knows how exciting an oral exam is for a student. No one wants to harm you and will intentionally trap you with the questions. If you are well prepared and confident, it’s hard to go wrong. I believe in you. It’s time you do so too.