How To Prepare for Your Foreign Language Oral Exam

How To Prepare for Your Foreign Language Oral Exam

Exam Ready Week LogoOral exams are scary. There’s no question about that. If you mess up in a written exam, it’s between you and your exam paper. But in an oral exam, you, your teacher, and your examiner all have to sit through the mistakes, the embarrassment, and the awkward silences. Ouch.

As an introvert and a former shy girl who has sat through and got top marks in over twenty oral exams, I have plenty of tips to pass on to students who want to both survive and do well in their oral exams.

A successful oral exam depends on two things: how well you prepare for your exam and how you actually perform in the exam. In this article, I’ll share my top tips for preparing for the exam. Stay tuned for my tips on keeping calm during the exam itself.

How To Prepare for Your Oral Exam

The best way to feel confident about your exam is to prepare thoroughly, so that, when you walk into that room, you can remind yourself that everything you need to know is in your head.

1. Prepare answers to questions that are likely to come up.

Your teacher has probably given you a list of questions on the topics that are likely to come up. Write answers to each of these questions and print them out. You might also want to brainstorm additional questions and prepare answers to those too.

2. Find out how to pronounce the words.

If you need to learn a word but you’re not sure how to pronounce it, look it up using a dictionary or a website like Forvo.

3. Memorise your answers.

Learn your answers by heart. The idea is to fill your head with correct and coherent content so that, when you go to speak in the exam, correct and coherent sentences come out of your mouth.

You’re not aiming to regurgitate each answer perfectly, but rather to be able to use bits and pieces to answer questions in a more sophisticated way than you would be able to if you simply relied on whatever came to mind in the exam. If you do end up sounding like you’re reading, practice pausing and adding ‘umm’ to make it sound more spontaneous.

Learn your answers one phrase or sentence at a time. Select a chunk and repeat it to yourself over and over until you’ve got it. Then learn the next chunk. Then repeat both the chunks together. Then add the next bit and so on. Practice saying the entire answer in one go. If you’ve learned the answers in a particular order, make sure you practice them out of sequence too.

4. Understand and learn the questions.

It’s no good having perfect answers if you don’t understand the questions. Look up any words you don’t know and learn to recognise key words. Learn each question alongside the answer that goes with it.

5. Know your weaknesses.

Look through your work to identify mistakes that you’ve made over and over again. Find out what you’re doing wrong and learn how to do it correctly. If you still don’t understand, make sure to avoid those constructions.

6. Know what the examiner is looking for.

Find out, by looking at the mark scheme, by asking your teacher, or by figuring it out based on what you’ve been taught, which constructions you’ll need to hit the grade you’re aiming for. If you can, prepare a correct example of each construction, so you can be sure to show what you can do.

7. Learn a few idioms and phrases.

Pick two or three idiomatic phrases or sayings and memorise them. Go for sayings that could be used to talk about any topic or topic-specific ones that you know you’ll be able to use in the exam.

8. Make a vocab list.

Compile a list of topic-specific vocab that’s likely to come up. If you can, learn the gender of any nouns and the different tenses of any verbs. Learn the vocab so you can use and recognise it.

9. Prepare some stock phrases.

Make a list of anything you might need to say in the exam, for example can you repeat that? Learn these so that you can say them without thinking.

10. Have a trial run.

It’s one thing thinking you’re ready because you’ve learned all your answers, but it’s another thing actually thinking on the spot. Get a parent or friend to do a mock exam with you. Pay attention to where you slip up and then work on improving those areas.

11. Make useful notes.

If you’re allowed to take notes in with you, use them to remind you of the bits you’re most likely to forget or get wrong. Be creative to sneak more than one clue into one drawing or word.

Good Luck!

Oral exams are scary but if you prepare well beforehand, when you walk into that exam room and the nerves hit you, you’ll be able to remind yourself that everything you need to know is in your head. Then it’s just a case of showing the examiner what you know.

Next >> How to keep calm during your Oral exam

After getting ten A*s at GCSE, four As at A Level, and a first class honours degree, Joanna L K Moore got fed up of being a shy, quiet, socially awkward geek. She decided to get herself some confidence and started Twisted Sleeve to record what she learned and to help other shy girls become confident too. You can find out more about Jo at