How to Manage Stress Before and During an Oral Exam

An oral examination is also an exercise in communication. You do not use your knowledge alone in front of a mirror (even if you can practice it a little at home), but while facing a person – a teacher who is going to assess your knowledge. This may make you worried in advance as you may not know if your teacher will be nice and forgiving or strict. Thus, an oral exam may put you under some unnecessary pressure. So, you must avoid being carried away by your imagination, and work on the main points of your speech because it will help you improve your results.

Make a Positive Impression on Your Examiner

First Impression

Assume that he or she is going to be normal and rather benevolent towards you. During the waiting time (and do note that sometimes it may take long) in front of the exam room, you can ask other students for some information about how he or she questions others (Does he or she read the whole text and then asks a lot of questions?). But resist the urge to know if the teacher is cool, nice, strict, etc. The negative impression of another student can make you panic unnecessarily: it is his or her own feelings, and you can quite possibly have different experience because each oral examination is unique, do not forget it.

Prepare Anything that Can Be Prepared

Instead of worrying about what is unknown (the face of the examiner, the questions you will be asked), concentrate on everything you can prepare to succeed in advance. As such, one can think of getting himself or herself ready (be clean and sober), his or her equipment, the journey to the exam room, and then think in advance how the test will unfold. This makes it possible to minimize all the effects of the surprise. Prepare your materials particularly well: the list of works and books to present to the teacher. Make sure you have at least several sheets of paper and a pen to write with.

Avoid Chatter that Makes You Lose Your Focus

“Stop Talking!”

If the waiting time is long, do not exhaust yourself with the endless chatter: you will find it difficult to concentrate if you are called in abruptly. You may want to reread a few cards unless you feel that this is even more worrying. Also, it is really important to make a good first impression. When you arrive in front of the examiner to get to know your questions, present yourself politely with a slight smile, look in his or her eyes (without challenging them) and simply say «Hello, Sir» or «Hello, Madam». After you are given your examination questions, do not show disappointment or relief, but also do not hesitate to ask for confirmation or to have them repeated if you have not understood everything correctly.

Do Not Be Distracted

You are usually given about 15-20 minutes of preparation. If the previous candidate is passing the exam in the meantime, do not be distracted by trying to listen: on the contrary, concentrate on your preparation so as not to waste any time. You might be worried about nothing by hearing the questions asked by the examiner. Prepare your presentation plan as a draft, use numeration for the different parts. Prepare your introduction and conclusion.

Do Not Talk Too Fast, Keep Eye Contact

Keep Calm

Stress often pushes you to speed up your speech, so you have to force yourself to be a little slower. Start without any delay, introduce yourself and present your plan. However, you should not read from your draft. Even if you have prepared your introduction or some points, it is still an oral exam. Your eyes must be lifted up from your sheet of paper to the examiner’s eyes. Look at him or her especially when you highlight some important ideas and when you move from one part of the presentation to another. If you are a very shy person, fix your gaze in the middle of the teacher’s forehead when you look at him or her, but avoid looking lower than his or her eyes or somewhere completely in the air behind them. If you have to do an exercise on the chalkboard, leave it to look at the teacher as you go.

Listen Carefully to the Questions

In the precipitation and anxiety of not knowing enough data, some respond to anything without thinking about the questions which were asked. It is better to wait a little bit and let a few moments of silence pass before answering. If you do not know anything at all, say so. The examiner often seeks to help you rather than fail you on purpose.

Use Some Cards to Synthesize

Therefore, it may be wise to use your revision sheets which are already there for you in order to get ready for the exam. A well-prepared revision sheet summarizes the main points of each chapter or texts. Memorize the plan of each topic as this will be useful for your oral presentation. Teachers appreciate candidates who organize their ideas according to a clear plan that they state quickly over the first minutes.

To Comment on a Text

If you are speaking over the text from a presentation, for example, you should also follow a standard plan for your speech. There must at least be a good introduction that will be presenting the author and the text, commenting on certain important passages and finally making a point by highlighting what this text brings, why it is interesting, etc. Still, be warned that it is often on this last point that the examiner will ask you some questions. It is, therefore, necessary to have knowledge in reserve on the point that you evoke. For instance, if you discuss romanticism, it is better to know several authors of this genre. You also should know how to comment on the scientific exercise. In the scientific subjects, if you have an exercise to solve before you start writing on the board, you should begin by stating which theorem or what approach you will use. This way, you will show your knowledge of the subject, even if you do not find the exact solution.

Practice Speaking

What is more, you have to learn how to speak properly, especially if you are not very comfortable with public speaking. Do not hesitate to practice out loud at home (or in a low voice) by imagining yourself facing the examiner. Use a timer for better time management – you may get used to finding the correct rhythm so that you will not have to spend too much time on the introduction. You can also record your performance or work in the small groups, but try to stay focused no matter what.

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