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Oral Examination

Chloe Griffin, 2nd year BA student in Modern Languages (Irish & French) talks about her experience of oral examinations.


What do oral examinations look like in modern languages? 

Oral examination can differ from department to department and it is important to keep this in mind as the guidelines for one language assessment (e.g. French) may not be the same for an other (Irish). For some oral exams you may just take part in a conversation in your given language with the examiner and for others you may have to prepare a presentation which you will then be asked questions on.

In a pre-pandemic world, orals would usually take place in person at the end of term, however at the moment a lot of these exams have moved online in the form of a pre-recorded presentation or conversation. That said, the format remains pretty similar for both.

How do you prepare for this type of assessment?

When preparing for an oral exam, your language accuracy and confidence are key factors. Throughout the year it is a good idea to keep on top of your vocabulary (I would recommend the Anki App for this). Immerse yourself in the language as best as possible, for example by listening to podcasts or watching shows on Netflix. You can actually find some decent ones online with a quick Google search and it doesn’t feel like work as much which is always a plus.

Once you know how you will be assessed it is so important to follow the guidelines given to you, particularly for presentation-style oral exams where the department will usually have a very rigid criteria. Don’t just start preparing a loose presentation as you will lose marks if you haven’t hit on the specifics. These presentations will usually be followed by questions so it is a good idea to brainstorm what things you may be asked prior to the exam and research these. You should aim to have a good overall knowledge of the subject you are presenting on, and of course it is important that you have the vocabulary to cover it.

For conversation-based exams, the most important thing is practice and try to sound as fluent and natural as possible. It might sound a bit ridiculous but chatting to yourself in the language or writing a diary can help with this.

Tell us about your experience of oral examinations 

As our Junior Freshman (1st) year was interrupted by COVID-19 our cohort of students haven’t had any face-to-face or real-time oral exams, we have just done pre-recorded presentations and a recorded conversation with question prompts. This is definitely slightly less challenging than a live or in-person exam. That said, I do find that, because we are usually writing in the target language all the time, it is nice to be able to ‘put it all together’ in an oral and to show off the grammar, vocabulary, sentence structures etc. that you’ve learned.

What advice would you give to someone doing this type of assessment? 

The most daunting thing about these exams is usually the actual speaking of the language and the question section at the end, particularly if you haven’t been fully immersed in the language yet. Confidence can go along way when it comes to oral examinations. Try not to over think absolutely everything you are saying and practice, practice, practice beforehand. The most important thing is to be as comfortable with the language as possible and to believe in your ability. It can be challenging but you often find that you know more than you may give yourself credit for.

I would also just reiterate the importance of vocabulary and knowing your tenses very well. These can be things we often neglect but under pressure it will always be an advantage to have them nailed as well as possible.

What tools/digital technologies do you use to prepare for/complete oral examinations? 

  • Anki App: for revising vocabulary.
  • Podcasts/Netflix: for helping to immerse yourself in the language beforehand.
  • Canva: for presentations
  • Microsoft PowerPoint: for recorded presentations. (I usually save the images from Canva and put them into a PowerPoint presentation to allow for voice-overs on slides.)
  • Flashcards: for presentations where you are permitted to bring in a prompt card with you.


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