Oral exams test your knowledge and capabilities through spoken interaction between you and the examiners. They range from a straightforward question and answer format, to problem-based or hypothetical scenarios that may evaluate your interpersonal communication, diagnostic or creative abilities.
- Viva: a panel of experts questioning a student about how they would deal with a particular patient or case - used in medicine and some other health disciplines. The viva may also be used as a verbal defence of a written research project or dissertation (commonly used in science disciplines)
- Auditions (used in creative and performing arts), such as playing music
- Observation (such as evaluating teacher performance in a school classroom) or the practical demonstration of skills (eg social work students in a mock counselling session).
Type of learning required
Oral exams are used to evaluate not only your knowledge, but your ability to effectively communicate it.
Some oral exams require a practical demonstration of certain skills, such as your ability to play music, conduct a counselling session, effectively diagnose a patient, or present a legal argument in a mock trial.
Study strategies for oral exams
What to do
- Prior to the exam, clarify exactly what will be tested. For example, are you expected to use audiovisual equipment, such as PowerPoint, and pre-prepare material?
- If you can take a summary sheet of information with you into the exam, list the major issues likely to be covered in point form, grouped under major key headings that can act as 'memory joggers'.
- Practice answering questions verbally under exam conditions, with friends, classmates and even in front of a mirror.
- Pay attention to your posture, eye contact, and clarity of speech.
What NOT to do
- Don't memorise an answer word for word. Avoid slang and waffle.
- Don't interpret the lack of any feedback during the exam as evidence that you are doing poorly. Examiners may aim to remain objective and minimise influence by adopting a 'poker face'.
During the exam
- Dress and act professionally. Look attentive and maintain eye contact with your examiner/s. Pay close attention to what the examiner/s say to you.
- Interpret the question. Use brief silences to consider your response before speaking. Focus on speaking clearly. Take deep breaths as required.
- Make use of your memory joggers and consult your notes if allowed.
- Avoid brief 'yes' or 'no' responses unless this is specifically requested.
If you get stuck
- If you go off-topic, or are unable to finish a sentence properly, it is fine to stop speaking, collect your thoughts and start again.
- If you do not know the answer; seek clarification if allowed. Alternatively, admit you do not know the answer and state how you would go about finding out the answer.