Oral exams - How to prepare for different University exams

Final exams are pretty challenging, aren't they? We understand that this period is crucial for most because it has a significant impact on whether you progress to the next year of your university qualification or if you complete your university qualification. For this reason, to familiarise you with the various requirements and considerations for each exam type, we will be discussing how to prepare for different types of university exams. In this post, we have provided an overview of the oral exam type and will cover the remaining exam types in upcoming posts, such as multiple-choice, essay, take-home, open-book, and case study.

Oral Exams

What is the primary objective of oral exams? To demonstrate knowledge and understanding of a subject matter and to showcase presentation, speaking, and interpersonal communication skills. We acknowledge that grades matter and that many students strive for perfect scores, but the benefits of preparing for and taking oral exams extend far beyond your time in school and university. Oral exams, for example, allow you to refine your public speaking abilities while also developing soft skills necessary for delivering in-house presentations. Many occupations demand you to give public presentations regularly or to oversee and engage in panels at conferences. As a result, while you are still in university, you should focus on developing and sharpening your soft skills to prepare yourself for future success.


There are two main types of oral exams; formal and informal. Formal orals follow more of a structured format, as questions are prepared by the speaker beforehand. Such exams require the speaker to give concise, specific, and direct answers to the questions asked. On the other hand, informal oral exams often have a less structured format, which allows the speaker to provide more open and lengthy responses to questions. An oral exam in such a format allows the speaker more freedom to showcase their interpersonal communication and presentation skills. 


Did you know that your examiner considers your posture when grading your oral exam? Although it may not have a significant impact, posture in a formal oral exam is one of many pertinent forms of communication that you must be aware of and intentional about to exude confidence and reinforce the material of your oral exam. You will soon learn about oral exam preparation tips that go beyond body language to help you feel more confident and prepared for your university oral exam.

Oral exam preparation

Even though many of us are familiar with the intimidation associated with preparing and taking tests, the pressure of doing oral exams is unmatched.  How you prepare for an oral exam determines to a large extent if you ace it or fail it, just as with any other exam.  Therefore, the most crucial aspect of preparation is subject matter knowledge and comprehension and the ability to apply it to a selected prompt. 


No matter the structure of the oral, it is imperative that you prepare for every question that your instructor or examiner might ask. University instructors or lecturers often hold revision lectures, a time dedicated to reviewing all material covered and highlighting any key subject areas that need extra attention. We suggest you attend these lectures, listen carefully to what is said, and prepare questions based on the information you hear. 

Getting ready for your oral exam can be easier if you follow these tips:

Revise material:

Reading through the course textbooks, outlines, lecture slides, tutorial handouts and assignments, previous tests and course assignments, and course notes can help refresh your memory. 

You can also compare notes with someone taking the same course as you - but be careful about who you ask because this is not a licence to copy notes. As with group or pair learning, examining each other's notations helps you compare and contrast ideas and views and broadens your knowledge. In addition, you will be able to identify gaps or weaknesses in your notes.  We recommend that you meet in person and engage in this activity.


Lastly, you should ask your course instructor questions. Asking is the only thing that stands between you and not knowing. If you meet with them, prepare your questions in advance so you can make the most of your time.


Structure your answer:

The style of oral presentations varies; some entail a two-way debate between you and the instructor, while others assign you a topic and require you to deliver a monologue about it. In addition, a topic or a set of questions may be provided to you before the examination for preparation purposes or only be presented to you on the day of the exam. Therefore, it is essential to become familiarised with the format of your assessment because it will serve as a blueprint for your preparation.

The steps below outline how to prepare for an oral presentation prompt and can also be used as a guide for answering pre-assigned questions:


  • You need to deconstruct every question and understand what it is asking.
  • Brainstorm: Write down important terms and points related to your answers.
  • Use the points you generate and the analysis of the questions and write general thesis statements or opening arguments.
  • To present a structured narrative, come up with at least 3-4 critical arguments per question. Narrating too many core ideas may jeopardise the conciseness of your answers. And having too little to say may give off the impression of a lack of preparation. 
  • Always provide supporting information for each key argument to demonstrate your mastery of the subject matter and ability to defend your narrative.
  • Always tie back your answers to the thesis statements or opening arguments to show a conscious and logical flow of ideas. 

Enact the oral exam:

  • Perform: Act out an oral exam by presenting your points and debating with your study partners.
  • Debate: Debating with your study partner pushes you to comprehend the material and prepares you to defend and present supporting evidence for your thesis statement.
  • Get constructive criticism: When you present in front of a study partner or partners, you will be able to receive constructive feedback that will help you review and perfect the substance of your narrative. Such input is critical because other people may point out something you aren't aware of, such as slouching your back, not keeping eye contact, or rambling on for too much. 
  • Set a timer: Time yourself on practice runs to get a sense of the clock. Nothing is worse than having too much to say and the clock running out before you finish.

Oral exam day

Now that you have completed all preparations, it is time for your oral exam. This section of the post discusses a few things you should consider doing during your oral presentation to distinguish yourself from others and demonstrate your professionalism.

Make a good first impression

The oral exam starts the moment you walk into the room. As you enter the room, make eye contact with the examiner and smile to establish a welcoming atmosphere. Be deliberate in how you carry yourself as you enter because if you were the examiner and someone walked in with the biggest frown on their face, you might feel uncomfortable. Depending on the structure of the exam, introducing yourself to the examiner may be an additional way to make a first imperceptible impression. 

dress to impress, image matters, be presentable 

Dress code: The format of the oral exam determines how you dress. If it is a formal business course oral, it may be more appropriate to wear business casual. And remember to turn off your mobile phone completely, not on vibration. 

Punctuality for the win

Every exam has an allocated date, time and location. You need to confirm these details before the day of your oral exam. We suggest arriving at least 10 to 15 minutes early. Being late for oral exams is the worst thing you can do because it makes it very easy for your examiner to single you out and lower your score as a direct result.


Body language matters

Visual appearance and body language are vital forms of communication that you need to use. You want your presence and demeanour to exude confidence and interest. Pay attention to your posture, how you walk, and how you use the podium or lectern if present in the room. 


Don’t be too casual: 

  • Don't fold your arms because it creates a barrier between you and your audience. You want to be able to connect with your audience. 
  • Avoid swaying back and forth or tapping your shoes on the ground excessively, as this can give the impression that you are nervous or restless.
  • Don't put your hands in your pockets or on your waist, as this will make you appear matronly. It would make your audience feel more at ease to see your hands. 
  • Be aware of your body positioning. You want to face your audience at all times, so avoid facing away from your audience when speaking, as this can lower the projection levels of your voice. If you need to write on the board as part of your presentation, remember to turn your body to your audience when you speak. 
  • Avoid checking your watch.  If you foresee this becoming an issue, it would be best to take it off for the oral. However, if there isn’t a clock present in the room that you can see, you can place your watch on the table or podium and glance at it from time to time.


Walk the talk:

  • We suggest that you walk while presenting as it may enhance your presentation.  Walking with purpose can help you appear less stiff and anxious. However, avoid pacing as it could be distracting to your audience.


Distractions, distractions, avoid them:

  • Although a podium (or lectern) allows you to lay out your notes, how you use it can make or break your presentation.  Consider how prime ministers and presidents use podiums: they hold the sides of the lectern loosely and occasionally let go to use hand gestures during speeches. In addition, they frequently make eye contact, glancing at their notes periodically.  Thus, instead of using the podium to hide from the audience, use it effectively, and when you don't need it, step away to refocus your audience's attention by walking.
  • Another factor to consider is the use of technology during presentations. If you want to or are required to use technology, be sure that the device is working before the oral. You should not be trying to figure out why the projector isn't working during your oral, nor do you want loud music playing while attempting to elucidate a vital point. Be deliberate in your use of technology; if you don't need it, don't use it. Your oral exam aims to demonstrate your knowledge of the subject matter, not how well you can use the new iPad plus.

Listen and speak 

  • As previously discussed, you cannot succeed in an oral exam unless you can articulate your points effectively. Similarly, actively listening to the questions posed by your examiner will help you carefully construct your responses to articulate them with directness and conciseness.
  • Oral exams require you to listen and respond in a manner that demonstrates your understanding of the question and addresses all of the major components to support your argument. 
  • Don't be scared to ask clarifying questions; remember, you want to position yourself to win. Asking for clarification from your examiner can also offer you additional time to formulate an appropriate response.
  • Rambling versus awkward silence: Both are equally bad. Rambling makes you appear as if you are in a rush or trying to make it difficult for your audience to grasp what you are saying. While not saying anything or allowing minutes to go by in complete silence will make you appear unprepared. 

End it with a bang

In the same way, you created a friendly atmosphere by smiling and introducing yourself at the start of your oral, we think how you conclude it is noteworthy. 


  • Thank your audience for listening to your presentation. If you choose, you can also express how much you appreciated the questions they asked. Please don't overdo it; you don't want your audience to assume you're attempting to score brownie points.
  • Say your goodbyes and walk out of the exam venue professionally - don't be tempted to hurry out because you're relieved it's over!

Do you need extra help?

Study groups aren't for everyone, but that doesn't mean there aren't alternative methods you can use to support your academic progress. We maintain our stance on the effectiveness of enlisting the help of an education expert. At Teach Me 2, we have education experts in the form of tutors who will design a tutoring programme tailored to achieving your academic goals. We make it an uncompromisable priority to hire tutors who have achieved distinctions in the subjects and courses they are authorised to teach. Our tutors have also been thoroughly vetted, which means that their criminal backgrounds and academic credentials have been verified. The outcome is that all of our clients can learn with ease and have confidence in the support we provide. 

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