Speaking or oral exams can come in many shapes and sizes. They all have different mark schemes and criteria and a range of possible topics and styles. Below are my main tips for revising for a speaking exam.
- Actually Speak
This is something my language teachers would always say: make sure you are speaking aloud instead of practicing in your head. I think this is one of the most important things about revising for a speaking exam. It is vital that you hear yourself saying the words, so that you know which words to emphasise and how the speech with flow – there may be things which are great written down but when spoken seem stiff and unnatural.
I stress this point particularly with foreign languages. I believe that hearing yourself saying the words helps you to remember them, and even if you don’t memorise the entire speech, a lot of key vocabulary will stay with you. It’s also helpful for improving your pronunciation.
- Trigger Happy
By “triggers” I mean starter sentences or phrases, which lead to something else. These are particularly important for foreign language exams, because having triggers ready for every tense will mean that in the exam if you forget what you rehearsed, or the examiner guides the exam in an unexpected direction, you can still bring in the higher level language.
Even at A-level, I had key phrases for higher-level grammar points, so that I would ensure that I would get them into my exam and I could get the higher marks.
Trigger Examples (for any language):
When I was younger…
Last weekend I went to…
When I am older, I plan to…
In my free time, I enjoy…
Spanish higher-level trigger examples:
Es importante que
Si fuera profesor, haría
Me entristece que
- Record Yourself
Nobody likes listening to themselves back, but I honestly believe this is one of the best ways to practice for speaking exams. This mostly applies to foreign languages, when you have a set of questions which might come up. To practice these questions I suggest:
- Record each of the questions on a separate voice memo on your phone.
- Transfer the voice memos to your computer and create a playlist of questions.
- In a new voice memo, or even without recording yourself, play the playlist of questions and answer each one as it comes.
I normally record myself answering the questions, and then will listen to the answers to the questions which I found most difficult. I can answer the questions for about half an hour or so before getting bored, and I won’t listen to the entire thing back, but it provides reassurance about my answers.
- Time Yourself
Yes, I’m that person in the class that does their practice speaking exam and runs over by 20 minutes. But that’s because I’m a linguist. This has not always worked in my favour, because it means I try to give as much detail as possible, when actually I just need to show good vocabulary and grammar in the time given.
So, while revising it is vital to time yourself. If you can record yourself as well and see what you said during the allocated time, that is even better. But otherwise, just time yourself so that in the exam you don’t (a) have too much to say and keep being cut off by the examiner; or (b) have anything to say in the last 5 minutes of the exam because you had no idea the exam would be so long.
- Drama Students Rejoice
Unfortunately for the introverts of the world, no matter how word-perfect you are, or how excellent your knowledge of the topic is, you probably won’t be able to score full marks in a speaking exam if you aren’t dramatic and enthusiastic in your answers.
This is not one of my strong points – my teachers always told me that I needed to sound “more spontaneous” and “more enthusiastic” when I talk about as my hobbies or the environment. Even though I had prepared and rehearsed for weeks, they wanted “feeling” in the language. I would say that even for foreign language exams and even if it feels a bit stupid, try to inject surprise, shock and intrigue into your exam so that the examiner doesn’t mark you down for making him listen to another monotonous recital of “my dream holiday”.
- Practice Makes Perfect
A lot of people say “you can’t revise for a speaking exam”. This is completely ridiculous. Speaking exams are one of the easiest exams to prepare for because, ok, you aren’t given a textbook to learn from, but more often than not, you are given a topic and probably a set of questions to practice with. Knowing your topic and having your triggers prepared are the key points for a speaking exam, once you have them, it’s all about just continuously reading aloud from your preparation or just constantly talking to yourself.