Oral Exams

Preparing for the Exam

  • Have a clear understanding of what material will be included in the exam. 
  • Read and understand the course rules for the exam. If you have procedural questions, ask them well before the exam.
  • Set up a study plan - when you will study, and in what order you will work through the material.
  • Be prepared to lecture on the material - present the ideas clearly, give examples, work examples provided to you, prove theorems, compare different approaches, say what's `new' about results in a given paper, discuss the strengths and weaknesses of an approach.
  • Practise with other students who are taking the exam at roughly the same time. Get more advanced students to ask you questions. Check that your voice is loud enough and of the correct tone. Aim for a logical presentation of ideas. Make sure that your English is understandable, even if it is not your first language.
  • Ask your lecturer to give you a few practice questions and critique your performance.
  • The exam is often easier if it begins with a presentation by you - e.g. what you have done so far in beginning research, what your next steps will be, what work you are building upon, etc. Prepare carefully, and practice it until you are confident of your presentation.

In the Exam

  • If the exam begins with a presentation this should be carefully prepared, usually using PowerPoint or overhead transparencies. The presentation should be clear, well-rehearsed, and succinct. Your transparencies or other visual aids should be carefully organized and easy for you to find. 
  • Rehearse this component thoroughly
  • Listen carefully to questions and make sure you understand exactly what is being asked. Follow instructions exactly - if a short answer is requested, keep it short. If more detail is desired, give a longer response.
  • Don't interrupt a questioner. Get the full question before you answer.
  • Pause briefly after each question is asked taking a moment to compose your thoughts and organize your answer. If you do not understand the question, ask the questioner to rephrase it, or give your interpretation and ask if that is what is meant.
  • If you are positive you cannot answer the question, it is best to admit that and go on, rather than wasting time and focusing the examiner's attention on what you don't know rather than what you do.

Remember that most students will not be able to answer all the questions asked exactly.  Try not to dwell on a previous answer and practice relaxation techniques if you feel yourself getting flustered.

See also Oral Presentations.