For most students, the oral exam is an absolute nightmare and a reason for sleepless nights. Even if it is half as bad afterwards: The fear of blackout and embarrassment occupies many people. After all, in written exams you gain experience over time. Oral exams, on the other hand, usually only occur at the end of a course of study and are thus a particularly dreaded challenge. But there is a solution for everything – including your next oral exam.
If your pulse is racing, your hands are clammy and your stomach is tightening just thinking about the exam situation, you should definitely read on now. We’ll tell you how to study for your oral exam with more ease and stay confident even if the answer doesn’t come to you right away.
Even if it sounds a bit old-fashioned, being well prepared is half the work, and this is especially important for an oral exam. We’ll give you an overview of what you should consider in your planning and organization so that you can take the exam with confidence.
Student life is stressful enough as it is, and no one really needs even more stress in their studies, do they? That’s why we need to address this point right at the beginning: Start on time. Take care of your exam preparation and don’t put off studying until the last moment. This is especially important if you suffer from test anxiety or nervousness. If you might find it difficult to get started, sitting out and repressing is not a good strategy and is not known to work anyway. Reality will catch up with you mercilessly and in the end it will only be more stressful. If, on the other hand, you feel adequately prepared, this will give you a great deal of security and self-confidence. And that will definitely have an impact on your appearance on the day of the exam.
Oral exams come in different variations. From a technical discussion with many questions to an independent short presentation, a lot can be required. The more you know about the exam type, the easier it will be for you to face the situation. In any case, try to find out these points in good time:
Start in time? This is often easier said than done. After all, we like to put things off if they are difficult or not fun for us. But once you get started, it gets easier over time. If you are not motivated enough, you can help yourself. For example, choose the right room to study undisturbed and create a pleasant environment. If you live in your own apartment, you will probably have more peace and quiet than in a lively shared apartment. Allow yourself enough breaks and reward yourself for reaching intermediate goals. If that’s not enough, you’ll find plenty of other tips for more self-motivation in your studies in our article.
As soon as you know what material will be covered and what the exam will look like, you can start organizing. A personal study plan is really useful for this. It’s best to set your learning goals for the different days and individual weeks. You should allow for a sufficient buffer. The advantages speak for themselves: On the one hand, you can ensure that you start on time and that there are no unpleasant surprises shortly before the exam date. On the other hand, you can keep an eye on your learning progress and visualize it. This not only helps you learn efficiently, but also helps you master the big goal in small, doable steps. And that sounds much easier, doesn’t it? By the way, you can find more tips on how to structure your studies perfectly and prepare even better here: Self-organization in your studies.
We want to clear up the prejudice: study groups are not only for nerds! The feedback from and the exchange with other students can really help you prepare for your exams. Oral exams are predestined to be rehearsed and replayed together. Put together a catalog of possible exam questions and take on the different roles. In the process, everyone learns something, for example, how to deal with questions to which you acutely don’t know the answers. And don’t worry: it happens to the best of us, and examiners also see a blackout more often than you might think. But more on that later.
Have you made all the preparations for the oral exam and acquired the necessary knowledge? That’s great. Then there are a few things that will make life easier for you in the exam situation.
On the day of the exam, leave your papers in the drawer. Instead of slogging through your notes all night and in the morning, do one thing: pamper yourself. This includes getting enough sleep (lavender helps in a pinch!), eating a good breakfast with plenty of brain food, and getting enough exercise. This way, you give your brain everything it needs for the thinking work ahead. Prepare your papers the day before so that you don’t forget anything in the rush. Arrive at the exam dressed appropriately and rather a little too early than too late. You really don’t need to be in a hurry on that day.
Right before the exam, listening to invigorating music or talking to a good friend can help you get rid of your tension or even prevent it from arising in the first place. Keep in mind that the exam is really just a conversation and you can contribute a lot to the outcome. Keep this positive mood and take it with you into the exam room. After all, a friendly smile will make you look much more likeable when you greet the exam committee. In addition, you can assume that everyone is well-disposed toward you – even if the other person frowns or looks critically in between. No one has anything to gain from failing you or deliberately marking you down. If you feel challenged by difficult questions, they will only be asked because they think you can handle them.
Getting a tough question or worried you won’t come up with the answer? Just keep calm. Because it’s absolutely okay if you have to think for a moment. In that case, answer nicely that it’s an interesting question and you’d like to gather your thoughts for a moment. For particularly complex questions, you can also think out loud to get to the solution. By the reactions of your counterpart you will notice whether you are on the right track. It is always allowed to ask questions if you want to make sure that you have understood the question correctly.
If you are asked a question about a topic that you are not very familiar with, don’t worry. Say whatever comes to your mind at the moment and then try to skillfully redirect the conversation to an area in which you feel really confident. However, you should not overdo this. Examiners generally don’t like it when you digress all the time. So be as precise as possible in your answers, include key terms and technical terms. Provide examples to support your arguments. You should always respond to critical questions and comments in an interested, calm and polite manner.
Students usually believe that a blackout is the super disaster in the oral exam. But it happens more often than you think and is not the end of the world. Take a deep breath and say that you are nervous or have a blackout. Just ask to be allowed to breathe for a moment. Often this changes the situation and you calm down by yourself. If you still can’t think of it, you can ask the examiners if you can put the question on the back burner and come back to it at a later time. If you’re lucky, you won’t even have to talk about it again or it will actually come back to you later.
Once the exam is over, a lot of pressure will probably come off of your back. Enjoy the feeling and your success – you really deserve it. Afterwards, think about what you would like to do better next time and what you can take away from the situation. Feel free to exchange ideas with other students. But right after the exam, there’s really only one important thing to do: celebrate together and toast your achievement! We at Milestone wish you good luck for your next oral exam.