The Science of Taking an Oral Exam

Standardized tests have long been revered as the adjudicators of a student’s successful future.  However, they may have a strong contender; the ever formidable and much mentioned, oral exam.  In a January, 2007 polling of medical specialty boards, it was discovered that oral exams were a requirement for 15 out of 24 board-certification approval processes.  Why?

A study done by James E. Houston and Everett V. Smith hypothesized that those students possessing good communication and organizational skills would score higher on their oral exams.  There was a statistically significant increase in oral examination measures for candidates with higher levels of communication/organization skills (Smith & Everett, 2).  Alas, the hypothesis was correct.  This shows both the why and the how.  The key to successful oration can be found in organization and communication, two crucial aspects of being a successful professional.

Smith and Everett’s study determined that a well organized mind would present their oral responses clearly, making them easier for the judges to comprehend.  This, combined with a lucid presentation and a thoughtful choice of language would make the examinees appear favorably in judges’ eyes.

Organize your thoughts well and communicate them clearly; it seems simple.  As usual, it is easier said than done.

Seven factors, in addition to the pure competence of the examinee, have been noted as score influencers.  A judge’s response to a candidate, if visibly negative, can have an affect on the examinee’s ability to continue.  A judge’s personal feelings and biases will come into play as well.  The candidate’s personality and the way in which they interact with the judges will also play a role. The manner in which the questions are presented will affect the examinee’s ability to answer appropriately.  Articulateness of the examinee’s speech also plays a part.  The style in which responses are presented is also important as it may be considered too formal or informal.  And, of course, test anxiety.

More on Oral Exams Here  and HERE

So the answer to the long asked question: How does one take a successful oral exam? Be prepared.  If you do not have a strong working knowledge of the test material, nothing will save you.  Take your time and choose your words wisely.  Of the seven factors outlined above, five are at least partially within the control of the examinee.  Do not let yourself be shaken by the reaction of a judge.  Be yourself, but in a professional manner (you are not trying to make friends).  Be sure that you understand the question before responding.  Speak slowly and clearly.  Focus, and, at all costs, be confident.

Exams on our site with an Oral Component, include the  NNAAP, NBDE, VRA, NBDHE, MELAB, ITBS, AEPA



About the Author

Brian has a BA in Economics, and an MA in Psychology. He lives in British Columbia, Canada. He has traveled widely and has written extensively on education, testing and tests.

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  1. Brian says:

    Oral Exams can be brutal. I took Japanese in my Undergraduate and did pretty good on the written but the Oral part was a killer.

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