How to Pass an English Speaking Exam
Every time we face an English speaking exam, we panic. Some people are very good at communicating orally, but others are not and can be become afraid of being exposed.
However, if you approach the speaking exam differently and follow certain rules, you will surely be successful.
Try Changing Your Perspective
Rather than seeing the speaking exam as a terrifying ordeal, take a moment to consider the ways in which it is easier than other types of test.
What? You don’t believe me? Okay, how about this…
- Being face to face with a person enables us to interact with that person asking the questions, which is not possible during the written or listening tests.
- You can correct your mistakes by rephrasing or repeating.
- You can ask the person/teacher to give more detail or elaborate on what they want.
- During a speaking exam, you can exchange ideas with the other person, which makes the conversation more enjoyable and makes time flies.
- Again, just remember that you can make amendments and additions to your answers, giving you more opportunities to gain marks and pass than you have in other tests.
Of course, part of your confidence will also come from preparing well, but the beauty of the speaking exam is that you can also be spontaneous. Looking at speaking tests from this perspective is one of the keys to feeling more relaxed… and when we are relaxed.
Top Tips for Speaking Exams
A speaking exam is a type of performance and it is all too easy to suffer from “stage fright”! ⇒ «How to Overcome the Fear of Speaking English»
When that happens, one of two things may happen.
You may freeze up and find it difficult to say anything, even the speech or presentation that you have prepared. On the other hand, you may overcompensate for your fear and talk too much, trying to add extra phrases and therefore risking making extra mistakes.
There are lots of tips and techniques you can use to overcome your fear of speaking English 😉
Lots of Practice
Practise the interview in the days and weeks before your test with someone who can play the teacher.
This way you can test how well you know the topics and just going through the process will make you feel more confident. Do this as often as you can. You know it’s true: practice makes perfect!
Don’t try to use everything you’ve learnt in books
If you try to show absolutely everything you’ve learnt during your studies, you will make things too complicated and you will struggle and lose control of the interview.
Don’t ask more of yourself than you can handle. So, when you are preparing your speech, make it as impressive as possible for your level, but not so impressive that you fail the exam! During the test, if you find you are trying to add extra unplanned elements, just slow down, take a breath and return to what you have been practising.
When you take control, your confidence returns.
What’s more, be careful of learning and repeating exact examples and phrases from the textbook. If you do this it could lead the teacher to believe that you just memorised stuff and don’t understand it.
Be an Actor
As Shakespeare used to say:
«All the world’s a stage,
and all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;»
Listen to Shakespeare and become a great player during your speaking test.
If you’re naturally shy, pretend you’re playing a role or a part in a film; a character who can speak English more confidently. And remember, if you’re actor, be a good one; tell yourself you’re an Oscar-winner or that your speaking test could win you this year’s Goya! Move over Anthony Hopkins and Meryl Streep!
When you are feeling confident, that feeling with help your ‘performance’ and the teacher will give you a better ‘review’ for sure.
In a speaking exam, as in everyday life, you’re judged, approved or failed, not only for what you say and how you say it but also for your appearance and manner while you speak. In other words, your non-verbal communication (or body language) will affect your success.
Here are some tips on body language for your speaking exam:
Don’t hide your hands, take them out of your pockets and let them move naturally. However, try not to point with your index finger, it might be mistaken for an aggressive attitude.
Keep a relaxed posture, don’t be tense or stiff; drop your shoulders (this will help you breathe more easily too).
When you walk in the room, do it graciously, not too slow, not too fast. Take strong, deliberate steps, but don’t make holes in the floor.
When you sit down, lean backwards but don’t slouch. Try and look as natural as possible, but beware of giving the appearance of a «Who cares what I do…” attitude. Find a balance between the formality of the situation and the idea of “life is a stage”.
The best position to adopt when sitting is with both feet on the ground and both knees together. It’s much better to cross your legs than open them widely as if you were having a drink with your friends… and certainly, do not sit like Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct… that’s not what you’re there for…
Equally, don’t sit rigidly still like a mummy either, you can lean forward when you have something interesting to say and change positions subtly and naturally.
Avoid sudden movements when the teacher asks a question, in case you look hesitant or uncertain.
Make plenty of natural eye contact but don’t stare at the teacher until your eyes water! If you don’t dare look at the teacher in the eyes, look at the space between the eyebrows. From the teacher’s point of view, it’s hard to tell the difference; at worst, they may think you are a little cross-eyed. Better that than nervous, right?
Try not to stare at some other part of their face as you may seem a little odd, and don’t stare at the mouth or the teacher may think you want a kiss! That’s not what you’re there for! 😉
Hold a pen
If you find it difficult to control your hands or you don’t know what to do with them, rather than crossing your arms try holding a pen. It looks natural, it gives your hands something to do and so long as you don’t start tapping or drumming on the desk, you won’t be distracting the teacher from your great presentation.
By the way, keep your head up, don’t stare at the floor… the floor is for cockroaches and ants.
One sure sign of anxiety is biting your nails or chewing your lip; don’t do either!
If you find something funny, smile. Try not to release all your tension in a lunatic’s laugh; the smile is enough. You will have time for laughing later (LOL) with your buddies, once you’ve passed the test.
Lastly, one key point, practice all these gestures in front of a mirror before the speaking test takes place – you need to know that what feels natural also looks natural.
Clothing and accessories
Clothing is a big part of our personal appearance and while the teacher shouldn’t give you marks for dressing well, you certainly don’t want them to be distracted by your choice of wardrobe while you’re trying to demonstrate your mastery of English!
Here are a few hints and tips:
- A pair of dark jeans and a plain shirt is a good choice for both men and women.
- Shoes must be informal but not too casual. Leave those Converse at home.
- If you’re a woman, don’t wear too high heels, stick to low shoes. Avoid any falls!
- If you decide to wear a pair of trainers, choose a nice, clean black or white pair.
- Avoid sequins and other sparkly items; use your English to dazzle the teacher!
- And most importantly, don’t wear too much jewellery, you’re not attending a ball.
So, dress well, brush your hair, but don’t go mad; after all, it’s an English speaking exam, not a wedding!
Much of the above tips can be condensed to «BE NATURAL!»
You will only feel tenser if you try and be someone you are not so in a speaking English exam, you should behave as naturally as possible and use vocabulary according to your level and the topic assigned.
I recommend you don’t overreach yourself and try to use too many technical or difficult terms because it will only lead you to make mistakes.
So, all in all, being natural is the best way to feel comfortable and to show the assessor how confident you are. If you prepare the test properly, you’ll see there’s nothing to worry about; and once it’s all over, you’ll realise it was easier than expected.
Well then, what are you waiting for…?
Stand in front of that mirror and start practising for your English speaking exam!! 😉
Read this post in Spanish: «Cómo aprobar un examen oral en inglés».