I’m never one to do a countdown, but let’s just put it this way:
I’m writing this on the last Tuesday in March.
On the second Monday in April half the country will be facing into their Modern Language Oral Examinations (the other half starts with Irish). All the examples here are in Spanish, and I refer to the Spanish role-plays, but the advice is applicable to any exam in which you have to hold a conversation with an examiner.
So let’s do this.
I’m putting together a few posts looking at (a) the Chief Examiner’s Reports, where the performance of students in the Leaving Cert Spanish examination is analysed and (b) common errors that my own students have made over the last few years (I’ve been compiling them for a number of years now but never got round to writing about them).
So…what does that mean?
1. Your teachers are going to be trying to encourage you to speak lots of Spanish in these weeks before the Oral. Respond as best you can – shortly you’re going to be trying to have an engaging conversation with a stranger!
2. Listening to and watching Spanish is of course wonderful, and important, but – at this time – should be done alongside speaking the language.
3. The number of mistakes made when students are responding to simple questions in the present tense is sometimes a result of nervousness – make sure the basics are second nature to you. Here’s an example: Examiner: ¿Dónde vives? Student: Donde en Dublín en Irlanda. Don’t be that person (It should be Vivo en Dublín, en Irlanda.)!
4. Your teacher has probably given you a list of typical oral questions. For more, check out the suggested further reading below. Know the tenses you need to use to respond to these questions and listen carefully to the verb forms the examiner uses so that you can use that tense, but in the yo (I) form. eg Examiner: ¿Qué hiciste el fin de semana pasado? Student: No hice mucho. Be careful not to echo the verb the examiner uses, by which I mean where the examiner says ¿Te gusta España? and the student responds Sí, sí, te gusta España instead of Me gusta. This holds for all verbs, but is particularly prevalent in te gusta questions when students are nervous.
5. Don’t recite learned-off material! But be well prepared! It’s the eternal conundrum. How do you deliver prepared material in a way that sounds natural? By knowing it really, really well, and by being so comfortable with it that you can recognise when a question is asking for something you know, and then adapt your answer to the question that’s been asked, not the one you wish you’d been asked!
eg Examiner: ¿Qué haces en tu tiempo libre? OR ¿Tienes muchos pasatiempos? OR ¿Qué haces para relajarte? Student: Bueno, no tengo mucho tiempo libre, pero me encanta salir a dar un paseo porque estar en el aire libre me relaja muchísimo. (That last one will start you off answering all three questions but could just as easily be manipulated into shorter sentences – always a good idea – which you could then take in whichever direction you wish).
6. It’s essential to develop your answers. Imagine having a conversation with someone in English where the other person just grunted, or said yes, or no, or shook their head if they didn’t understand the question! Obviously, between now and then do as much preparation as possible, but once in there, your aim is to communicate as much as you can. I always say to my students to think of all the details that they might be able to share about a topic and to prepare them all. The examiner will interrupt when s/he hears something about which s/he wants to find out more, but you have to give him/her something to work with!
7. I know it may seem strange to try to be “spontaneous and natural” or as if you’re having a “normal conversation,” but this is key to having a successful Oral examination. Treat the examiner as a new friend (while of course addressing him/her as Usted) who wants to find out all about you and give (as I say above) lots and lots to work with so that the examiner can feel that they know something about you when you leave the room.
8. The Role-Plays…does it really need to be said? Murphy’s Law says that the Situación (role-play) that you least like and want will come up. So know them all. End of story.
9. This is a no-brainer. Particularly for Ordinary Level, but at Higher Level too, everything you do now is setting you up for success in June. 25% for HL, 20% for OL – it’s worth putting every effort into it now!