The Modern Language Leaving Cert Oral: tips (1)

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.

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La calma que precede a la tormenta…

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).

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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!


Breathe, think, use a rest word like pues or bueno, then answer.

eg Examiner: ¿Qué haces en tu tiempo libre? OR ¿Tienes muchos pasatiempos? OR ¿Qué haces para relajarte? StudentBueno, 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!


Further reading:

Things to make sure you know for your Leaving Cert Oral

The Orals: the Compilation Post

Show-and-Tell for senior students of Spanish

El amanecer en la meseta

El amanecer en la meseta

(If you’re a student and want to use this idea for your own oral practice, click on the post and then scroll all the way down for some study suggestions)

My last two classes on a Friday are double sixth year (twelfth grade in the American system). That’s two-fifths of our contact time every week at an hour when they are:

(a) physically tired

(b) tired of school

(c) ready for the weekend!

…so I’m under more than the usual pressure to make sure I hook every student into whatever activity we do. This one worked a treat! Continue reading

Talking about Easter in your Spanish Leaving Cert Oral (when the orals are after Easter)

Eggquilibrium de Orla De Bri en la Galeria Nacional de Dublín

Eggquilibrium de Orla De Bri en la Galeria Nacional de Dublín

A question I would regard as guaranteed for your Leaving Cert Oral examination is the one about Easter. This year, with the Easter holidays falling before the orals, the question will be a great way for the examiner to test your knowledge of Easter vocabulary as well as your past tenses.

Continue reading

The Orals are over!

El futuro te espera

El futuro te espera

So what’s next? By this stage, all Leaving Certificate students in the country have done their Modern Language oral exam and their Irish oral exam, as well as their Music practical.

It can be difficult to keep up momentum after the massive push that is made for the oral exam, but it’s absolutely essential. The timing of the oral exams and of Easter differs every year, but a year when the Orals fall just before Easter can be challenging because after the pressure of the Orals and the practicals, you just want to flop down in exhaustion, and there are no teachers to push you to keep going when you feel like sitting down and sleeping for a week!

The time between the Orals and the end of the year is going to fly. It is a great feeling now to set the oral exams behind you and really focus all of your attention on the remaining sections of the exam, knowing – or hoping! – that you have done your absolute best to get as much as possible of the 20% (ordinary level) or 25% (higher level) available in the Oral. I hope that by this stage, you feel like you have a good amount of work behind you.You’ve finished or are finishing off projects and books for Agricultural Science, have written up your History special project, have turned in your Geography project and have done your Music practical. With those behind you, with Easter holidays upon us and the sun shining happily down, it’s hard to remember how vital it is to keep up the concentration and the focus.

Time to hit the books

Time to hit the books


When you look at it like that, things should fall pretty quickly into perspective. The time you have left in school is precious: you’re with your friends, by this time you probably have a good relationship with your teachers and everything you do may be tinged with bittersweet emotions of hope and nostalgia. What you have to do now though is look forward. The rest of your life is waiting. You just have to get through the exams, and you have to do that as well as you possibly can.

Get the most out of your time left: go to class, drive the teachers wild with questions, do extra work and get them to correct it, talk to your friends about things you’re not sure of in your studies and, in general, make the most of what you have left. In our school, the time we have left together is slipping away through the hourglass. I was away last week examining the Leaving Certificate Orals, and when we come back from the holidays, we’ll have three weeks of class left. It’s hard to believe that this time can come around so fast. When I look at my sixth year students, I can still see them as the first years they were six years ago, and yet, in a month they’ll be getting ready for our school’s Valedictory Dinner and be on the home straight. It’s scary how fast the end of year comes round. Granted, there are students who’ll make it their business to come and see me in the time between when we finish and when the exams start, and they’ll bring questions, or want to go through different things and iron out small doubts, but the main teaching time is drawing to a close.

Tú y los libros

Tú y los libros

Soon, as it is now during the holidays, it’ll just be you and the books. Remember that it’s never too late to begin your revision. If you feel scared or worried, or even terrified that you haven’t enough done, there’s only one solution: hit the books. Easter is a great time to do this. You have two full weeks to focus, sunshine so you can go for walks to keep your sanity and the prospect of a delicious Easter Sunday dinner followed by too much chocolate…

Every little bit  you do is better than the bit you don’t. Make the most of every second you have left. When you go back to school, be nice to the people in your year – remember, they’re stressed too, and soon, if you want, you’ll never have to see them again – and be nice to students in the younger years, they don’t know what’s ahead.

Finally, remember to keep the eyes on the prize: your future. We’re enjoying on-and-off exam weather at the moment, but remember, the sun will shine after your exams. Keep up the focus!

Tu futuro te espera (your future is waiting)

This post is an update of a post written in April 2013.

Talking about Easter in your Spanish Leaving Cert Oral (when the oral is before Easter)

Eggquilibrium de Orla De Bri en la Galeria Nacional de Dublín

Eggquilibrium de Orla De Bri en la Galeria Nacional de Dublín

A question I would regard as guaranteed for your Leaving Cert Oral examination is the one about Easter. This year, with the Easter holidays falling after the orals, the question will be a great way for the examiner to test your knowledge of Easter vocabulary as well as your future tenses.

Vocabulario útil:

Semana Santa = Holy Week/Easter week

domingo de Pascua = Easter Sunday

huevos de Pascua = Easter eggs

Conejo/conejito de Pascua = Easter bunny

ir a misa/a la iglesia = to go to mass/to church

el cofrade = religious brotherhood that carries religious images around the city at Easter, particularly famous in Seville.

cenar en familia = to have dinner with the family

Sample questions and answers:

¿Qué harás durante las vacaciones de Semana Santa? = What will you do over the Easter holidays?

Bueno, me imagino que no haré mucho que no sea estudiar porque ahora estoy bajo mucha presión con el poco tiempo que nos queda.

Well, I guess I won’t do much other than study because I’m under a lot of pressure with the short amount of time left to us.

Entonces, estudiaré un montón. Intentaré levantarme pronto todos los días. Desayunaré, estudiaré unas horas y comeré. Tomaré algunos descansos, y estudiaré por la tarde y la noche también. Saldré a dar un paseo o a correr. Es importante descansar de alguna manera durante un día intenso así.

Well, I’ll study a lot. I’ll try to get up early every day. I’ll have breakfast, study for a few hours and then eat. I’ll take a few breaks, and I’ll study in the afternoon and the evening as well. I’ll go for a walk or for a run. It’s important to take some kind of break during an intense day like this.

¿Cómo celebrarás Pascua? = How will you celebrate Easter?

Mi familia y yo iremos a la iglesia/a misa el domingo de Pascua y cuando volvamos de la iglesia, comeremos una comida magnífica. Vendrá toda la familia/ vendrán mis tíos y mis primos. Comeremos rosbif/cordero asado/cochinillo asado etc. Será delicioso. Luego comeremos huevos de Pascua y nos echaremos al sofá para tomar la siesta/ver la tele/ver una película. Me lo pasaré muy bien. Tengo ganas de tomar un día libre y estar con la familia.

My family and I will go to church/mass on Easter Sunday and when we come home, we’ll eat a magnificent meal. The whole family will come/my uncles & aunts and cousins will come. We’ll eat roast beef/roast lamb/roast suckling pig etc. It’ll be delicious. Then we’ll eat Easter eggs and sit on the couch to have a siesta/watch TV/watch a film. I’ll have a good time. It’ll be good to take a day off and be with family. 

Velas de Pascua

Velas de Pascua

¿Qué sueles hacer el domingo de Pascua? = What do you normally do on Easter Sunday NB PRESENT tense

El domingo de Pascua mi familia y yo solemos ir a la misa y luego celebrar el día con mis abuelos/mis tíos. Dependiendo del año vamos a casa de mis abuelos/tíos o nos quedamos en nuestra casa y ellos vienen a nosotros. Comemos algo especial y luego comemos un mogollón de chocolate en forma de huevos de Pascua. Después de eso, necesitamos echar la siesta y luego vemos la tele. Suele ser un día muy relajado, y me gusta.

On Easter Sunday my family and I normally go to mass and then we celebrate the day with my grandparents/with my uncles and aunts. Depending on the year, we go to my grandparents’ house/my uncle and aunt’s house or we stay at home and they come to us. After that, we need a siesta and then we watch TV. It’s usually a really relaxed day and I like it. 

Using hand gestures in your Spanish Leaving Cert Oral

One of my favourite things to do with my students is talk about hand gestures in Spanish. The Spaniards use them all the time. It doesn’t feel normal to us to use them, and even less so when we are nervous in the exam. However, it does pay off, and it is lovely to see students using them in class or in the exams. Obviously, these gestures are all common ones, and not in any way rude!

These two videos are great for picking up the gestures. The Spanish spoken is quite clear, they give you the meaning of the gesture in English, and they show you the gesture. ¡Qué disfrutéis!



Talking about Concerts & (a little bit) about your Summer in the Spanish Leaving Cert Oral

As an oral examiner, I’ve listened to a lot of students tell me about Oxegen – they either went a few years ago or they’re planning on going this year. Talking about a concert is a nice way to follow on from talking about your favourite singer or group. So have you planned something you can say about it in your Leaving Certificate Oral Examination?

Summer plans going swimmingly?

If you’ve been to a number of concerts:
He ido a varios conciertos de…[insert group]. Me encanta su música y es increíble verles en directo.  = I’ve been to various concerts of…. I love their music and it’s incredible to see them live.

If you only went once, or it wasn’t a regular thing for you:
Fui a un concierto el año pasado / hace dos años etc. = I went to a concert last year/ two years ago.
El concierto fue en el O2. = The concert was in the 02.                                                                                        Me lo pasé bomba. = I had a great time.
Hizo buen/mal tiempo. = The weather was good/bad.
Nos quedamos en el camping. = We stayed in the campsite.
Me encantó. = I loved it.

If you’ve been to a concert where you stayed in the campsite:
Bueno, en el camping, la verdad es que todo estaba bastante sucio. = Well, the truth is that in the campsite, everything was pretty dirty.
Yo compartí una tienda con mi(s) amigo(s). = I shared a tent with my friend(s).
No nos duchamos ni una vez. = We didn’t even take one shower.
Pero valía la pena, porque conocimos a mucha gente majísima, y es todo parte de la experiencia. = But it was worth it, because we met lots of really nice people, and it’s all part of the experience.

This one’s for everyone to talk about the festival in general:
El festival era genial, porque podías ver un montón de músicos y grupos con muchos estilos distintos. = The festival was great because you could see loads of musicians and artists with lots of different styles.

La mejor actuación que vi fue la de Coldplay/Beyoncé/Two Door Cinema (insert your favourite group or artist). Fue inolvidable. Hubo un ambiente genial, a pesar del tiempo, y nunca olvidaré ese día. – The best performance I saw was that of Coldplay/Beyoncé/Two Door Cinema etc. It was unforgettable. There was an amazing atmosphere despite the weather, and I’ll never forget that day.

Now of course, we adults are horrified (!) by the idea of all the underage drinking and goodness knows what else that goes on there…so counter the examiner’s next question with something like this:

Es fácil tomar alcohol si realmente quieres, y desde luego hay mucha gente borracha por ahí…pero no veo mucha diferencía entre eso y un sábado por la noche en Dublín. = It’s easy to drink if you really want to, and of course there are lots of drunk people there, but I don’t really see the difference between that and a Saturday night in Dublin.
Por lo menos, en Oxegen, la mayoría de la gente simplemente quiere disfrutar de la música, y además hay muchos médicos si necesitas ayuda. = At least in Oxegen, the majority of people just want to enjoy the music, and besides, there are lots of doctors there if you need help.

What will you do this year?
Este año como no tengo mucho dinero/no me gusta el programa, voy a ir a Slane / un festival en Europa que se llama … = This year, as I don’t have much money/I don’t like the line-up, I’m going to go to Slane/ to a festival in Europe called…
Este año, como es mi último año, hay un viaje de fin de curso, y yo me he apuntado. = This year, as it’s my last year, there’s an end of year trip, and I’ve signed up for that.
Será genial. Tengo muchísimas ganas de terminar con los exámenes, y es estupendo saber que tengo algo planeado para después. = It’ll be great. I’m really looking forward to finishing my exams, and it’s great to know that I’ve something lined up for afterwards.


At this stage, we are a day away from the Easter holidays and – in our school – two weeks away from the part of the exam that many students dread the most – the oral – but really, you should be looking forward to this part of the exam. This is the only time (for this subject) that you will meet the examiner. It’s your chance to charm them with your winning personality, open smile and (maybe?) witty jokes!

The oral examination is worth 25% if you’re studying at Higher Level and 20% if you’re studying at Ordinary Level. It really is a great way to make up the marks whatever level you’re at. Given the large amount of marks it’s worth, it’s definitely worth giving over as much time as is humanly possible to it in the remaining few days: you should be eating, sleeping and breathing Spanish or whichever language it is that you are studying. Talk to your teacher, your friends and yourself in Spanish, think in Spanish, write in Spanish, listen to some past papers, watch Spanish TV online, listen to the news or listen to a song to get your spirits up.

Nerves have no place in the exam room so make sure you leave them at the door with a few simple strategies:

  • breathe deeply – down to your belly, which is where your nerves are – before and during the exam. Remember, the examiner is human, he/she expects you to be nervous and is not going to think you’re weird for trying to stay calm. Plus you’ll buy yourself a little time, which is my next point.
  • Take your time answering questions. It is not a race to see how fast you can answer a question and be ready for the next one. Listen to the question, nod, BREATHE!, make an interested sound (more of an ehhh sound than an emmm sound – in Spanish anyway!), say something noncommittal like sí, or es una pregunta interesante or vamos a ver and think a little about how you’re going to answer the question.
  • When answering the question, try to give full sentence answers! Don’t just say or no! The examiner wants to find out about you and about your life – you need to imagine this is the most fascinating conversation you AND the examiner are ever going to have! Act like that – smile, use your hands, make lots of eye contact, and generally act as if you are really happy to be in the exam and telling the examiner all about your life.
  • Remember, this is what the last five or six years have all been leading up to! Ten minutes! After ten minutes plus whatever it takes you to finish the role play you’ll never have to speak Spanish again if you don’t want to. So you may as well go out on a high note!
  • Which brings me to the role plays…7.5% of your entire Spanish Leaving Certificate! It’s there on a plate for you. Make sure you know ALL of them. You will NOT get to choose which one you want, and given Murphy’s Law, you WILL get the one you like least. So learn all of them! And make sure you’re prepared for the question at the end. Listen to it, think about it, and give a full sentence answer that will show you’ve understood the question.
  • The oral exam is the closest thing to an interview that you have as part of your Leaving Certificate, so think about first impressions and consider your appearance when you go in: uniform worn correctly, with the top button done up and the tie closed. It would seem absolutely obvious also that boys would be clean-shaven and girls not wearing lots of make-up! You want to look smart, not give the examiner something to comment on.

The time is going to pass so fast between now and the time of your oral, no matter when yours is, so make sure that every hour counts. Use all the resources you have – your classmates, your teacher, your family, anyone who offers to help!