Activity 25: Oral English Exams

▶ Duration:  N/A
▶ Aim:  Assess speaking
▶ Summary:  Ideas and topics for oral english exams.

Go back to Oral English Activites


Most of the activities on this site focus on oral fluency. Likewise, the exam ideas here require students to speak spontaneously, rather than reciting a prepared speech.

Most of the exams I have given have been three minute interviews with each individual student. I ask questions and listen to their answers. This will not work if you ask the same questions to every student—even if you do not publish the questions before the exam, the first student can simply tell his/her classmates after leaving the interview room. My solution is to publish a large list of questions, so that it is infeasible to memorise responses to each one. During the interview, I choose one or more questions at random. The other advantage of this method is that students have the opportunity to think about all the questions and consider the ideas that they will use in their answer, and thus will not be "stumped" by a difficult question. Some topics for this kind of exam are listed in the Resources section. As can be seen from these examples, I like to give the students some degree of choice too: if they cannot choose a topic which interests them, they can at least avoid the topics which bore them senseless!

Another idea is to test the students in pairs, requiring them to complete a speaking task. The examiner listens without becoming involved in the conversation. The speaking task could be a roleplay, a discussion, etc. See the Resources section for an example.

An important question is how to mark the students. Following a suggestion I read somewhere, I prefer to break the mark into two components: 50% for fluency (speaking smoothly without too many pauses or repeats) and 50% for accuracy (pronunciation grammar, vocabulary, intonation).

A lot of good ideas and discussion about oral exams can be found in the "Teaching" section at TEFLChina Teahouse, including the important question of whether grades for the course should be based solely on an exam or on other factors such as attendance and participation. See also John Pasden's article, A Cheat-proof Exam, in which he describes how he ran oral English exams in China.

Don't waste the opportunity to learn more about your students and their culture! Include some questions which you (as the examiner) are interested in hearing the answer to.

Three Subject Areas

exam_topics_1.doc (html preview): I asked the students to each choose one of the general topics (Entertainment, Love and Marriage, or Society), then I asked one or more of the questions from their chosen field. All questions were published before the exam.

15 from 22

exam_topics_2.doc (html preview): I provided a list of 22 questions, but allowed the students to delete 7 questions. During the exam, I asked them one or more questions from the remaining 15.


exam_roleplays.doc (html preview): I examined students in pairs, and asked them to perform one of five roleplays. A list of all the possible roleplays were given to the students shortly before the exam (these roleplays were based on activities we had done during that semester). Note that five roleplays might not be enough to prevent very determined pairs from preparing scripts, but given the particular situation, the temperament of the students, and the fact that the roleplays were only announced shortly before the exams began, I was confident there would be no trouble.

I want to practice my english
wilfredo []
07.01.2005 , 09:56

I have 54 topics all listed on my laptop. I have them cut a deck of cards - 52 plus two jokers. This gives them the topic. One min. to prepare, then speak for two. I use this activity as pair work in class so they are familiar with it.
Gerry MacLean []
30.03.2005 , 22:29

Thanks for the tips on exams. I fortunately don't have any problems with my classes but exams were not coverered in my TEFL course. This is my second 'stint' in China. I was here for 2 years 1994-6 and shall be here for 18 months this time -Mar 05 - July 06. I am from Cairns, Australia.
I have noticed a big improvement in the standard of students. Thank you for your site, it was a big help.
Sandra Walker []
21.05.2005 , 20:49

I accidentally ran into this website, but I love it!
Frank Deng []
02.11.2005 , 17:26

thank you for the concise and well laid out site, the questions are a great help we have more than 300 students to quiz and so need that many questions so there is no cribbing!
great site, thanks again
helen []
15.12.2005 , 15:44

Thanks! This has been a great help for me! I've been searching for more questions to give to my students! I'm glad I found this site! I dont have to worry anymore! More power to u!
Anne []
17.12.2005 , 14:42

Great! Amazing material! I'm in Beijing teaching 1-to-1 oral english and this site was definitely IT!
Daniel [homepage]
14.02.2006 , 20:14

Thanks amillion
srinivas []
15.02.2006 , 12:50

I have compared and contrasted my oral skills to what I benefitted here it's marvellout to say! I urge you to keep up educating the educators bringing cognitive, affective and psychomotor skills together in speaking.
Francis ATSUDY []
26.02.2006 , 15:12

i would love to learn more about you and your resource for teachers, by chance did you allow students access to this website? i think many students with internet access would enjoy the opportunity to practice their oral english skills on their own time with such useful information... what are you thoughts, i hope to hear from you.
michelle []
08.03.2006 , 09:48

michelle: I didn't tell my students about this website, because I intended it mainly as a resource for teachers. The activities were designed with a classroom environment in mind, but I suppose that some of the ideas could be used in other ways too. Still, I don't think the activities would be very useful for a student wishing to practise by themselves, since they are mainly pair and group activities, and even if two students wished to practise together, I think that if they are that motivated they could probably get just as much benefit by holding an ordinary conversation in English.
08.03.2006 , 23:04

In fact you are of great help to every one who will happen to come across this website it is wonderful.Thus i say congratulations for your hard work.Just keep helping like this you will have your reward from some were else for i have nothing to give you just to say thanks for your intelligent job.
Tessy []
10.03.2006 , 20:15

I am teaching in Fuxin, China and I do not have many resources to work with so while searching the web I found this site. Great work. This will help me get through my last 4 weeks here.
Denese []
03.04.2006 , 19:25

I want to know more about Oral English which we help me in time of my senior secondary school certificate.I mean want i need to know in oral english as a SSCE student.
OLATUYI [] [homepage]
04.04.2006 , 20:34

This is a great site by all standards, givings us great insight about teaching oral english in China especially. My problems are partly solved. big thanks !
Emmanuel []
25.04.2006 , 21:28