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Tips for the Oral Proficiency Exam

  • Try to warm up in the learned language before you arrive for your interview. Talk to yourself or to someone else. Think what you might say in response to questions about yourself.


  • Arrive a bit early so you have time to compose yourself. If you have to wait because the previous interview is running late, take the time to think about the things you can say about yourself in the learned language.


  • Be sure to greet the interviewer back when you are greeted.


  • If you start out poorly or make some stupid mistakes, don't get shaken. In the first part of the interview you will be getting used to the interviewer's speaking style. Interviewers know you may be nervous and will try to make you feel at ease so you can do your best.


  • Choose your own speaking speed which is comfortable for you. If you know you make more mistakes when you speak too fast, slow down. If you're a slow speaker by nature, that's okay, but make an effort not to speak more slowly than you usually do.


  • Don't be embarrassed by pauses. The interviewer knows you have to pause sometimes to formulate your answer and will let you do so unless it seems you really can't go on. But do try to answer as directly and spontaneously as possible. Don't stop to think about every answer. Try to keep your end of the conversation going as naturally as possible.


  • Keep talking. Don't stop the conversation by saying simply "yes" or "no". Be generous. Give details. Explain your point. Develop your thoughts. Make comparisons. Ask questions. Any device that demonstrates that you can carry a topic through will help your performance. Silence is your enemy. If you are not a talkative person by nature, you must make an extra effort for the test.


  • Don't get hung up on a word. Avoid words you are uncertain of. All too often candidates will rack their brains for a particular word they feel they must use and paralyze the sentence. If you do get stuck, find a simple substitute or paraphrase and go on with the conversation.


  • Avoid English at all costs. The premise of the interview is that the interviewer speaks and understands only French. If you ask the interviewer for a translation of an English word, you won't get a response. Try to work around the word you don't know by describing the concept.


  • Don't avoid grammar points. If you are asked what you would do if you were the University's president, the tester is probably trying to make you use a specific grammatical structure. If you can handle it, comply. This may help raise your level.


  • Don't get rattled because of the mistakes you know you've made. Isolated mistakes do not affect your rating.


  • Show what you can do with what you know, mistakes and all. When you are engaged in a free conversation, a lot of the grammar and vocabulary that you know will break down. The interviewer knows this and is more interested in finding out how well you can function despite your mistakes.



  • If you think you understood what was asked, but are not sure. Act on what you think you understood. Chances are, you have. Don't request unnecessarily that the questions be repeated. If you have misunderstood and the question is important, the interviewer will come back to it in another form.


  • If you make a mistake. If you know you made a mistake, correct it and go on. You do that even in your own language. Correcting a mistake in no way detracts from your performance.


  • If you are hopelessly lost in a long sentence, STOP. Collect yourself. Say something like, "Let me tell you again -- it is a bit complicated." Then try it again. Break it into shorter sentences and carry it through. Don't fret over what happened. No one expects you to speak without mistakes. You are not a native speaker. Fretting over a mistake only reduces your efficiency, jeopardizing the rest of the test.


  • If you draw a blank. If you draw a momentary blank, give an appropriate answer. For instance, if a tester asks you how long you have been living in the area and you can't remember how to say "one and a half" say "one year."


  • If you suddenly become nervous during the test. The tester will sense it and try to help you. But you are entitled to stop for a few seconds and regain control. Relax. Admit that you are nervous if this eases the tension. Often this alone ought to make you feel comfortable again.


  • If something is interfering with your ability to perform. If the noise from the hall bothers you, say so. If you can't hear the tester say so. Remember: this is your test. You're entitled to the best testing conditions.


  • If you are asked a question about which you know nothing. Admit it. But go in to explain why you don't know. Or slide to another subject about which you have something to say. The tester is more interested in how you use the language than what you know or what you think.


  • If you feel uncomfortable or embarrassed by a question because it is too personal, feel free to tell the interviewer that you would rather not talk about it.


  • If you feel things are really getting tough, it is normal. In order to give you a valid rating, the tester has to let you show what you can do in the language, but also has to push you to a level where you can't function comfortably in order to establish what you can't do in the language. Not being able to go on is expected. It does not mean you've flunked.
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