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Best Tips To Pass An Oral Exam

Discussion in 'Medical Students Cafe' started by Egyptian Doctor, Jan 28, 2014.

  1. Egyptian Doctor

    Egyptian Doctor Moderator Verified Doctor

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    To do well on an oral exam requires a rather different set of skills than those called for on a written exam. You still need mastery of the material, of course, but you need to access and articulate the material in a different way.

    Most people find oral exams harder than written, but some really enjoy them!

    In a well-designed written exam, the examiner has decided in advance what set of knowledge and skills is to be tested. Problems are designed to be completed within the given time limit, but some false starts and backtracking is expected. Each problem has a known correct answer.

    The oral exam differs in each of these characteristics. Although the scope of the exam is given in advance, the examiner usually chooses questions dynamically, based on how the student answers the previous questions. Problems are designed to test the limits of the student's knowledge: often, an examiner will continue to ask questions in a particular area until a student no longer responds correctly. Examiners design problems (or give hints) that elicit the correct approach on the first try, without backtracking. And often the questions are open ended, asking for opinions or ideas for future work or aspects of the research area that the student has not yet considered.

    Because of these factors, preparation for an oral exam requires a new approach, even for seasoned veterans of written exams.

    You need to think on your feet. This is great if you have the skill. Otherwise, you can only compensate by great preparation.

    Some previous experience is helpful: teaching, debating, oral presentations, tutoring, class participation, recitals, science fairs, etc.

    6.1 Preparing for the Exam

    The exam is usually tailored to the interests of the particular student. In this case, it is important to have a clear meeting of the minds between student and examiners on what material it included in the exam. Usually this is done by preparation of a written syllabus by the student, with the advice and consent of the examiners.

    Read and understand the department's rules for the exam. If you have procedural questions, ask them well before the exam.
    If exams are open to other students, sit in on one to get a feeling for the scope and format. Ask more advanced students for their experiences and advice. Ask your advisor.
    Choose your syllabus carefully, if you set it yourself. Make sure that it is limited enough to be a coherent body of information that you are able to master and that your committee is comfortable with it. If the syllabus is set by others, make sure you understand its scope clearly and are prepared for all of it.
    If you can choose your examiners, consider your options carefully. Choose people you are comfortable with, and avoid putting two people on the committee if they cannot get along with each other.
    Set up a study plan--when you will study, and in what order you will work through the material.
    Read and understand each item on the reading list, but also understand the relations among the items. Was x influenced by y? What does x think about the work of y? What common tools do x and y use? What is the contribution of x?
    Be prepared to lecture on the material--present the ideas clearly, give examples, work examples provided to you, prove theorems, compare different approaches, say what's `new' about results in a given paper, discuss the strengths and weaknesses of an approach.
    Practice in front of a board. Even better, practice with other students who are taking the exam at roughly the same time. Get more advanced students to ask you questions. Check that your voice is loud enough. Aim for a logical presentation of ideas. Make sure that your English is understandable, even if it is not your native language.
    Ask your advisor to give you a few practice questions and critique your performance.
    If you provide any written material for the committee (proposal, thesis, etc.), check in with each member during the week before the exam, asking for any questions or suggestions. Some examiners don't read the package in advance, but others may appreciate the chance to clear up some issues, and this can prevent unpleasant surprises at the oral exam.
    The exam is often easier if it begins with a presentation by you--e.g., what you have done so far in beginning research, what your next steps will be, what work you are building upon, etc. Prepare carefully, and practice it until you are confident of your presentation.

    2 In the Exam


    Sometimes the exam begins with a presentation by the student of initial research results or background material for a given research area. This talk should be carefully prepared, usually using slides. The presentation should be clear, well-rehearsed, and succinct. Your visual aids should be carefully organized and easy for you to navigate. Give some indication of what the problem is, why it is important, what you have accomplished, and what you hope to accomplish in the future. Sympathetic colleagues or your advisor can give very helpful advice if given a chance to listen to a rehearsal.

    The rest of the exam is less structured. The examiners rotate, asking questions in turn. Sometimes one examiner will ask an entire set of questions in a row; other times the examiners interleave their questions with others.

    Listen carefully to questions and make sure you understand exactly what is being asked. Follow instructions exactly - if a short answer is requested, keep it short. If more detail is desired, give a longer response.

    Don't interrupt a questioner. Wait until he/she finishes the question before you start to answer.

    Good examiners will ask you questions on a given topic until they tire of it or until you answer incorrectly. It is all right to be wrong--the purpose of the exam is to discover the limits of your knowledge, and it is all right to have finite limits! Students pass even if they don't know everything asked!

    An important rule is to pause briefly after each question is asked. Take just a moment to compose your thoughts, decide what notation is necessary and appropriate, and organize your answer. If you do not understand the question, ask the questioner to rephrase it, or give your interpretation and ask if that is what is meant.

    If you are sure you cannot answer the question, it is best to admit that and go on, rather than wasting time and focusing the examiner's attention on what you don't know rather than what you do.

    If you are confident about a question, answer as directly as you can, but feel free to make comments about the relevance of this result to your work, etc.

    Remember that each new question is a fresh start. Let the old one go. Don't get flustered--remember that the examiners expect you to be unable to answer some questions--that's how they explore the limits of your knowledge.

    If you do find yourself losing your composure, ask the examiners for a brief break to get a drink of water or to sit down for a minute. You may be reluctant to delay them this way, but it saves time in the long run to get an accurate assessment of your abilities the first time.

    Remember that an oral exam is an exhausting experience--comparable to running a marathon. Pass or fail, try to give yourself a break on other activities immediately before and after the exam.

    6.3 If Things Go Wrong...

    If you believe that the question covers an area not on the syllabus, it is best to state that directly and non-belligerently, but then answer the question if you can. If it does make the difference between a pass and fail, then you are on record as objecting to the question before failing the exam, and this lends credibility to the objection.

    Occasionally, you may find committee members more intent on impressing or belittling each other than they are on exploring the extent of your knowledge. There is not much you can do about this other than staying strictly neutral and trying to avoid assembling the same group for any subsequent exam.

    Bias can also be a factor in your exam performance. If you believe that an examiner was predisposed to fail you, try to document how that person's examination of you differed from his/her examination of some other student. Consider trying to get the person excluded from your next exam.

    If you fail the exam, make an honest assessment of your weak areas and any weaknesses in your presentation style. Practice. Study. Ask advice from your advisor. Try again.

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  2. Manar Ghonem

    Manar Ghonem Famous Member

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  3. Alaa Gawad

    Alaa Gawad Active member

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  4. IMRAN ANWAR KHAN

    IMRAN ANWAR KHAN Famous Member

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    Nice information
     

  5. drsingh

    drsingh Young Member

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    Good information &a nice guide for the students..
     

  6. dr.shaherahmed

    dr.shaherahmed Young Member

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    The oral exam:) really enjoy me.
     

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