Posted on : 2011-04-08 


The Oral Examination is something which every child in Singapore’s education system has to undergo. Over the years, there has been a growing emphasis on the oral component of the language examinations. Besides just excelling in the written components of the examination, pupils are expected to be proficient speakers of the languages they are studying. This is reflected in the allocation of marks for English Language and Chinese Language in the PSLE examination, where the oral component constitutes 15% and 25% respectively of the total assessment. Thus, doing well in the oral examination is integral towards achieving a good grade in the subject.
Let us look at the various components of the oral section of the examination and see how one can excel in it.

Reading Passage

The first section is usually the reading passage. Pupils have about five minutes to prepare for this. They should make ample use of this time.
For the English Language oral examination, they can go through the passage to see when they should pause, as well as when they should emphasise certain sections. If they also encounter any unfamiliar words, this is the time when they should practise the pronunciation. If pupils really do not know the pronunciation, they can make an intelligent guess through the spelling of the word. It is good to read aloud the passage at least twice so that they will be familiar with it. When reading aloud to the examiner, do not be nervous. Read slowly and clearly. It is important to pronounce the words as clearly as possible so that the pupil can be understood even if the examiner does not have the passage in front of him or her.
Be confident in your delivery.
For the Chinese Language oral examination, grading of the reading is based on 3 factors: 
  • Accuracy
  • Fluency 
  • Pitch
The key to scoring well for this section requires the pupil to read the passage accurately and fluently, with the right pitch.
Pupils who read the passage quickly seldom score well. Why is this so?
Firstly, the accuracy of their pronunciation and fluency of the language will be affected. Secondly, the examiner would not be able to understand the pupil. Hence, it is important for pupils to read at the right pace and pitch. However, some pupils still have the tendency to read the passage at a fast pace. The main reason behind this could be their inability to pronounce certain words in the passage. The common misunderstanding among pupils is if they read fast enough, the examiner would not be able to spot the mistakes they make in pronunciation.  However, the fact is, not only can the examiner spot the mispronunciations, he or she can also possibly give you a lower score for the lack of fluency and pitch in reading the passage. Thus, pupils should read the passage in a clear tone even if they encounter words which they cannot pronounce.

Picture Discussion

The next section is the picture discussion. Pupils will be presented with a picture and asked to describe it. They will be given an initial prompt as well as additional prompts if the pupils appear to have trouble talking about the picture.
Pupils should first give a general description of the entire scene, like the venue of the picture. They can move on to describe the physical appearance of the characters in the foreground and their thoughts and actions. Pupils can also give a reason behind why the characters are performing certain actions. They are encouraged to present their personal opinions as well.
For example, the character might be littering in a bus stop while chasing after a bus. The pupil could make an assumption that the character is chasing after a bus and thus committed the offence unknowingly. However, it is wrong to litter in public regardless of the reason. They can then move on to the characters in the background.
It will be good if pupils can link certain characters or things in the picture together to give a more coherent discussion about the picture. Do try to discuss the picture in a systematic manner like in a clockwise manner instead of just talking about the characters in a haphazard manner. Try to talk about everything that is given in the picture and do not ignore certain things or characters.
To do well in this section, pupils have to be organised in their description and should be able to explain and interpret the various situations in the picture. Pupils will also score well if they use a wide variety of sentence structures with appropriate vocabulary.


For this section, pupils will be given a topic to talk about. This topic is usually related to the picture. Pupils will also receive additional prompts if they appear to have difficulty talking about the topic. Pupils should treat this section like they are having a conversation with someone familiar, like their parents or elders. Do not think of it as a question-and-answer session with the examiner.
When you are asked about a topic, take a moment to organise your thoughts. Try to answer all aspects of the topic in a comprehensive manner.
For example, if you are asked about your favourite hobby, do not just give a one-word answer. Explain to the examiner the reason why it is your favourite hobby, how you got started on it as well as how often you spend time on it.
Pupils will do well if they elaborate their ideas with varied sentence structures and respond confidently without much prompting from the examiner.

Hopefully, with the use of these pointers, pupils will be able to face the oral examination more confidently and therefore do well in this section of the examination.


Written by Adrian Lee and Eric Pang

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