You will have a topic to present (maximum 3 minutes) and discuss during your oral exam (8 minutes). If you carry out the suggestions in the key points below, you will be in a good position to get the best possible results.
- Choose a topic which is of a personal interest to you. You are much less likely to talk well about something which you find boring.
- Choose a topic which is not too difficult or wideranging for you to prepare. Avoid simple description, for example of a holiday, which would be more appropriate at IGCSE. Check the topics indicated in the syllabus in the appendix.
- Whatever your topic you choose, make sure you learn the 80-100 key words that underpin it. If necessary, ask your teacher or a friend to test you on that vocabulary, since, apart from Point 2 above, lack of the key language is the main reason for failing to do justice to yourself in the oral test.
- Practise your presentation and general topic material in pairs, with one partner interviewing the other.
- Whatever else you do, make absolutely certain that your presentation contains references to Spain or Latin America. 50% of marks for content will be lost if you do not relate your presentation to Spain and/or Latin America. It is easier to fall into this trap with some of the more general topics, for example, the environment. Beware!
When you start your topic discussion with the examiner via a short presentation, try to act on the following suggestions.
- Include in your draft presentation a short statement of the four to six main ideas you wish to discuss during the conversation.
- Present them in order in which they will occur later.
- Explain your reason(s) for choosing the topic, but try to avoid trite statements like “Me parece muy interesante, Mi profesor sugirió este tema.” Your opinion of the chosen topic has to be stated.
- Show enthusiasm and sound interested while you give your presentation. If the material is delivered in a boring or automatic manner, it is not going to impress the examiner. To be able to show enthusiasm, you need to know your material well, so the preparation points listed above are important.
- Divide the material you have prepared into between four and six manageable themes or sub-themes. Avoid preparing long lists of themes.
- You do not have to remember hundreds of figures and points off by heart. If your topic is accompanied by a lot of statistics, for example, you are allowed to take a sheet/sheets of statistical information into the exam room.
- You will be allowed to take in 6 key words to help you remember.
- Try to listen to what is being asked in each question and to respond reasonably naturally. It is supposed to be a real conversation. Don’t be tempted to learn your notes so completely by heart that when you are asked a question, you merely switch on the memory banks and regurgitate vast amounts of pre-learned material.
- Try to continue the enthusiasm that you will have shown in your presentation. A sense of commitment to what you are saying will enhance the impression marks, and rightly so, since your topic conversation is a communication exercise.
- Keep reasonable eye-contact with your examiner and smile occasionally. The impression that you are a confident, pleasant person also enhances communication.
- If you don’t understand something the examiner says or asks, don’t make a wild guess or sit there silently panicking – do what you would do in a normal conversation and ask him/her to repeat or explain what he/she has said.
- Try to sound as Spanish as you can. This will help the examiner to feel very positively about your capacities. Remember that you are preparing the topic in order to communicate it orally to another person. Spoken language is different from written language: it requires pauses for breath, special emphasis on key points, occasional clarification, etc. You need to use ‘fillers’ and linking phrases such as pues, por otra parte, lo que pasa es que, la verdad es que etc. to give naturalness to the presentation.
One of the aims of speaking is to sound as much like a native speaker as possible. If you possess a natural talent for imitating accents you will have a head start in achieving this aim. If you do not have such a talent (like most of us!), you will have to work at pronunciation: you should listen carefully to the sounds of Spanish and learn about how they are made (for example, where in your mouth do you put the tip of your tongue in order to make the ‘t’ or ‘d’ sound, as in Toledo), and about intonation patterns. Listen to native speakers and imitate the rhythms of the language to make your Spanish sound more authentic. Learn about syllables and the rules of stress in Spanish. (Why is the Spanish car company Seat pronounced differently from ‘seat’ in English? Why does the word examen not bear an accent in the singular but does bear one – exámenes – in the plural?)
The best performances in oral work at this level show an ability to vary the vocabulary and structure of the language. This is done by acquiring different ways of conveying the same ideas: e.g. by varying the expression for ‘in my opinion’, using the alternatives en mi opinión, a mi modo de ver or a mi juicio; or by using more complex constructions, such as Al gobierno no le gusta que la gente se manifieste a favor de legalizar las drogas, instead of the simpler construction Para el gobierno las manifestaciones a favor de la legalización de las drogas no son una buena cosa.
Learn to speak and respond to questions without undue hesitation. In the examination, candidates are rewarded for their ability to respond naturally and to carry on a conversation fluently. To achieve this, use the structures that you have become comfortable with in your preparation. At the same time, avoid relying too heavily on memory: candidates often prepare their oral examination so completely, either to anticipate the topics which will come up or to present their own topic, that they lose fluency; unfortunately, the oral then becomes a recital of pre-learned information rather than a spontaneous discussion with the examiner.
The ability to speak accurately is an important factor in the assessment of your examination performance. It is all too easy when speaking to fall into familiar traps, such as the confusion of ser and estar or por and para, wrong agreement of adjectives, incorrect verb tenses and use of the wrong gender of words like día, mano, problema and programa. To avoid these traps, lots of practice prior to the examination and good concentration are essential. Don’t forget that ‘accuracy’ also refers to your ability to reproduce the sounds of Spanish.
Remember too that you must choose which form of address, tú or usted, to use to the examiner, and once you have chosen one of these, stick to it.