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Oral exams

Oral exams 

Oral exams require performing intensely for a short period of time, and that requires special preparation. Here are some tips to help you do that. 

An oral exam often starts with you giving a presentation about a certain topic or issue that you have prepared from home. Once the presentation is over, the teacher and co-examiner will ask you questions about your presentation and test you on the subject’s syllabus. An oral exam can also be a defence of a written product that you submitted ahead of the exam. The exam can take place in person or online via Zoom, for example. .

On this page, you will find tips and advice on how to prepare for an oral exam, regardless of whether it will be held online or in person. 

Be well prepared


A good presentation is well-prepared and well-structured. Make sure you know what you want to say and in what order you want to say it. You will often not be able to say everything you want in the time allotted. Preparing the presentation carefully will help you make the most of the time you are given.    


Think in terms of meaning rather than memorisation when studying for an exam. The exam is also a way of learning. You don't learn the material by repeating it but by understanding it. In order to communicate the material orally and give in-depth answers to questions during the exam, you will need to understand and be able to explain the syllabus. Think about which study technique works best for you. 

Practice your presentation


Practicing your presentation will help you familiarise yourself with its content and structure. It will also make you feel more comfortable when giving the presentation during the exam. You should also practise the presentation to make sure that it stays within the time limit you have been given. Think about how tone of voice, pace and gestures can strengthen your message without disrupting or drowning it out. Film yourself giving the presentation to see what changes you need to make. You can also practice by giving the presentation to your study group. 


It can be advantageous to practice your introductory presentation with the study group. By holding a mock exam, you can practice the presentations and get a sense of what it feels like to get nervous. For example, you can follow the five steps of practicing presentations in groups

On the day of the exam


When you turn up for an in-person exam, you’ll usually have time to chat with other fellow students. It can help calm your nerves and a quick conversation can be a good vocal warm-up.  

When it’s an online exam, make a plan ahead of time to call a fellow student, friend or family member just before the exam. Talking about the exam can give some peace of mind. 


Stretching will help you relax and calm your breathing. Some people need to shut their eyes and ground themselves. This can help achieve peace of mind and confidence.  

Warming up your voice so that it’s ready to perform is also important – especially a hoarse morning voice needs a bit of a jump start before you walk into the examination room. 


Remember that they ask questions to help you meet the objectives of the exam and ensure that you do as well as you possibly can. Therefore, think about how you communicate with the examiner and co-examiner. If you don’t understand a question, it’s completely permissible to ask them to rephrase it.   


You should be prepared to feel nervous and accept it if it happens. Don’t try to fight it. Click here to read more about dealing with nerves. 

After the exam


It can be a good idea to share positive or negative exam experiences with others, as the exam is often the culmination of an intense work process that you may feel the need to wrap up. If it was an in-person exam, it’s natural to discuss how it went with your fellow students who are also present. If it was an online exam, you’ll have to make more of an effort to talk to someone about it afterwards, for example call a friend or family member.    


The exam is over, you survived, and you might prefer to forget everything about it. However, next semester’s exam period is just around the corner. So spend about 10 -15 minutes reviewing your strategy for preparing for exams: What worked well and what do you want to change next time? You will become better at studying for exams if you use your experiences going forward. 

Online oral exams

An online oral exam will usually be very similar to an in-person oral exam. The advice mentioned above is therefore also applicable to online exams. However, there are a few things that are particular to online exams that you should be aware of. 

Familiarise yourself with the type of examination


It’s important that you familiarise yourself with the format of the exam. An online oral exam via Zoom will differ slightly from an oral exam where you and the examiners are all in a room together. For example, you will not be able to greet the examiners with a handshake, interrupting them to say something can feel a bit strange and speaking for a long period of time might feel odd when the examiners have their microphones turned off. Click here to read more about online meeting culture.

You will most likely find yourself in an online waiting room before being admitted into the actual online exam room. Check up on any guidelines well ahead of time, or ask your teacher if you have any questions. 

Try it out with your study group 

It’s a good idea talk about the online exam format with your study group. You could test it out together and alternate taking the roles of the examiner, external examiner and examinee. In other words, you can do a bit of role play to get a sense of what a 20-minute online exam feels like, how the conversation flows when questions are asked and answered, and what it feels like to be on camera. 


Make sure that you are familiar with Zoom, the platform used for online examinations. This will give you a good basis for ensuring that your online exam proceeds smoothly, and having some experience with the platform will also help alleviate any concerns that you may have. Think about what you will need to do during your exam; will you need to share your screen, draw/write something on a blackboard or similar? As a general rule, it is a good idea to make sure that you know how to: 

  • Share your screen 

  • Share slides and other documents 

  • If necessary, use the whiteboard/blackboard function to draw or illustrate something live 

  • Make sure that you have a stable internet connection 

  • Have proper audio – please use a headset 

  • Change your name in Zoom. You may be asked to use your AU ID or your full name. 

Practice with your study group 

It can be a good idea to try out the different Zoom functions with your study group, exam group or some other fellow students. You can test your audio and camera settings and try out functions such as sharing slides, using a whiteboard/blackboard and sharing a file in the chat. It will also give you a chance to practice your presentation and get some feedback on the content.  

Be aware of the different roles in Zoom, e.g. host, co-host or participant. During the exam, you will generally have the role of participant. The host of the Zoom meeting can change peoples’ role under ‘Participants’, thereby allowing everyone to try on the different roles. 

Your exam room at home


Some subjects have rules stating that an examinee must be in a room with a single entrance and that the examinee must give a 360-degree view of the room at the start of the exam to ensure that no people or non-approved aids are present, for example tablets/mobile phones or other means of communication. Check up on any guidelines well ahead of time, or ask your teacher if you have any questions. 

For example, some degree programmes require you to present your student ID card or other ID. So it’s a good idea to have those within reach. 


Think about the best way to prepare the room you are going to be in during the exam. An online exam will often take place in familiar surroundings such as your own living room or bedroom. These are places we normally use to relax, not to ‘be on’ as we are during an exam. Therefore, try to find a good spot at home where you can sit comfortably and quietly, and where no one will interrupt you. 

Make sure you do not have your back against a strong light source (e.g. a window) as this lighting can make it difficult for the examiner and co-examiner to see you, which in turn hampers their ability to decode your body language and facial expressions. 


Make sure that the permitted aids and materials are close at hand so you don’t have to go off screen to grab them. It can be disruptive if you need to get up or move out of frame during the exam. Consider whether you might need pen and paper, and remember to use a headset for the best audio. Click here to read more about online meeting culture. 

It can also be helpful with some paraphernalia that give you a sense of security, for example having a clock close by so you can keep track of time.  A pitcher of water would normally be on the table during an exam. Make sure you also have that on hand at home in case you get nervous or you feel you mouth go dry. 

If you have any doubts about how to technically commit to the online oral exam, you can find support in our technical guides for Zoom. Please try the platform by yourself and with your study group before the exam is held.

See also

Academic regulations

Orientate yourself in your curriculum on requirements for each individual subject in your programme.

Know the rules

Read about the rules in relation to exams at Aarhus University.

Podcast for students

Studiekammeraten is a podcast (in Danish) for students at the university. It is about the challenges and opportunities in student life. Both of the podcast hosts are student counsellors, and in each episode, they talk to students or experts about different aspects of life as a university student. Listen to the podcast here: 

The podcast is produced by the Student Counsellor at the Faculty of Health.