Ask our Teachers: How to score for oral exams?

Oral exams can feel simultaneously simple and difficult for students. Simple because the entire exam can be completed well within 30 minutes, yet difficult because scoring in an oral exam is very much unlike the usual process of writing down answers in a written exam – which can result in a huge missed opportunity if one isn’t well-versed on what to expect.

It’s therefore imperative that every student tries their best to ace it in order to secure precious points that will count towards their total score. Of course, that’s easier said than done.

Not exactly sure what to do or how to help your child prepare for their orals? Here’s a few tips from our teachers at Geniebook to get started!

Oral Exam Components

Oral exams are made up of two parts: Essay Narration (朗读短文) and Commentary (会话). Instead of doing any writing, both components will require students to communicate verbally with their examiner.

Let’s go through each of them to learn about the objectives that your child must achieve to gain a good mark.

Essay Narration (朗读短文): 20 marks

In Essay Narration, students are given a short text or essay to read aloud for the examiner. The objective here is to read the provided essay as clearly and smoothly as possible; students are graded based on their fluency in their spoken language as well as the level of clarity in their speech.

In order to do well in this part of the exam, your child should keep these three tips in mind:

#1: Reviewing one’s vocabulary is a must before the exam. Ensuring a good vocabulary range allows your child to properly identify and read every word in its entirety.

#2: When reading the essay aloud, your child should ensure that their speech is clear and audible enough for the examiner. The narration should also be calm and steady. In addition, any emotions present in the text should also be expressed where appropriate (e.g. anger, sadness, happiness).

#3: In the event that your child encounters a word that they cannot identify during their narration, they should not falter in their narration, but instead continue on towards the next word as seamlessly as possible.

Commentary (会话): 30 marks

For Commentary, students are shown either an image depicting a scene, or a short video clip. After spending a few minutes studying the material, the examiner will then engage them in a short question and answer session. Students are graded based on their ability to communicate their thoughts and opinions on topics related to the content shown to them.

Unlike Essay Narration where a good mark is guaranteed simply by being able to read, excelling in Commentary will require your child to be somewhat comfortable with freeform conversations in Mandarin. To prepare for it, they can try the following:

#1: Constant practice is the key. Do your best to hold conversations with your child in Mandarin every day to help familiarise them with the typical speech patterns and cadences.

#2: Remind them to also practise expressing their opinions, feelings and thoughts in Mandarin. One easy way to do so is to discuss topics and events that occur in their day-to-day life. Learning how to elaborate on their opinions beyond a simple sentence will also benefit them greatly in their oral exams.

#3: Lastly, do encourage them to read up on current affairs in Chinese newspapers, or watch more Mandarin TV shows during their free time. This helps them learn about trending topics that may be referenced in oral exams, and how to engage in fluent conversations.


That should cover the essentials of oral exams for your child. We hope this has been of great help! Next time, we’ll cover the basics of writing composition essays and provide even more tips on how to do well in Paper 1.

Need some more help with practicing for oral exams or for Chinese papers in general. With Geniebook Chinese, we've got your child covered. Check out our approach to making learning Chinese come alive and reach out to us below.

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