Originally Published in The Age, 26 Feb 2007
An oral exam judges far more than just the words that come out of your mouth.
The preparation for an oral exam, say for SAC (school assessed coursework), is much the same as for a speech for a social occasion - you need to be clear about why you are presenting, to whom you are presenting and for how long. You need to do your research, make sure that your material is relevant and that you can find connections with the audience.
If the oral is on an issue, you may need to give the class the trigger - that is, the event - that began the issue (unless it is a perennial issue). T he recent controversy about euthanasia is such an issue, triggered by media coverage of Dr. John Elliott's "assisted suicide".
You should indicate the main players in the issue. Usually there are two sides, but there can be more. Unless your teacher has indicated that you should be one-sided, you should indicate both sides but come down clearly on the one you support. One way you can do this is to mention the other side's views and then counter or rebut them.
Develop your arguments clearly, using only persuasive techniques that are considered "fair" in language analysis.
For example, use rhetorical questions, but don't use denigration of the other side. Use appeals to family values and repetition, if appropriate, but don't use hyperbole.
Use some statistics, but not more than three figures as your audience will lose the impact of them. Use an anecdote and especially use a future scenario. These can be very powerful, especially if accompanied by an analogy.
If the oral is for a text, depending on the teacher's direction, decide on an aspect that will interest you and the class. If it does not need to relate directly to the text, there are many good approaches - including the life of the author, other texts by the author, the setting and context of the text. Looking at symbols and major motifs (such as the kite in The Kite Runner) can make great orals.
If the oral needs to be on a passage of the text, choose one that has some central themes and/or character revelation. Better still is one that has great dialogue. It is good to quote from the text and even hold the text in your hand. If you do, still look up and "read" it, using much expression; the more the better, as long as it does not sound melodramatic. If you quote dialogue, use the voices of the characters, even using any accents, if relevant.