Everyone around looks like they know something you don’t. You take out your notes and start revising randomly.
It soon turns out you don’t remember it all. So you panic … and instead of warming up and preparing mentally to perform calmly you lose all your self-confidence.
Anything you have learned by heart seems to have evaporated and the disaster appears to be inevitable.
Do you know this feeling?
All of us do I guess.
In today’s article, our Czech correspondent, Jaroslav Veselý offers a first hand experience in this matter, from his recent STANAG 6001 exam in English, which by the way, he has passed successfully.
I really recommend reading his account of what happened before he entered the exam room and what his reflections are on memorisation and preparing long introductions.
The time before the speaking part by Jaroslav Veselý
The speaking at Czech STANAG exam starts with “the introduction” part. It’s the part where you are supposed to give basic information about yourself. A tip, that I followed, was to prepare “my introduction”, few sentences about myself, and learn them by heart.
While waiting for my turn I wanted to check “my introduction” and as I was sitting with other applicants I noticed I wasn’t the only one following this tip. Others were walking there and back again in the corridor speaking to themselves and trying to memorize their introduction. Except they hadn’t prepared just some sentences, they prepared the whole essays. Yes, by an essay I mean an essay. They had A4 pages almost full of text and they were learning it all! You can guess why I got a bit uncomfortable and doubtful as I had only 4 or 5 sentences. So, what did I do? Yep, I started to write down more and more sentences and information until I got a half or even more than a half of the page. That took me nearly 20 minutes to come up with all that, and the time before my turn was running out.
When I was finished I realized it was impossible to learn it all! I was looking at it and I was beginning to be more stressed. “How the hell am I supposed to memorize it all?!” I thought to myself. The truth is I was not! I saw it looking at others. They were stressed and sad because the more they repeated it the more they forgot and mixed their chronological sentences. There is no way to memorize a whole A4 page of text, it’s just impossible and completely worthless. Because when it was finally my turn I went in and after some courtesy greetings and proving my ID I was asked to tell something about myself and I started to recite my prepared introduction. First sentence, done, second sentence, done, third one and I got interrupted. I was given a question “what would you like to do with your career in the future?”. Quite a normal question, right? Maybe you are asking, what was the problem with this one. Well, there was none, just that in my half a page introduction I hadn’t thought about this at all, thus I hadn’t prepared an answer. At that moment it was clear to me that you can never prepare for the introduction part by coming up with an essay or a CV.
Preparing an introduction might be good and helpful but overdoing it and memorizing it is utterly useless and senseless. The exam is in English or whatever language you signed up for. It is not supposed to check your ability to memorize and your recitation skills. And to be honest, the examiners are not interested in how great swimmer you were at high school or how many musical instruments you can play. Prepare just a concept of the introduction.:who you are, where you work, etc. Instead of following it strictly, just use it as a frame, because you’ll be asked something you haven’t prepared anyway.
The time you have before speaking part of the exam is better spent trying to relax and warming up your vocal cords with vocal exercises or tongue twisters rather than stressing yourself over how many sentences you have prepared . Don’t get distracted or flustered by others, just because they have something you don’t, which doesn’t mean it’s something you need too.
Although in the Polish version of the STANAG 6001 level 3 exam in English there is no introduction like the one described by Jaroslav, memorisation is still evaluated negatively, especially in briefings (TASK 1 of the level 3 exam in speaking), where candidates tend to memorise the introduction. This causes a disproportion in fluency of the memorised, extended introduction and less fluent and much shorter main part of the briefing.
The same is true about arguments and their justification in the discussion (Task 2 of the level 3 speaking). If something seems to be memorised, it will not be well evaluated or it may be disregarded in the assessment altogether.
More on common mistakes to be avoided in speaking here:
Do you have similar experience with your speaking exams? Care to share? Leave a comment!
If you wish to share your exam experience feel free to contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.