How to pass the Communication Exam in Germany
Oder: Wie man die Kommunikationsprüfung besteht
In Germany, communication exams are obligatory in all modern languages. Here, students can finally demonstrate how well they can express themselves in a short speech. They will also have to prove how they can handle a quick debate. Being an integral part of the final exams in Germany, they form a major challenge (or obstacle) on a student’s road to their splendid performance in the A-Levels (“Abitur”).
The basic arrangement
Before you start, there are a few basic facts you should consider:
- The main examiner will be your teacher (“Prüfungsvorsitzender”). There is also someone to keep the minutes (“Protokollant”). Both of them will assess and grade your performance (and your partner’s).
- Your desks are usually arranged in a manner that you and your partner take opposing positions so that the examination board can watch you during the exam. Normally, schools will provide clocks as well.
- Preparation time is 15 minutes, solo presentations will last five minutes each, and the tandem part is limited to ten minutes.
- Start early! It doesn’t really make sense to start practising the night before the exam!
- Usually, there is a closed list of topics that may come up in the exam. If your teacher doesn’t provide you with a list and if you work without textbooks, it makes sense to ask for a list of topics you need to cover. Typical topics include “The American Dream”, “The Commonwealth and Multiculturalism in Britain”, “Belonging and Identity”, “Gun Control”…(see below)!
- Create your own fact files. It makes sense to team up with other students and share your work.
- Make sure you can handle different materials – such as word clouds, quotations, graphs, and cartoons!
- As you will often take the exam together with a partner, make sure you get to know each other well – how do they react in stressful moments? What does their body language tell you?
- Time management is essential: Use the timer function to make sure you will neither exceed the time limit.
- You should collect phrases to structure speeches and discussions.
- Record yourselves with your smartphones. Use your recordings to identify problems and improve your performance.
The task descriptions (“Operatoren”)
The task descriptions in an oral exam usually consist of three layers:
- Reproduction and text comprehension: describe / locate / outline / present
- Reorganization und analysis: compare and contrast / explain / analyse / examine
- Evaluation and production: discuss / assess / comment on / argue / evaluate / develop / make suggestions / interpret / sort / categorize / rank / negotiate / agree on / decide for
- Brexit / Britain and the EU
- Privacy vs. security / Surveillance / Terrorism
- America's global role
- Immigration / multiculturalism
- The American Dream
- Climate Change
- English as a world language
- Gun control and gun culture
- The British Monarchy
- The Commonwealth / Britain and her former colonies
- Scottish independence
Entering the Preparation Room (15 minutes)
When you enter preparation room, you will be handed out a worksheet with materials. Dictionaries (bilingual and monolingual) will be provided.
- Don’t waste any time! Start right away. You have fifteen minutes: one minute for organizing your work, eight minutes for your solo notes and another six minutes for the tandem notes.
- First, identify the main topic.
- Next, read the task descriptions for both solo presentation and discussion.
- Then, analyse the structure of the worksheet. What kind of materials are provided?
- Add annotations to the materials.
- Write down additional background information to illuminate the facts on the worksheet.
- If possible, make connections to the topics covered in the lesson, including films and fictional texts.
- Do not work with a dictionary if it is not absolutely necessary.
- Start with a guiding question and explain why the topic is relevant.
- Establish links between isolated materials so that you can guide the audience from one point to the next.
- Take down three to five conclusions that have a clear reference to the overall topic of the exam.
- Now, move on to the next part: discussion!
- You should always define the terms used in the task description. Thus, you can create a common ground for discussion.
- Depending on the task descriptions, you may have to discuss a) the validity of a statement (“The American Dream is dead”) or b) a yes-no-question (“Is the American dream dead?”). In this case, make a grid and write down pros and cons.
- Sometimes, you might have to do a kind of ranking or choose from a list of items. In this case, make annotations to each item, weighing its pros and cons.
- Write down a few notes for a final conclusion or compromise.
The Solo Presentation (5 minutes)
- Come in quickly and confidently, smile.
- Your teacher will usually welcome you and ask whether you feel alright. This is to clarify if you want to step back from the exam, usually for medical reasons. Do not just answer “yes” or “no” – it is perfectly okay for you to admit that you feel nervous.
- Once you are invited to have a seat, welcome everyone in the audience (including your partner).
- Don’t look at your paper too much. Fluent free speech is essential.
- Start with a question or a surprising or provocative statement.
- Present your own structure and explain your personal roadmap for the exam.
- Give a general overview of which materials you will cover and which of these are the most important. Let us know why the matter for your presentation.
- Then, cover all the materials in logical order: a) short quotes can be read out before they are analysed step by step; b) cartoons and graphs will be described and analysed before can interpret them.
- Make sure that everything you say is linked to the main topic.
- In the end, you ought to present your conclusions: Which questions need to be asked? What is your personal point of view on this issue?
- While the board of examiners moves on to your partner, do not relax. Stay focused. Write down further arguments for the discussion part.
- Support your partner by nodding and an encouraging smile. Takes notes that allow you to come to an agreement or to identify disagreement.
The Tandem Part (10 minutes)
- State the topic and agree on how you will deal with the task.
- Address the points that you have agreed to discuss. Talk about a good step-to-step strategy how to cover the points one after the other.
- Feel free to ask for clarification.
- You can defend your own case and offer more evidence.
- It is absolutely fine to disagree as long as the debate is not stuck.
- In the end, identify points on which you agree to disagree or where you may reach a compromise.
- Use polite language and base everything you say on sound reasoning. Avoid swearwords and other forms of verbal aggressiveness.
- Rid yourself of mannerisms like “you know” and “kinda”.
- It makes more sense to stage a lively debate than to present a slow exchange of prefabricated facts.
- Do not dominate the debate but find a sound balance for you and your partner.
- Avoid coming back to points you have already covered.
- Keep talking! Avoid awkward moments of silence.
- Stay tuned to your partner. Be prepared to assist them if they are stuck!
- Don’t wander from the subject!
- In the solo part, structure is essential. In the tandem part, show your ability to negotiate.
- Teachers will not interfere unless something is going terribly wrong. Make sure you will not get stuck and keep to the topic. Teachers are basically there to assist you. They want to see you succeed.
- Make eye contact with your partner. Do not ignore their signals. Communication exams are teamwork.
- If you do not suffer from stage fright and high levels of speech anxiety, communication exams should not be such a big challenge. But if you do feel this can be a problem, get professional help.
- Do not take things lightly: Only if you have not skipped too many classes, you are likely to succeed.
- Learning and revising vocabulary is crucial.
- Once you are done with both parts of the exam, you will be asked to leave the examination room.
- While you are waiting for the result, your teacher and the minute keeper will discuss the pros and cons of your performance and agree on your final grade.
- You will be called in again. You can decide whether your teacher will announce your grade and offer a short explanatory statement. You cannot ask any questions in return.