Tips for the Students Taking the Speaking Exam in Discourse Practice

Speaking Examination Assignment:

What is the exam like?

The exam will take about 30-40 minutes to complete (including the time to prepare). There are three parts in total. These are:

Part 1 – Reading & Speaking: analyzing a short story and discussing its key problems with the Examiner.

Part 2 – Speaking: An individual monologue on a suggested topic.

Part 3 – Vocabulary comprehension: an explanatory comment of the vocabulary items.

Part 1.

Reading & Speaking: analyzing a short story and discussing its key problems with the Examiner.

During Part 1 you are to discuss 1 short story with your Examiner.

You will be given some time to refresh certain details of the story under discussion (for about 20 – 30 minutes max). We do not expect our students to learn the artistic texts by heart, so you may have the texts of the stories with you at the exam in whatever format you find convenient: paperback or photocopies, or e-books.

You will have to understand the problems the story dwells upon, and then discuss the problems and your attitude to them with the Examiner. This activity is a nice chance to show your skills of text interpretation as well as oral interaction, as you will need to give opinions, speculate on possible events and ideas, consider trends as well as possibly suggest how to solve problems.

The overall list of Examination Short Stories (terms 5-7)

1. R. Bradbury. All Summer in a Day

2. J. Archer. Just Good Friends

3. P. Lively. Next Term, We’ll Mash You

4. F. Hardy. The Returned Soldier

5. Saki. The Open Window

6. A. Maley. Gossip

7. B. Brown. The Star Ducks

8. M. Spark. You Should Have Seen the Mess

9. M. Binchey. The Garden Party

10. T. Pears. Blue

11. J. Collier. The Chaser

12. J. Archer. Cheap at Half the Price

13. R. Goldberg. Art for Heart’s Sake

14. Saki. The Lumber-Room

15. Ph. Dick. Human Is

16. J. Mark. Teeth

17. E. Hemingway. Cat in the Rain

18. J. Winterson. O’Brien’s First Christmas

19. M. Whitaker. Hannah

20. A. Cassidy. Shopping for One

Here is a sample examination card:

Examination card

1. Consider the setting of the story "...". How does it help to identify the genre of the short story?

2. What is the climax of the story? Why do you think so?

3. Outline the basic conflict and the themes of the story. What is the message the author tries to get across?


The Examiner is going to assess your discussion against the following criteria:

· ability to understand and analyze an artistic text and single out its main ideas;

· ability to form and express your attitude towards the ideas and problems and communicate your ideas;

· interactive skills (using appropriate conversational formulas when asking /being asked questions, paraphrasing, clarifying the meaning, dis/agreeing, handing over, expressing your point of view, etc.);

· language skills (extensive topic vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation).

Part 2

Speaking: An individual monologue on a suggested topic.

During part 2, the Examiner will ask you to deliver a live monologue on a suggested topic.

This activity is traditionally done on the spot. The number of the examination card does not coincide with the number of the examination speaking point (topic) on the list. The topic for you to speak on will be randomly chosen by the Examiner. So, while getting ready for your answer, do not waste your time trying to guess the speaking point. Concentrate on task 1 (the analysis of the short story).

When the Examiner calls you out, you will first cover task 1 and then you will be given one minute to think about what you are going to say on the topic. You can make some notes if you wish. Then you will have to speak for about 3 minutes on the topic. During this time, the Examiner will not interrupt you and will not ask you any questions. After the delivery of the monologue, the Examiner may ask you questions on the topic, or ask you to comment and expand on it.

The overall list of Examination Short Stories (terms 5-7)

1. English as a world language.

2. English or Esperanto as a world language.

3. Variants of English.

4. How to be a good language learner.

5. The importance and characteristics of the British press.

6. Radio and TV in Great Britain.

7. The Open University.

8. Musical traditions in Great Britain. Music festivals.

9. Musical traditions in Great Britain. Folk music.

10. Personality studies (Appearance and character).

11. Modern family values.

12. The British versus the Americans.

13. British stereotypes.

14. Customs and traditions in Great Britain.

15. Monarchy or republic in Great Britain?

16. Air pollution (global warming).

17. Energy crisis.

18. The major environmental problems confronting Britain today.

19. The Green Movement.

20. Environmental problems in Belarus (Chernobyl).

To make your monologue effective, you should mind the following:

1. Organization of information:

· Transparency and logic of structure (have a clear beginning, middle, end)

· Organization of content (identify clearly the main points and supporting points)

2. Delivery of information:

· Image (do you want to appear formal or informal, relaxed or high-powered?)

· Non-linguistic techniques (suitable body movement, eye contact)

· Linguistic techniques (the use of short and long sentences, voice, humor)

3. The use of language:

· Vocabulary (choose the right word in spoken rather than written language)

· Grammar (assemble the sentences correctly in terms of language forms)

· Pronunciation (stress words and sentences correctly, articulate the sounds)

  • Fluency (vary your sentence structure and length)
  • Link your ideas, and do not talk too quickly.


While assessing, the Examiner will be looking for your ability to communicate the information and your personal ideas on a familiar topic, as well as your ability to use a range of vocabulary and grammar in a way that is clear and understandable.

The Examiner is going to assess your monologues against the following criteria:

  • Fluency and coherence
  • Vocabulary
  • Range of grammar and accuracy
  • Pronunciation

Nota Bene!

If, by any chance or for any reason, you are not ready with the suggested speaking point, please, do not waste the time – admit it right away. The examiner will appoint another topic for you to speak on. The mark for the answer will be a little lower, but not as low as for a poorly-worded stream-of-conscience speculation off the required problematics.

Part 3

Vocabulary comprehension: an explanatory comment of the vocabulary items.

During part 3 the Examiner will ask to do an exam task card. This has to be done on the spot, too. You will have to provide an explanatory comment to 3 of the vocabulary items from the list below.

Here is a sample examination card:

Examination card

Define the following.

1. Fossil fuel

2. Accent

3. Spendthrift

Your explanatory comments should be brief, but exact and exhausting, e.g.:

A fossil fuel is a fuel such as coal, natural gas, or oil that is produced by the very gradual decaying of animals or plants over millions of years.

An accent is the particular features of a person’s pronunciation/ the national, local, or individual way of pronouncing words.

A spendthrift is a person who spends money wastefully.

The overall list of Active Vocabulary (terms 5-7)


Standard English

World language

Mother tongue





Mono-, bi-, multilingual


To bridge the gap

Competitive edge

Medium of instruction

Learning incentive

Level of proficiency

Language skills


Crash courses

Dictionary dependence

Vocabulary builder

Pick up a language

Subtleties of communication

Interactive programmes

To get a good workout

Lingua franca



Transatlantic English

Contextual clue

Mass media

Paper round

Tabloid \ Broadsheet

The fourth estate

Invasion of privacy

Current affairs

Legal action



Entry qualifications

White-\ blue-collar job

Tabloid journalism

Copyright levies

Pirate radio stations

Attention span

Academic performance

Distance\part-time learning

Benefit \ beneficiary

Face-to-face tutorials


Benchmark of quality

To capture the audience

Tacit agreement

Dedicated following

Ratings war

Viewing figures

Prime time

License fee

In-depth news

Weighty topics


Middle-of–the-road audience




Worthy of attention

To obey the dictum

To sell like hot cakes




The Proms

The Last Night

To cater for \ to appeal to

To revive

To be traced back to

To hand down from generation to generation

Morris Dancing


Lay \ layman \ amateur

Social Issues

Nuclear family

extended family


divorce rate



exposure to drugs


juvenile crime

a spendthrift

a sneak

a fickle friend



British Character



irrelevant to sth.

to lag behind the time

English breakfast

Continental breakfast



a swot


breach of privacy

flag day

jumble sales

voluntary \ volunteer





Monarchy in GB

The Civil List

The Commonwealth

The Windsor Castle

The Way Ahead Committee

The primogeniture law

The royal assent

anti-monarchists / anti-royalists


Environmental Issues


on the edge of



to vanish

to dwindle

natural resources

oil slicks

marine pollution

global warming

greenhouse effect

ice caps

ozone layer

to deplete

fossil fuels

Ghetto blasters




to have a design flaw

conform to safety


to contaminate


to be politically impartial

to hit the headlines


a fund-raising event

exhaust fumes


noise offender

sewage sludge

to dump the wastes

reproductive disorders

GM food


The Examiner is going to assess this task against the following criteria:

  • knowledge of word meanings;
  • ability to define a word meaning;
  • ability to select an appropriate meaning of the word.

How can you prepare?

Part 1

Reading & Speaking: analyzing a short story and discussing its key problems with the Examiner.

The reading test is particularly designed for the students and covers the topics you study during the 3rd and the 4th year. This means you need special knowledge to accomplish the task.

Here are some hints to help you with reading:

· The stories used for reading are by English-speaking authors. They can be on a variety of topics: family life, the generation gap, social issues, love, friendship, etc. Whatever the topic, the texts are quite accessible, but may contain a considerable percentage of unknown words and challenging grammar. The texts are original, i.e. they have not been abridged or adapted. So trying to jump the task without proper home preparation and class instruction does not work. A basic gist of what the text is about may be just not enough. Intensive reading means that you understand the precise meaning of every word which might be relevant for detailed understanding. If you cannot get through, you may use a dictionary. For the reading part of the exam the students are allowed to have an English-English/ English-Russian dictionary (bring one, if you need it, or use your e-device), but, really, you do not have the time.

· The texts have to be thoroughly read and thought-over at home, not at the exam. The 20 minutes you are given to prepare will only be enough to revise the names of the characters and the general turns of the plot but not the particular details which are the key to the message.

  • Do not retell the story. Our course aims at the appreciation of fiction beyond mere retelling. We expect some basic critical analysis of fiction according to the approach we use in the classroom and with the help of the necessary specific literary terms.

· In order to save time at the exam and to make the procedure more efficient, we designed cards with 3 or 4 questions to every story concentrating on the most relevant material for analysis. Stick to the point - just answer the questions as fully as you can (and do not read aloud the questions proper to the Examiner - they also have them at hand).

· The biggest tip of all: read a lot. Read something every day! The more you read the easier it will be. Study the vocabulary and sentence structure of what you read, but most of all, try to grasp the ideas in what you read.

A helping hand

Type of story Is it a science fiction / crime / love / psychological story?

Plot How are the events arranged? What conflict is there at the core of the story? What is the turning point? Is the ending predictable / troubling / thought-provoking / surprising?

Setting Give examples of some elements and their function.

Narration Label the narrator and the effect created.

Description How effective is the author’s language?

Does the writer employ any figures of speech / emotive words? What effect do they create?

Characters Categorize the characters (major / minor / static / dynamic / complex / simple).

How does the author reveal what his characters are like? Is it through their statements and thoughts/the opinion of other characters / their actions / their names, environment, or does the author say directly what the characters are like?

Does the author employ implicit or explicit characterization?

Give examples of some personality traits attributable to the characters and provide evidence from the text.

Tone What tone / atmosphere is created in the story?

Does it sound funny / amusing / sad / horrifying / lyrical / etc.? How do you feel it?

Are there any emotionally colored words? What emotions do they convey?

Does the emotive key change as the story progresses? In what way?

How are the characters described / introduced in the story? Which characters are sympathetic to the author / the reader and which are not? Why?

Symbolism Are there any objects / details in the story that have a symbolic quality? What are they?

What is their significance in the story?

What ideas do the symbols help to reveal?

Do they help to characterize the personages? In what way?

Title What meanings of the word(s) used as the title do you know? Which meaning is relevant in the story under analysis?

Which function(s) does the title perform? Is it a symbol? Does it help to disclose a character? Does it focus on an important detail / event?

What does the author try to communicate through the title? How is it linked with the story’s themes and concerns?

8. Message Identify the theme of the story.

and theme Is it about love/friendship/parents’ love for their children / a person’s quest for happiness / bullying / sense of life / trials of life / crime and punishment?

What is the central idea of the story?

What message does the author try to get across to the reader, in your opinion?

For example:

  • The author suggests that love can work wonders and people can change for the better when they are head over heels in love with somebody…
  • In telling the story, the writer hoped to drive home the thought that everybody has their own idea of happiness…
  • The writer communicates by this story the idea that parents' love for their children can be selfless and they always give their offspring a helping hand ...
  • According to the story there are people who are shallow and narrow-minded because they react to appearances only. They react to the surface of things and people, not to their substance…

Part 2.

Speaking: An individual monologue on a suggested topic.

Always make a brief written plan while preparing for the exam, as this will help to keep you on the subject. By following the plan, you will not wander away from the topic you are being asked about. The point is, if your talk is not organized, you will lose marks. Remember, you are being tested on your fluency and coherence. Coherence means that you must follow a logical and clear argument when you speak.

Use the time (even a given minute) to plan what you are going to say! A lot of students do not plan what they are going to say. You will not impress the Examiner if you start speaking immediately without planning, whatever your level of English.

Remember, you are being tested on both the factual content of what you say and on how you say it in English. Keep to the point, and make what you say relevant. Being relevant is just as important as being fluent.

Think about connecting words and phrases that will guide you as you speak. However, do not try to write these down in the notes; you will not have enough time.

Try to practice your monologue as much as you can before sitting the exam. Practice making notes and then using them to help you speak. Learn how to build what you say, around your brief notes.

Do not try to learn set phrases before taking the exam, as this will just sound false. Do learn words and phrases that will prompt and guide you when planning your talk.

One good way to practice is to record yourself. By making a plan, and then recording yourself, you can see how much time you need and how you sound.

Here is a list of prompt words that you can use to help you prepare:

Introductory phrases when you start your talk:

I’m going to talk about…

I’d like to talk about…

I want to talk about…

What I'm going to talk about is…

I'm going to describe…

Developing phrases when you want to expand your argument:

First of all…



Another thing…

Another reason why…


Now let's turn to (move on to)...

I'd like now to consider (examine) ...

Next I come to ...

Turning now to ...

Let's move on now to ...

The next point I'd like to make is

Background phrases – when you want to add some detail:

It's near…

It happened…

It took place…

It’s been going on for/since…

At that time…

Referring to what you have said

As I said at the beginning of...

I told you a few moments ago that ...

In the first part of my talk, I said ...

As I've already said, ...

As I mentioned earlier, ...

Referring to what you will say

I'll come to that later.

I'll return to this point later

I'll comment on this in my conclusion.


So now I'd just like to summarize the main points.

In brief, I have looked at...

In conclusion, I’d like to state that …

To sum up…

I’ll wind up by saying…


That's all I have to say for now.

(I think) that covers most of the points.

That concludes my talk.

In this part of the exam, you and the Examiner may have a discussion linked to the suggested topic. The Examiner may ask you some questions to clarify some facts or ideas. Do not panic!

Here are some hints to help you:

  • Listen carefully to the Examiner's questions.

· If you do not understand the question, ask for it to be repeated. Never answer a question you do not understand.

  • Try to go into detail when you explain your opinion.
  • Give reasons for what you say.
  • Keep to the topic.

· Try to be fluent and only correct yourself when it is easy to do so.

· Do not speak quickly or slowly just speak clearly.

· Concentrate on the message you are trying to give.

· Do not worry about saying too much! The Examiner will stop you if they want to.

· When you say something, try to qualify it and expand it to support your opinion or reason.

  • Do not overuse words such as ‘actually’, ‘ moreover’, ‘what is more’ and so on. This will come across as padding and will not demonstrate your use of English.

· If you have time for a conclusion try saying something like: ‘…and therefore I …’

· Follow the Examiner's lead. They might change direction quickly by asking an unexpected question for you to comment on. For example: What about…? Here, you might answer something like: ‘Well, that's possible, but I think that…’

· Do not try to use one breath to say everything. Pace yourself! Listen to how other people speaking English pace themselves during speech. You will find it useful to listen to spoken English, such as on radio programs, to see how this is achieved.

Part 3

Vocabulary comprehension: an explanatory comment of the vocabulary items.

At this stage of the exam much depends on how well you know the active vocabulary and how much you have worked on it during the academic year. But you can always improve your vocabulary by following a few rules:

· Read as much as possible! You should read books, newspapers and magazines.

· Use an English-English dictionary which clearly defines words, provides information about grammar and gives sample sentences to show how words are used in context.

· Keep a record of new words and expressions. Review these on a regular basis so that they become part of your active vocabulary and remember to put them into practice!

· Listen to as many radio programs as you can; particularly the BBC news. If you come across some new expressions, record them for future use.

General recommendations

How can you become fluent and coherent?

Although practice will help you become fluent and coherent, here are some things you can do to improve your fluency and coherence:

First, practice makes perfect. If you practice your English, your fluency and coherence will improve quite naturally!

Next, really concentrate on your planning and organization for the exam. This will help you control your nerves, and allow you to become fluent and coherent on the day. If you go into the exam unprepared, you may feel much more nervous. This will mean that you might lose your concentration and you might not appear fluent or coherent to the Examiner.

Then, when you are taking the exam, concentrate only on the part you are doing. Do not worry about the other parts of the exam. If you prepare yourself properly, this will not be a problem.

How can you improve your grammar and accuracy?

You can improve your range of grammar and accuracy by practicing as much as possible before the exam! As we have said before, try to have as many conversations in English as you can before taking the exam. Additionally, try to listen to as many radio programs as you can. You will find the BBC Radio Four channel is excellent for listening to accurate grammar and content.

A good tip is for you and one of your friends to listen to a radio program and then discuss it in English afterwards. You will find it helpful if you keep the subjects topical, such as the news. By doing this, you will find that you can engage in conversation with other people, in different situations, when you meet them. Everybody likes to talk about a good news story!

As with vocabulary, keep a note of any new grammatical structures you come across.

Record them for future use. By doing this, you will be able to practice the context and accuracy of your grammar.

How can you improve your pronunciation?

There is only one way to improve your pronunciation: practice, practice and practice!

Practice speaking English with as many people as you can. Remember, practice makes perfect! As you practice your English, you will find that your pronunciation will improve naturally.

Lastly, you can improve your pronunciation by being confident in the way that you speak. Keep the eye contact with the interlocutor and be positive when you speak English!


The speaking exam in Discourse Practice is all about testing your fluency and coherence, vocabulary and grammar, accuracy and pronunciation.

There is no substitute for practice and planning. You must take each part of the exam in turn and prepare yourself for it in the ways described above.

Take every opportunity to practice your English in as many ways as you can before you take the exam. Think about how you will approach each part of the speaking exam and adjust your practice accordingly.

Good luck!