T Nation

Oral Final Exam

Has anyone on here ever had an oral final exam in a technical subject? I have one tomorrow in the Combustion of Energetic Materials and could really use some advice on how to go about dealing with it–or at least some sympathy.

I am dreading this more than any test I have ever taken. It is one-on-one with my thesis professor and boss. It is a combination of theory and technical questions that you have to work out on a white board as he looks on. So I am obviously worried about bombing, but I am also worried about being embarrassed as well. Oh, and at the end of the test he grades you and tells you everything you did wrong.

FML

Even if you don’t know the answer, spurt some technical shit out confidently like you know what you’re talking about.

like a damn high pressure job interview.

that sounds fucking horrible man, good luck.

Don’t fuck up?

I imagine you should know a good bit about it if you’re at the point where you’re taking such an intensive exam.

You know the answer, calm the fuck down and give them it.

Ya know what?

you’re gonna own this fucking exam!!

you’ve come this far now go for the fucking kill and end it.

you’ve worked too hard and too long to even be able to take this exam

YOU KNOW THIS SHIT, NO WORRIES.

SUCCESS, FUCKING TAKE IT, ITS YOURS!

OWN THAT SHIT.

The theory stuff I’m sure you can bull-shit should you loose your train of thought. Just know a few of the major theories on your subject and your golden. The technical shit, well, i guess there is less flexibility there and you kind of have to know the logistics.

I’m sure this sounds stupid but my recommendation is to take your time and be thoughtful - things will get flowing once you get into it.

Good luck!

remember if you are nervous it is going to show and it will fucking suck. so how do you counteract that, don’t be nervous. Be confident, listen to what he has to say, speak slow so you don’t jumble up your words. And if you really are nervous, take a high blood pressure pill, i forget what they are called…dammit.

Mine was in sign language. Good luck.

Take it easy, should work like a charm ;-).

Speaking from a lot of personal experience with this - try to break the ice right at the beginning. This is someone you know well and conversely, someone who knows you well. Think of it as just another conversation on the subject. All the people telling you to “bullshit” or just be confident in “spurt[ing] some technical shit” have no clue what they’re talking about.

Do you think a professional in your field is going to be impressed by this? Do you honestly think a professional cannot judge whether you know what you’re talking about or not? A corollary to this is - don’t insult the examiner’s intelligence. I’m sure you’ve been to conferences and lectures where the speaker has gotten lost, has been unable to answer questions, etc. It happens to everyone, and the way around it is not to start making things up.

Be confident, and make sure you determine the pace of your exam/presentation.
Richard Feynman wrote on “whether a man knows what he is talking about, whether what he says has some basis or not”: “And my trick that I use is very easy. If you ask him intelligent questions - that is, penetrating, interested, honest, frank, direct questions on the subject, and no trick questions - then he quickly gets stuck. It is like a child asking naive questions. If you ask naive but relevant questions, then almost immediately the person doesn’t know the answer, if he is an honest man.”

What’s being tested is not your answering questions, but your knowledge of how to arrive at the answers - unless your adviser is interested in rote learning and memorization, which I hope is not the case. Assuming you know the methods, take your time, apply them, and that’s all there is to it.
Lastly, for the physiological aspects of anxiety, try tactical breathing. In 4 seconds, hold 4 seconds, out 4 seconds, hold 4 seconds, repeat. Good luck.

Breathe, think, and formulate an answer before opening your mouth. You’ll do fine.

Thanks guys.

aut-x-rs, you are absolutely right. This professor is not only teaching the class, but combustion is literally his life’s work. In fact, a lot of the class is studying some of the models that he has personally helped develop. Even more of the class is studying models developed by the professor that taught him in graduate school who, by no coincidence at all, also liked to give oral exams. On top of everything he is ridiculously sharp and intelligent–if he didn’t even know the subject I am pretty sure he would be able to call BS.

I will have to try the tactical breathing, because the anxiety might be the worst part.

[quote]aut-x-rs wrote:
Speaking from a lot of personal experience with this - try to break the ice right at the beginning. This is someone you know well and conversely, someone who knows you well. Think of it as just another conversation on the subject. All the people telling you to “bullshit” or just be confident in “spurt[ing] some technical shit” have no clue what they’re talking about.

Do you think a professional in your field is going to be impressed by this? Do you honestly think a professional cannot judge whether you know what you’re talking about or not? A corollary to this is - don’t insult the examiner’s intelligence. I’m sure you’ve been to conferences and lectures where the speaker has gotten lost, has been unable to answer questions, etc. It happens to everyone, and the way around it is not to start making things up.

Be confident, and make sure you determine the pace of your exam/presentation.
Richard Feynman wrote on “whether a man knows what he is talking about, whether what he says has some basis or not”: “And my trick that I use is very easy. If you ask him intelligent questions - that is, penetrating, interested, honest, frank, direct questions on the subject, and no trick questions - then he quickly gets stuck. It is like a child asking naive questions. If you ask naive but relevant questions, then almost immediately the person doesn’t know the answer, if he is an honest man.”

What’s being tested is not your answering questions, but your knowledge of how to arrive at the answers - unless your adviser is interested in rote learning and memorization, which I hope is not the case. Assuming you know the methods, take your time, apply them, and that’s all there is to it.
Lastly, for the physiological aspects of anxiety, try tactical breathing. In 4 seconds, hold 4 seconds, out 4 seconds, hold 4 seconds, repeat. Good luck.[/quote]

This is really sound advice. Absolutely, under no circumstances try to “bullshit” or “fumble your way through” anything. Just like in a job interview, if asked something you don’t understand your best response is to either ask questions for clarification, or simply say “I’m not sure, can I have a moment to think it over?” as opposed to doing the whole “Umm, ahhh, let’s see here, ok, well…hmmm”. As aut-x-rs mentioned as well, it’s more about the process and HOW you go about solving a problem as opposed to the actual answer, so try to communicate clearly what you’re doing and make sure it’s technically/theoretically sound, don’t try to fudge through things and don’t make assumptions.

[quote]aut-x-rs wrote:

Richard Feynman wrote on “whether a man knows what he is talking about, whether what he says has some basis or not”: “And my trick that I use is very easy. If you ask him intelligent questions - that is, penetrating, interested, honest, frank, direct questions on the subject, and no trick questions - then he quickly gets stuck. It is like a child asking naive questions. If you ask naive but relevant questions, then almost immediately the person doesn’t know the answer, if he is an honest man.”

[/quote]

I’m confused. Is he saying that if the guy gets stuck then he knows his shit?

OP, if you need time to think something over, silence is best. Just shut yer mooth and look thoughtful for a few seconds, rather than trying to talk through it. You’ll just look/sound stupid.

Don’t forget to laugh/smile. Be genuinely interested.

Anyone with a good memory can spew out concepts, theories and formulas. Intelligence is the ability to apply the concepts, prove the theories and solve the formulas while explaining how you came to the conclusions and why you did it. Be prepared to defend your answers. Understanding the analysis and principle is more important, so don’t worry if you forget a minor detail or two. Ain’t no cheat sheet gonna save your ass now if you don’t know the material. It’s showtime.

Well it’s over… I guess I did slightly above average for the class which isn’t so bad. After the test starts, the nerves kinda fade away. Part of it was open notes, except I only used them to get ONE equation. The professor was extremely helpful getting me started in a few spots, so that helped quite a bit. Anyway, thanks guys… you really helped a lot especially calming nerves!

My advice is to think out loud.

Do not, in any circumstance, stay quiet and just say the answer. Talk yourself through the problem. The prof does care about how you arrive at the answer, what assumptions you make and the steps you take.

Too bad your final wasn’t on rhyming. You would have killed it.

Our schooling system does this shit all the time…I get asked like this 12-20 times a month(in all subjects) and get graded,Its simple if u get used to…but its stressing as hell.

[quote]spyoptic wrote:
Even if you don’t know the answer, spurt some technical shit out confidently like you know what you’re talking about.[/quote]

Ya, like in Startrek-

Preferably in Klingon.