Impromptu Speaking: The Overlooked Key to Individual Oral Success

Felicia Audrey Nugroho
7 min read
A one-on-one conversation, similar to that of oral exams (Charity Village)

Midway through your IBDP journey, your teacher will call you in for one of IB’s much-dreaded assessments: individual oral exams.

Often called an IO, IB individual orals are one-on-one speaking tests for Group 1 and 2 subjects. They’re an equivalent of internal assessments (IAs) in other subjects. Each type of Group 1 and 2 subjects have their own assessment requirements.

Comparison of individual oral assessments across IB Group 1 and 2 subjects

IOs from Group 1 subjects are heavier on literature and consist of a shorter Q&A/discussion section. Meanwhile, IOs from Group 2 rely on visual stimuli (excluding Language B HL) and have longer discussion sections.

As you can see, individual orals weigh less in comparison to external assessments. Even so, many students are still very anxious about doing this test.

Why Are Oral Exams So Nerve-Wracking?

People love being correct; that’s something none of us can deny.

That’s also why the IB individual orals are so stressful. In paper-based exams, any mistake can easily be crossed out using a pen. Sure, the examiners know there was an error, but they know it’s not something we want them to grade.

With oral exams, nothing said can be redacted. Once the recording ends, the teacher grades, and the IB moderates. No pen can cross out the errors of sound.

We’re so intimidated by oral exams because it’s hard to be flawlessly correct. Considering how strict IB grading standards are, there is little room for error. This assessment is where that ‘room for error’ becomes smaller than it already is.

That aside, it’s often tough to switch from casual speech to formal language. Individual orals require students to use a proper and standard delivery of a language. That means no slang, no informalities, and no code-switching. My friends and I found this especially difficult, as we tend to mix English and Indonesian daily.

My teachers’ advice for IOs was simple: practice! I initially thought 'practice' only consisted of growing familiar with my IO materials. As such, I only practiced speaking about my chosen works for English A: Language and literature SL, and my possible extracts for Indonesian B HL.

Through the Q&A section in my mock Indonesian B IO, I realized I had to be ready to answer absolutely unexpected queries. This began my exploration of ways to prepare for IOs.

To my surprise, I found success through one method: impromptu speaking!

Impromptu speaking, as the name suggests, involves talking with no preparation. What this does is get you used to responding to unfamiliar topics—something crucial for the Q&A or discussion sections of IOs!

When chatting to my friends from other schools, I was surprised to discover how uncommon this method was. The usual approach was to practice for what they could predict and use whatever skills they had to approach the unpredictable.

It’s about time we find ways to prepare for the unknown.

Ways to Approach Impromptu Speaking

From the simple to the odd, there are many ways you can practice impromptu speaking.

#1 - Take the question and answer route!

The simplest way you could practice speaking is by generating possible discussion questions. In both Language A and Language B HL oral assessments, you’ll engage in a Q&A or discussion with your teacher. This method will train you specifically for that part!

Simply open your laptop and go to your handiest AI tool. Type in the general topic for your IO and generate 5-10 questions. Once you get a list of good questions, practice answering them without preparing any notes. This will be very helpful for content-related preparation, as you’re killing 2 birds with 1 stone. You’re not only practicing your impromptu speaking; you might also successfully predict a question your teacher will ask on D-Day!

Want something more random? Google up some debate topics and start speaking about them for 1-2 minutes! This works well if you take Language B SL or Language ab initio, as you can't predict the topic of your individual oral.

#2 - Make it fun!

Sometimes, you need a technique that can calm your nerves down.

One funny activity I did to boost my speaking skills was explaining dance moves to my friends in formal Indonesian. I remember being unbearably nervous before my Indonesian B HL IO. It seems like the nerves made me think all weird, as I dragged 2 of my friends to the middle of an empty classroom and started teaching them the moves to NewJeans’ “Super Shy” in formal Indonesian. My friends found me ridiculous (I did too), but this worked wonders, as it made me relax and helped me grow used to speaking Indonesian formally. Plus, you’re making some valuable memories with your peers! If I were to choose from all the methods I attempted to prepare for my IO, this deserves to be crowned as the most effective.

Of course, you don’t have to teach dance! There are lots of alternatives out there. You just need something interesting to keep your cool while you get ready for your exam. Another amusing yet helpful technique I discovered was translating song lyrics from English to Indonesian on a whim, and vice versa.

#3 - Turn casual formal!

You can always take the absurd and make it the new normal.

To me and my friends, that meant turning our casual conversations formal. For days before our Indonesian B IO, we used as many seconds of the day to speak formal Indonesian to each other. Whether it was an in-class group discussion or a simple recess break conversation, we spoke proper Indonesian to each other.

While understandably awkward, this is perfect for getting used to formal speaking. When you turn something you’re not used to into a habit, that’ll start to feel natural. You’re usually very comfortable with a habit or routine. Similarly, once you get used to this practice, speaking formally will feel like second nature.

Even when you don’t know what visual stimulus, questions, or discussion topics your teacher will bring up, you have a chance beforehand to build the adaptable skills needed to succeed in the oral exam.

The key lies in enhancing your command of the language, and that comes from practicing the right techniques to speak confidently and spontaneously about any topic at any time. By using impromptu speaking through Q&As, fun activities, and habitual changes, you’ll be able to transform your anxiety into assuredness.

Away from impromptu speaking, don’t forget to look through any resources your teacher provides! From in-depth videos (like those produced by the beloved IB English Guys) to the subject guide, combine many tools to be as prepared as possible.

Now, go embrace the experience and believe in yourself. Good luck!