Schedule / weekly presentation order
Oral Examination Guidelines:
Candidates are given a passage by the examiner of not more than 40 lines from
one of their three works in depth: The Tempest, a novel or a poem.
This passage is prepared in a room with other students where ID cards and
convocations are checked. No personal notes, cell phones or dictionaries are
available. The student prepares the first half of the oral, situating the passage in
the work as a whole, analyzing it thematically and stylistically and linking it to
two other works on the syllabus.
After 30 minutes the examiner takes the candidate to the exam room where
the student is invited to read a part of the passage and to speak for at least 10
minutes uninterrupted. If the student encounters difficulties of any sort, the
examiner will help out with questions. After 10 minutes of commentary, the
candidate should move on to making stylistic and thematic links with two other
works on the syllabus. If the commentary appears to exceed ten minutes, the
examiner reminds the student that it must be finished up. Links to other works
should be well developed, lasting a good two minutes for each one. This is the
opportunity for candidates to lead the examiner towards themes and stylistic
devices they are particularly interested in. During the entire oral exam the
examiner will be taking notes on a document to be kept for a year in case of
questions of any sort.
In the second half of the oral, the examiner asks questions about other works
on the syllabus, often following the lead given by the student. All three works in
depth must be touched on and ideally another 3 to 5 works. Since this is a
literature exam, students are awarded extra points if they spontaneously speak
about style without prompting from the examiner. At the end of the oral the
examiner collects all the notes taken by students during the preparation period.
FIRST HALF (15 minutes) Candidate leads
Introduction: Situation and Thesis (1 to 2 minutes)
Commentary: Parts and Detailed analysis (8 minutes)
Links: Stylistic and thematic comparison to two other works (5 minutes)
SECOND HALF (15 minutes) Examiner leads
Thematic and stylistic questions on 4 to 6 other works on the syllabus are
discussed in a literary conversation.
FIRST PART OF ORAL (15 minutes)
I. INTRODUCTION: SITUATION OF THE PASSAGE, THESIS (why the
passage is important in the work as a whole) (1 to 2 minutes)
The conclusion should be given in the introduction. Unlike in French
orals, OIB students should immediately state what the passage is about and
why it is important in the work as a whole.
For example, Act 1 Scene 2 lines 66-105 is part of Prospero’s first
conversation with Miranda which serves as a exposition device in which
Prospero explains the background and introduces some of the key characters
in the story. In this section of the conversation, which is in many ways a
monologue delivered to Miranda, he establishes the dichotomy between
himself and his brother Antonio. To do so, Prospero not only offers a detailed
description of his brother’s betrayal, but uses opposing language of “good”
and “trust” versus “evil” and “false” to describe himself and his brother
respectively. The student’s introduction should entail a brief reference to
how the actions and words of each character before and after this extract
show Prospero to be a reliable if not dispassionate narrator here.
II. COMMENTARY (8 to 9 minutes)
A. Defining Parts (1 to 2 minutes)
The candidate should point out (without giving precise line numbers) various
movements and shifts in the passage. Changes in ideas should be noted,
progressions defined. In order to find these, the student should look for changes
in TONE. Where does an author, narrator, character, persona move from anger
to self-pity, from cool reasoning and detachment to an emotional outburst?
Why? These changes in tone are often signaled by punctuation, (exclamation
marks especially), indentations or a change in line length. Once the passage or
poem is divided into parts according to different ideas and tones, the examiner
will have a clear indication of the student’s understanding of its importance. The
student will have a clear outline from which to proceed!
B. Detailed analysis (6 to 8 minutes)
Here, the student should go down through the passage, not in a strictly linear
fashion as in a French « explication de texte » (there will not be enough time to
do so). However, the text should be followed more or less chronologically to
make it easier for the examiner to follow and for the student not to forget
important elements. This is what is meant by linear but not too linear. The
main ideas must be explained and important stylistic devices pointed out:
metaphors, similes, sounds (alliteration, assonance and consonance), line length
if important, repetitions, and striking images, especially those which recur in the
work as a motif. In all cases style must be linked to meaning.
C. Conclusion (1 minute)
Without any unnecessary repetition, a conclusion should be once again drawn as
to the overall importance of the passage within the work as a whole. For
example, one might conclude that Prospero’s exposition introduces many of the
important themes of the play, such as the use and abuse of power, manipulation,
and natural order, which he himself will struggle with.
D. Links (4 to 5 minutes)
This is the moment when candidates take the oral into their own hands. Though
it may appear difficult to link a passage to other works on the syllabus, this is not
hard if one takes into account both stylistic and thematic possibilities. For
example, if the passage given is an exposition device (to continue our Tempest
example), it suffices to find a moment of exposition in any other work on the
syllabus: Chillingworth’s conversation with the Townsman, Esther’s
conversations with any of the characters in Act 1 scenes 1-5, Baldwin’s use of
A student may choose to make a comparison based on a similar theme (use of
power, abuse of power, leadership, manipulation, desire for knowledge, illusion
versus reality) and so forth.
To complete the comparison, style must be taken into account. Lahiri’s semi-
omniscient narratives offer a singular subjective viewpoint, like Prospero’s, and
the reader must read between the lines to understand more fully, while
Hawthorne offers insight into a variety of character’s thoughts and pasts for the
reader to critique. Shakespeare uses reflection upon the past, as does
Hawthorne, but not always for the same purposes. So the possibilities for links
are nearly endless and candidates are encouraged to use whatever comparisons
or contrasts they deem interesting and able to sustain for more than just a
sentence. To develop links it is necessary to speak both about what is similar and
different in two works, both stylistically and thematically.
SECOND PART OF THE ORAL (15 minutes)
This part of the oral is intended to be a conversation between the candidate
and the examiner in which different points of view are exchanged, moving
from one work to another according to the depth of knowledge and opinions
of the candidate. The examiner will be looking for what candidates know, not
what they do not know. Students are encouraged to be active and to speak
about style as often as possible, always in relation to the author’s aims. The
more sophisticated the literary analysis, the richer the exchange will be.
GOOD LUCK! Most OIB students recall their literature oral as a wonderful
moment, so enjoy it!