In this second part of our series on tackling the oral examination, we turn our attention to the Spoken Interaction.

In the first post – Oral component overview and reading aloud, three criteria were outlined – Personal response, Clarity of expression, and Interaction. In essence, you are assessed on how (1) well-developed your responses are, your (2) use of expressions, and your ability to (3) sustain the discussion. This post will introduce you to some conversation handles (tips to keep the conversation going).Have you run into issues highlighted below? Each of them relates to one of the above criteria. But not to worry – you’re at the right place to start turning things around!

1. Common issues

1. Development of response

I find it hard to organise my ideas or simply run out of ideas halfway

2. Use of expressions

My vocabulary is weak and my teacher tells me that I should vary my sentence structures and use of words more.

3. Sustaining the discussion

I don’t know how to elaborate on my points.

2. Conversation handles

Let’s look at four types of conversation handles.

When discussing the topic of food, for example, there are four ways to go about it:

CIRCLES: General to Specific / Specific to General


1. CIRCLES: General to Specific / Specific to General


There is a wide variety of food all over the world. While most people in Asia enjoy rice as a staple, those in the West are more accustomed to bread and potatoes. However, in Singapore, we are home to plenty of cuisines.

This example starts from the general (world at large), zooms in to regions and then to a specific country, Singapore.

CLOCK – Past to Present / Present to Past

CLOCK – Past to Present / Present to Past


When I was a child, I dreaded vegetables and refused them in my meals. But as I grew older and more health-conscious, I started to adopt a more balanced diet. Nowadays, I make sure I add some servings of fruit to my meals.

This example starts from past habits and moves on to how it has evolved throughout one’s life.

5W1H – Who, What, Where, When, Why, How

5W1H – Who, What, Where, When, Why, How


I really enjoy eating frozen yoghurt [what]. My favourite brand is Yolé as it serves voluminous scoops of yoghurt [why/how], topped with all the delicious fruits [why/how]. I look forward to having it with my classmates [who] after a long school day [when] at the outlet near our school [where].

KEY – Problem to Solution

Key – Problem to Solution


At times,I cannot make up my mind [problem] about what to eat. With the variety available at food centres, I am simply spoilt for choice. My friend has shared a tip [solution] with me though – to go for the stalls with the long queues. After all, good food is worth the wait.

As you think about which handles (or strategies) to use, these should help you organise your thoughts better and enable you to present your ideas in a clear and coherent (having a logical flow) manner.

3. Spoken interaction practice

Let’s apply these handles into actual questions in the Spoken Interaction!

During the 10-minute preparation time, you are usually given a minute-long video to watch. This is usually related to the Reading Passage and acts as a visual stimulus for your conversation with the examiners. For example, if the passage is about how technology is being used in the service industry, the video could show how robots are serving customers in eating places.

Watch the video (about 1 min 30 sec) below. Then try to respond to the three questions that follow, using the handles introduced above.


  • A) How do you think the people in the video are feeling about their experience with the service robot? Why?
  • B) Describe your encounter with a robot like this or any experience you have had with technology.
  • C) Some people say that with service robots, waiters are no longer needed in restaurants. What do you think?


Students generally find the first type of question (A) easier to answer as they can discuss their observations from the video clip that they have watched. We will thus focus on the other two questions in which the conversation handles might come in handy.

Answer B: Describe your encounter with a robot like this or any experience you have had with technology.

When asked to “Describe”, you might find the 5W1H handle a more natural one to use. Some questions you could address:

  • What did this robot look like, and where was it operating?
  • How did it function?
  • Why did you like or not like it?

Another possibility is to make a comparison with past experiences before technology was used. And this would be the “clock” handle in action!

Answer C: Some people say that with service robots, waiters are no longer needed in restaurants. What do you think?

This is a typical expository question where you have to give your opinion (prompted by the question “What do you think?”) or take a stand (if prompted by “Do you agree?”). 

Given the way the statement is worded, that “waiters are no longer needed in restaurants”, it highlights an opinion that is potentially contentious.It would thus be helpful to both recognise the problem in the statement and refute it (i.e. give two sides of the argument).

Either way, the“key” handle would be handy.

You may discuss:

  • [recognise the problem] Why would service robots replace waiters?
  • [refute the problem] In what ways are waiters not easily replaceable?
  • [offerthe solution] How can waiters avoid being displaced by such robots?
  • [offerthe solution] How can robots and waiters co-exist or complement each other in restaurants?

Try to formulate an answer to the prompt questions for (B) and (C), and build your way to a well-developed response to the main questions.

Don’t Miss Any Future Post!

2024 Bukit Timah Branch Secondary English Tuition Timetable

LevelClass TypeDayTime
S1All Components ClassSAT5 pm to 7 pm