What’s the OLA in a nutshell?
The Oral Language Assessment assesses your ability to communicate orally in your second language. A language assessor administers the test, which includes questions about work-related situations.
The test is administered remotely over the internet using MS Teams and lasts 20 to 40 minutes. The assessor will begin by confirming your identity using MS Teams’ video function and then transition to audio only for the rest of the test.
Your assessor will guide you throughout the test. Your assessor will ask you questions designed to allow you to demonstrate which proficiency levels you meet, and the test will get increasingly difficult.
I can’t recommend this resource enough. It helped some of my students tremendously. It will allow you to ask for a variety of accommodations, ranging from having your oral assessment in the morning instead of the afternoon or meeting you assessor before the test to having the assessment with the webcam turned on. You must notify your manager first, who will then send an accommodation request to the PSC on your behalf. You will also need a doctor’s note. If you failed the assessment multiple times, it really is worth a shot.
If you didn’t get the level you wanted, you may ask for a rescore of your test if you feel like you had a great performance. Like I always tell my students: Use the tools at your disposal, and this is one of them.
Tips for the OLA
- Try to warm up in the learned language before you arrive for your interview.
- Arrive a bit early so you have time to compose yourself.
- Be sure to greet the interviewer back when you are greeted.
- If you start out poorly or make some stupid mistakes, don’t get shaken. In the first part of the interview you will be getting used to the interviewer’s speaking style.
- Choose your own speaking speed which is comfortable for you. If you know you make more mistakes when you speak too fast, slow down. If you’re a slow speaker by nature, that’s okay, but make an effort not to speak more slowly than you usually do.
- Don’t be embarrassed by pauses. The interviewer knows you have to pause sometimes to formulate your answer and will let you do so unless it seems you really can’t go on. But do try to answer as directly and spontaneously as possible. Don’t stop to think about every answer. Try to keep your end of the conversation going as naturally as possible.
- Keep talking. Don’t stop the conversation by saying simply “yes” or “no”. Be generous. Give details. Explain your point. Develop your thoughts. Make comparisons. Ask questions. Any device that demonstrates that you can carry a topic through will help your performance. Silence is your enemy. If you are not a talkative person by nature, you must make an extra effort for the test.
- Don’t get hung up on a word. Avoid words you are uncertain of. All too often candidates will rack their brains for a particular word they feel they must use and paralyze the sentence. If you do get stuck, find a simple substitute or paraphrase and go on with the conversation.
- Avoid English at all costs. The premise of the interview is that the interviewer speaks and understands only French.
- Show what you can do with what you know, mistakes and all. When you are engaged in a free conversation, a lot of the grammar and vocabulary that you know will break down. The interviewer knows this and is more interested in finding out how well you can function despite your mistakes.
What to do if…
- If you think you understood what was asked, but are not sure. Act on what you think you understood. Chances are, you have. Don’t request unnecessarily that the questions be repeated. If you have misunderstood and the question is important, the interviewer will come back to it in another form.
- If you make a mistake. If you know you made a mistake, correct it and go on. You do that even in your own language. Correcting a mistake in no way detracts from your performance.
- If you are hopelessly lost in a long sentence, STOP. Collect yourself. Say something like, “Let me tell you again — it is a bit complicated.” Then try it again. Break it into shorter sentences and carry it through. Don’t fret over what happened. No one expects you to speak without mistakes. You are not a native speaker. Fretting over a mistake only reduces your efficiency, jeopardizing the rest of the test.
- If you draw a blank. If you draw a momentary blank, give an appropriate answer. For instance, if a tester asks you how long you have been living in the area and you can’t remember how to say “one and a half” say “one year.”
- If something is interfering with your ability to perform. If the noise from the hall bothers you, say so. If you can’t hear the tester say so. Remember: this is your test. You’re entitled to the best testing conditions.
- If you are asked a question about which you know nothing. Admit it. But go in to explain why you don’t know. Or slide to another subject about which you have something to say. The tester is more interested in how you use the language than what you know or what you think.
- If you feel uncomfortable or embarrassed by a question because it is too personal, feel free to tell the interviewer that you would rather not talk about it.
- If you feel things are really getting tough, it is normal. In order to give you a valid rating, the tester has to let you show what you can do in the language, but also has to push you to a level where you can’t function comfortably in order to establish what you can’t do in the language. Not being able to go on is expected. It does not mean you’ve flunked.
Test day checklist
- Be ready to provide your personal record identifier (PRI).
- Have one piece of government-issued photo identification on hand before the start time so that the assessor can view it and confirm your identity by web camera on MS Teams.
- Arrange to be alone in a calm environment where you will not be disturbed for the duration of the test.
- If you apply background effects in MS Teams, be aware that the background effect may prevent the assessor from clearly seeing your photo identification. If this happens, the assessor may ask you to deactivate the effect long enough for them to be able to verify your photo identification.
- To ensure the test goes smoothly, before the test date, check the MS Teams link to make sure that you can connect and to familiarize yourself with the audio and video options. If you’re using a smartphone or a tablet to connect to the meeting, download the MS Teams mobile application before your test day and use it to join the meeting.
- If you plan to use your computer to connect to the meeting, you’ll need to use a compatible browser, such as Microsoft Edge or Google Chrome, or download the MS Teams desktop application. Please note MS Teams is not supported by Firefox, Safari or Internet Explorer.
- Connect to the MS Teams meeting link at least 10 minutes before the scheduled start time of the test to ensure you have no trouble reaching the virtual waiting room. The assessor will be informed that you are waiting and will let you in at the scheduled time of the test.
- Be aware that the assessor will go through pre-test instructions with you in the official language of your choice. After you have gone through the pre-test instructions, be advised that the assessor will communicate with you only in the language that will be evaluated.
- If you should feel indisposed before or during the test, tell the assessor. Otherwise, if you continue to the end, you must accept the test result.
- If you have concerns about the testing environment before or during the test, tell the assessor. Otherwise, if you continue to the end, you must accept the test result.
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