My ULKCP (English) Experience

Back in June, 2019, my sisters and I sat for our ULKCP together for our SPM exams. Ujian Lisan Khusus Calon Persendirian or ULKCP, is the oral test all private SPM candidates have to sit for as part of the SPM exam and the marks you receive in these tests would count towards your final exam score, and thus, your final SPM grades.

Since the new ULKCP session would be starting in a few weeks (my own brother, Ali, would be sitting for his in September), I thought it would be a good idea to share a bit of what I went through in hopes that it could help some of you. These posts would be quite lengthy (and possibly a bit more rambling) than my usual posts and if I have the time (I am preparing for my A-Level exam at the moment), I might also write it all again in Malay.

I intend to divide this into three, or four, posts, depending on the how my words flow. As someone who has been on the other side of the evaluator’s table, I know how frustratingly little information there is when it comes to preparing for the exam so I’ll try to give you all that I can offer and you could take what you wish from them.

My first two posts would be describing my experiences of both, the English and Malay, oral exams so you could have a bit of context and a peep into what the day could be like. I will try to also share why I did them (if I could remember my thought process) so you could take that into account. After that, in a separate post, I would write a bit on what I would suggest you to do before and after the exam session itself. My experiences and my tips may not be the perfect ones for you but I hope you could find some guidance and solace in them.

Note: My Malay ULKCP experience post is now up!

So without further ado, here’s how my English ULKCP went for me.

Getting to the exam room

The adventure began the moment we arrived at the school. We arrived a little early and walked through the student’s gate together with the other students as they all made their way to the courtyard for the assembly. I walked up to one of the teachers, who were greeting the students, and asked them where would the exam be taking place. He gave me a basic instruction on the directions and so we left and tried to follow it as best we could.

Unfortunately, the instructions that I was given was not clear and the three of us got lost for a while before a kind prefect showed us where to go. There was some signage placed up but since we use the student’s entrance, which was closer to a different flight of stairs, we didn’t see any of it until we reached the waiting room itself.

Since the waiting room was empty, we weren’t sure if we were allowed to enter. We decided to just walk in and I used the time to work on my Sejarah revision but we didn’t get to stay long before a teacher walked past and told us that we were not allowed to enter yet. So we packed our things and waited in the corridor for the teacher to arrive.

It wasn’t too long before the teacher did come and we were allowed to wait inside as we took turns to register our names at the teacher’s desk.

Individual component – Preparation

Unlike the Malay oral exam where we were only given our topic 10 minutes before we were called in, for the English exam, we were given our topic the moment we registered our names, so we had ample more time to prepare. I am guessing that this level of strictness depends on the people who manage your exam sessions and isn’t necessarily linked to the subject itself.

Having sat for my Malay oral test, I was expecting that I would be given a few different topics to choose from. I also thought that I would get a bit of a guide on what to say (as for the Malay papers, we were given a question after we chose our topic).

However, we get no such privileges this time. We were each assigned a topic and nothing else. Mine was ‘Favourite actor/ actress’ and it took me a few minutes to decide that they probably want me to talk about my own favourite actor and not a philosophical dissection of how one chooses thier favourites would say about them as a person (well, perhaps not that extreme, but I was genuinely confused for a while).

The problem was, I have no favourite actor/ actress. I don’t remember ever singling one out as someone I dearly look up to. Sure, there are a number of actors whose names I am familiar with, and seeing them on a movie poster would attract my attention, as I have enjoyed the movies they acted in, but I would consider none of them to be someone I genuinely follow. And I haven’t watched the current TV shows or films in a while so I’m not up-to-date on the up-and-coming actors. I was jealous when I heard that my sisters were given ‘Picnic’ and ‘Helping a handicap’ as their topics.

So what I decided to do was to choose someone I know well enough to talk about. Being aware that I would probably be stuck in the examination room for some time, I also had to make sure that I have a lot of things to discuss on for the whole length of time. I decided to bring the discussion to something that I am familiar with, martial arts, and chose Jackie Chan.

During the preparation period, you are allowed to write notes to help you brainstorm for ideas and make a plan on what you are going to talk about but you are not allowed to bring them in with you into the examination room. It is up to you to prepare how you see best. The girl sitting next to me wrote a complete script on ‘Buy Malaysian Product’. I saw people pulling their phones out to do some quick Google searches but that was not allowed during the Malay exam and I didn’t want to risk any penalty so I kept my phone on silent in my bag.

Initially, I did not want to write my notes out because I didn’t write any notes for my Malay test due to the time limit (I didn’t want to waste time writing). However, after realising that there is still plenty of time to spare, I wrote it out anyway because it would make things neater in my head. However instead of a script, I opt for writing a backbone of my presentation with a list of things that I want to talk about, including a general structure and specific words and examples of events that I would like to use.

My notes from the individual test preparation

The reason why I didn’t go for a script was, being someone who did a bit of public speaking back at primary school, I know how hard it is for me to remember my script. However, I still wanted to give my presentation a good flow. The mention of specific events and a simple idea of what to say first would help me show to the evaluator that I know how to present my ideas and support my arguments.

At the same time, I also want to showcase my fluency and my range of vocabulary to the evaluator so I chose specific words related to the industry such as ‘blockbuster’, ‘choreograph’, ‘tenacious’ and ‘craft’ (as in, the craft of acting’).

The reason why I was going into such detail was that I had a pretty intimidating experience with the Malay test so I was trying really hard to prepare myself for any potential problem. However, the English evaluators were very friendly and easy to talk to, and it helped me immensely with keeping to my plan and recalling the details I have prepared beforehand.

Individual component – Test

My turn came, after my sister, Aeshah’s. When I walked into the room, the evaluators smiled and asked me to introduce myself. I told them the topic I was given and started on my presentation. After that, they asked me some questions regarding the topic discussed.

I introduced the topic by sharing how I first knew about Jackie Chan from his comedy movies like ‘The Medallion’ and ‘Shanghai Noon’ as a kid and how my respect for him grew as I began learning martial arts, when I truly began to appreciate, not just his acting skills but his creativity in looking for new ways to present them and his precision in depicting them. I discussed on how passionate and determined he is in perfecting his shots and his stunts, to the point of injuring himself in several occasions. I concluded the presentation by sharing the values I admire in him, and why they do, as well as how I relate them to in my own life.

The evaluators were very engaging throughout the presentation and gave feedback with their facial expressions and by nodding at several different points. They seemed interested in what I have to say and it was very helpful and encouraging as, even though it is technically a presentation, which is a one-way thing, conversations in general requires participation and I believe we simply react better when the listener actually seems like they’re listening.

After I finished my presentation, the first question they asked was, “What about his personal life? What do you think about Jackie Chan as a person?”

I admit, for a split second, I had sirens wailing in my head. For all of my preparations, I thought I had done enough to steer the conversation into areas where I was confident in. However, I quickly regained my senses and admitted frankly that I didn’t know much about his personal life other than the fact that he has done some charity work but I insisted that I pick my favourite actor based on their acting capabilities and how well-versed they are in their craft.

The next question was about my plans for the future and my ambition. Having sat for the Malay exam, this subtopic had also came up so I wasn’t caught by surprise. I briefly talked about what I hope to do, the subject I hope to pursue in university, etc. Then she asked me if there is anything else I’d like to talk about since we still had time so I decided that a discussion on my own martial art lessons wouldn’t be too much of a leap from the earlier topic and it would perhaps give more context and show more coherency.

Before I left, she asked me, “What martial arts are you learning?”

“I’m learning silat, specifically Silat Seni Gayong.”

She laughed, “When you said martial arts, I was thinking Judo or Taekwondo.”

It’s these kinds of exchange that makes the whole process feels like a natural conversation; it was smooth and encouraging and puts me, the examinee, at ease. Being a fluent English speaker, I wasn’t extremely worried about my English test but I still honestly appreciate having her as an evaluator with all of my heart.

Group component – Preparation

For the group component, we were separated into groups of three. Each group was given a setting with a list of choices. Each candidate has to argue for a different choice but we have to conclude on just one. By a stroke of luck, my sisters and I were placed into one group. We had a lot of fun working on the plan and were just generally excited about the prospect of having a somewhat important discussion with just the three of us.

Due to the more open structure of how the exam seemed to be done in the English exam, we discussed on the possibility of presenting our topics in a different way than how we did it in Malay (which was similar to the individual component where we presented our ideas and the evaluator guided our conversation further). After considering a few options, we decided to present it as a conversation where we would act as if we really were trying to decide on where to go for the holidays.

The topic that we were given was ‘Holiday destination’ and we were given four different places to choose from. We threw around various ideas on how to conduct it and decided that we should all give our arguments on why we wanted to go to our chosen destinations. At the end, the last presenter would give a persuasive argument that convinces the other two to change their minds.

We also decided that the best way for us to present our topic was, each of us talk about something that we can relate to, much like how I decided on Jackie Chan because I could talk about martial arts. Anisah, the animal lover, decided to talk about Rantau Abang with its turtles and how important it is to return to nature. Aeshah, our resident historian, chose Malacca and took a historical approach. Based on these two arguments, I picked Cameron Highlands as my argument, and the final choice, as it is somewhat far from the city and it has an interesting history with the British colonials. I also added a few other things that was aimed at convincing them on why Cameron Highlands is the best destination.

Once we have decided on what to do, each of us develop our own notes on what we are going to say. My writing for the group presentation was a lot more ‘script-focused’ mostly because I wanted to use a lot of imagery (when you try to paint a picture with words) with a mix of metaphors to add more conviction and make it sound more exciting. One of my favourite lines was something close to this:

“Imagine, you are walking up a hill with a basket full of freshly picked strawberries. The cool breeze is tugging at your skirts and tickling your ears. All around you, the trees show you nothing but nature. And at night, you could look up into a dark, starlit sky and watch a meteor shower, each of them falling like fire raining in the sky.”

Obviously, it’s still tricky to remember everything word for word within the time allocated so I was focusing on memorising the order of how I would be saying them (e.g., Daytime: big picture, zooming into senses. Nighttime: country sky, meteor shower, metaphor) and arrange the actual words as I go. I also kept in mind several specific words that I wanted to use so I can show my level of proficiency (but I ended up forgetting half of them and finding different ones as I was speaking).

After we each had with our separate arguments, we tested them out and wrote the final dialogue where my sisters expressed their agreement and what is it about Cameron Highlands that appeals to them. I believe Aeshah talked about how lovely the ambience would be for a retreat from the hustle and bustle of city life. Finally, we tested it out one last time and after that, each of us retreated back into our separate places to absorb our lines.

Group component – Test

By this time, the evaluators had already figured out that we were all sisters so they were amused when we came in as a group. The table was arranged so that we would all sit in a circle with the evaluators sitting on one side and the three of us having one side each, which made our conversation style plan seem more natural. I asked the evaluator if we could simply talk as if we were really discussing it in real life. She said that as long as we’re talking and keeping the ball rolling, anything goes.

We kept our script away from grammatically incorrect English (this includes the use of slang) but we do keep the conversation relaxed and casual so it could have been something you watch on a TV show (albeit, a rather verbose one) or something you may hear if you walk upon the three of us talking. There was lots of turn taking and passing of dialogue but it could basically be divided into two sections; the first being the presentation of ideas and the second being everyone basically going “Oh, that actually does sound lovely!”.

After we were done, we turned to the evaluators and nodded, indicating that we were done and that was it. We weren’t given any questions after that and I’m not sure if it was because we were already taking too much time with our little sketch, or if it was because we were having a conversation and questions would feel a bit out of place, or if it was simply due to the format of the English group test, compared to the individual test or even the Malay group test (which I would talk about in a different post).

Final takes

Of course, this is simply my own personal experience and it may not be the same everywhere but I hope that this would give you a little idea on what would be going on for you when your turn comes. For the 2020 exam, I’m guessing group exams may be a bit different (it is unlikely that you would be sitting in a small circle with social distancing being part of the SOP) but I don’t think it would change that much.

If you think all these crazy things about metaphors and imageries and words you haven’t heard of, don’t be. I have already sat for the A Level English Language exam prior to taking my SPM (it’s a long story) and my proficiency (my ability to use the language) in English is very good and so are my sisters’ as we are brought up bilingual. I understand that it isn’t the case for everyone and I don’t think ULKCP goes that hard on people.

However, what is important for you is that you should try to show your best based on your level of proficiency.

From my understanding of it, there will be marks for grammar, for fluency and for vocabulary and the correct use of words (on top of other things) so whichever it is that you’re strongest at, try to go for that while keeping in mind these other aspects so you wouldn’t lose marks on those.

With all of that in mind:

  • If you don’t know any fancy words, then it’s better to make sure that words that you already know are accurate.
  • Practice your conversational grammar so you don’t just know them when you write.
  • Try to lead the conversation towards an area that you are strong at.
  • Be prepared for questions that may try to address your weakness and see if you can lead it back to somewhere you feel safe. For example, if you always make a mistake when it comes to he or she, try to talk more about yourself in relation to the person so you would use a lot more ‘I’.

And if you mess up on one of the components, don’t worry about it! The two components are basically two unconnected test sessions and they would take your best score from the two. So if you scored 18 on your individual test and 24 on your group test (because you work better when you have a dialogue rather than talking by yourself), the score that would be counted for your SPM is 24.

I’ll be writing on the Malay ULKCP experience next (which, for me, was a lot scarier). If you have your own experience that you wish to share in the comment section down below, feel free to do so. If you have any question regarding my experience and how that may relate to your test, you could also ask me that and I would try to help you if I can as well.

I hope this lengthy string of words would help you and good luck in your oral exams!


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