Oral Exam Adventure

Oral Exam Adventure

This would be a light post, akin to what I used to write when I was younger (and to be honest, had missed writing them here) but I like to bring home funny stories of the things that happened to entertain my mother and my adventures, experiences where I go out with high hopes and no expectations, are often the best stories to tell. This is not an in depth writing on my experience but simply a break for myself and I hope for you as well.

Recently my sisters and I sat for our SPM Malay oral test (ULKCP BM or Ujian Lisan Khusus Calon Persendirian Bahasa Melayu) at a public secondary school. The only oral tests I remember sitting was for hafazan (memorising Quran and du’as) and qiraat (reading Quran) exams back at primary school so I have no idea of what was to come. I tumbled into cycles of panic and equanimity. The research I conducted was of little help as there was not much help available on the internet for someone who homeschool as I do and don’t even know the basic format of what to do.

And as always, this adventure is no less rich with unexpected experiences and lessons learned.

Mangga-steen/ Buoh smete


I walked into the exam room expecting to find myself getting into trouble with some of the more specific words in my less developed Malay lexicon – and I did. I have gotten used to having a wide range of words to choose from when speaking in our mixed brew of Malay and English at home (with a sprinkle of random foreign words just for the fun of it), restricting myself to one language can leave me at lost for words from time to time and it is much more apparent in Malay than in English. And during the oral exam, I was restricted to a high register, Melayu Baku, and although I tried to think in Melayu Baku, I also had to filter everything that comes out of my brain, just in case.

But to our greatest surprise (and my mother’s mirth), the word that both my sister, Aeshah, and I got stuck with was mangosteen or ‘manggis’ as we call it in Malay. Never did I imagine that I would remember ‘buoh smete’ (mangosteen in the Terengganu dialect) over ‘manggis’. And we were taking the tests simultaneously in different rooms so there was a chance that we got stuck at the same time. However since we both have experiences with interviews and speaking on stage, we both discarded our attempts and looked for a different word instead.



So here’s a funny story: I spent my ten minutes of preparation constructing the backbone of my response, developing each of their content and sculpting my opening paragraph. The instruction was for me to describe the education I received. I was going to bring up how my education began informally the moment I was born, making a point on how education is not simply restricted to what is generally described as schooling.

I thought that my opening line would bring a good first impression but instead, I forgot to introduce myself and that was definitely the most difficult part of the exam for me. Being asked to introduce myself feels like being told to say something in a different language, there’s just so much that could be said and yet nothing feels relevant or appropriate. It is the one thing I really should have prepared before going in and it really threw me off. I left the entire informal education angle up until the end of my discussion as if it was a minor sub-topic.

Coffee Jitters

Coffee… my dearest friend and companion. Coffee was my wingman when I was nervous for the late night radio interview “When The Night Falls” several years back with DJ Nizal Mohamed. I was just there, in the moment, having this conversation with my father’s friend. It didn’t matter that there are people listening in or that we have bulky equipment all around us. I was an open book; I voiced out opinions, which were so close to my heart, even my parents had never heard of them.

I couldn’t sleep the night before my oral exam and when I did, I had nightmares of receiving odd questions which simply have no right or wrong answer. I woke up sleepy with my mind wandering in and out of my head and wondered if coffee would help wake me up a little. I was only worried about coffee making me say things that I wouldn’t feel comfortable otherwise – which was exactly the problem I had, just not in the way I expected.

My mother trained me for public speaking since my primary school days and she had drilled into my head that I should limit my fillers like the ‘err’s and ‘uhm’s. I am not perfect but I believe that I could limit them most of the time or use them in a way that doesn’t seem too off-putting.

However, with the introduction mishap and my constant worry of how formal my language was, I was pausing a lot and I peppered my ‘err’s all throughout the session. Even as I said them, I told myself not to… which distracted me from thinking of my response and made me pause with another ‘err’. In the end, I simply threw the whole effort out of the window so I could focus on saying things that actually mean something.

But despite all of these fun stuff, I think I did alright. I would have liked to do better and had I known what I was walking into, I would perhaps have done a little better.

I enjoyed our group test as well as all four of us have our own unique ideas and approaches to most of the questions given and it was just fun to pretend like we’re making a pitch of some sort. A lot of my nervousness seeped out of me as I listened to others’ views. Our planning wasn’t as in-depth as I would have liked it to be but we were only given ten minutes and I think all of us winged it pretty well. My sister, Anisah, was assigned to the same group as I was and when we gave our initial presentation, everyone had accidentally presented all of the points we discussed before Anisah had a chance to say. Without missing a beat, she summed up all that we had discussed into a neat conclusion with a note on what we should do moving forward and I was really impressed by that.

Whatever the results (though I dearly hope that all three of us passed), it was an experience I would treasure and the events that took place would probably stay with me for a long time. And I probably would never be able to eat a mangosteen in peace ever again.

First Time On Air

From left: Ahmad Ali, Anisah, Aeshah and me.

I sighed as I pressed the hot iron over my dress for the second time but the crease marks would not disappear. During other days, I would have ignored them. I had worn clothes in worse shapes (before being called back inside by my mom and be made to change, of course). I may even argue about the ‘wastage of electricity’. But today, I simply sprayed my already damp dress with more water. I was determined to get it straight and besides, it took my mind of the radio show.

I have been invited along with my family to a late night talk show, When the Night Falls (Bila Larut Malam) on eWana.fm for a two hours long interview. And I was terrified. It was only less than a year ago when I finally could talk to people without getting goose bumps and sweaty palms and now I have to talk live in a radio show.

Of course, I often have little interviews in my head where I interviewed myself on- well, whatever idea that I have in my head. Sometimes I did them out of amusement or boredom but I have also noticed that it was a good way to get my raw thoughts into words. But this was no imaginary thing… this was the real deal.

Surprisingly, it took me a while to get nervous about it. Right until the moment when I had to get myself dressed, I felt indifferent and emotionless. Then all of a sudden, my stomach detected a million butterflies settling in.

And that was why I spent half an hour trying to straighten my dress – to distract myself.

We didn’t make any real preparation for the show, except for the singing because my siblings and I were going to sing the song together and we had to make sure we could cooperate harmoniously. We had no idea at all of what questions were going to be asked except that they would probably touch the topic of blogging. After all, Uncle Nizal, the DJ and a good friend of my dad’s, told my father that it would be a very relaxed interview. My mom had told me earlier in the morning (when I was still feeling emotionless) that it was perfectly okay for me to tell Uncle Nizal if I was uncomfortable with certain topics.

“No, I don’t think there’s anything I’d like to stay away from,” I had replied.
“Are you sure? Because he may ask you a question you don’t like and may upset you,” my mom cautioned.
“Well, I don’t know what I am and what I am not comfortable with until I have been questioned,” I said.
“If you say so,” mum said with a shrug.

Now minutes before we leave for the radio station, I felt panic sinking in and kicked myself for not even bothering to practice. Gulping down a mug of coffee, just in case the excitement wasn’t enough to keep me awake until one a.m. (I wasn’t taking any chances), I tried to find ways of how to calm myself down. I could think of only two ways of defeating the panic: one is to follow exactly what it was telling me to do and that was to prepare myself while the other was to switch to play pretend mode.

I didn’t think preparing makes much sense by then so I chose the alternative. To act exactly as how I would have when I was having those little interviews inside my head. I took a deep breath and altered my thoughts. I pulled out every strand of nervousness and fear from myself and became the ‘other me’ which I have often reserved from the outside world. The alter ego that had conducted so many discourse and conversations within the various hidden nooks and cranny of my mind. And surprisingly, I managed to lull the butterflies back to sleep.

The drive to the radio station didn’t take long but it didn’t go too well either. We practiced singing Alhamdulillah by Dawud Wharnsby Ali (a beautiful and insightful song which could give goosebumps even to my usually impassive mother) and Ali suddenly got his tempo all wrong and couldn’t see his fault. I could not believe it – he sang so well just a few hours before when we had our last practice. The butterflies threatened to reclaim my stomach but I wasn’t going to let them win. I clenched my teeth and strained to keep myself back in control. I have gone through this before, I told myself, and I would do it again.

Uncle Nizal greeted us at the door with his fascinatingly large smile (I have always noticed that he has such a large and amusing smile) and I suddenly found myself tongue-tied. I couldn’t say anything but put on a ‘hopefully-not-too-nervous’ grin. Somehow once I stepped into the office and saw the recording studio straight ahead, I could barely manage to hear Uncle Nizal asking us to leave our shoes outside. I guessed it was the anxiety that froze me but I could not detect it to know for sure. My body was more or less calm but my mind was blank.

Uncle Nizal introduced us to the producer who led us into the recording studio to record the song ‘Alhamdulillah’. After the recording, Uncle Nizal asked us about a bit of ourselves and our interests and so on. Somehow during the conversation, my tongue became loose and soon I was talking with ease. Even when the show began, I had felt much less nervous than I had anticipated.

And I have to admit that I actually enjoyed myself. After all, Uncle Nizal’s amiable and lively manners made the whole interview a lot more fun. I did feel the anxiety pushing on me as I glanced at the clock every now and then but I felt immensely gleeful and rather high. As if everything that happened was still a part of my imagination. My mind ran faster than my senses could catch up with. I felt as if I had no time to think before I open my mouth but to simply shoot off my answers straight away.

The next day, my mom, Aeshah and I sat around the dining table, laughing as we remembered what happened the night before.

“Only when we headed for the car, I realised that I had a rather banging headache,” I said. “At first I thought it was just the excitement but then I found out that I was actually very hungry but I was too nervous to notice it. It was probably the coffee effect as well. Wait!” I cried and clapped my hands. “Of course! It was the coffee that made me feel high.”

Aeshah rolled her eyes and laughed, “Oh I knew that. When I saw you drinking coffee yesterday, I was thinking to myself: I wonder what would happen now?” Turning to my bewildered mother, she said, “Whenever kakak drinks coffee when she feels sleepy especially late at night, she would become extremely happy and excited. With the anxiety of being interviewed on radio, I knew that something interesting would happen.”

“Well then,” my mom started with a twinkle in her eye, “Maybe you should drink coffee every time you were about to be interviewed until you get the hang of it.”

I grimaced. “Actually, had I remembered the effect coffee could have on me, I would have definitely left it out.”

Note: A big thank you to Uncle Nizal for inviting us to the show. 😀

From left: Uncle Nizal, Anisah, Aeshah, Ahmad Ali and me.

*Kakak: The Malay word for big sister and it is a nickname Aeshah uses when referring to me.