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What is on the SLE French Oral Exam?

What is on the SLE French Oral Exam?

The SLE French Oral Exam & Practice Test Questions

Canada’s French oral second language evaluation (SLE) test is typically considered the most difficult Second Language Evaluation required by the Public Service Commission (PSC) of Canada. However, a detailed look at what exactly is on the French oral test, what kind of questions to expect from your assessor, and strategies for answering them will show you this test is not more complicated than the other components.

Essentially, it is vital to Prepare. Prepare. Prepare. It is the best antidote for stress and anxiety.

This means candidates should invest in test insights. Find the right training and tutor. Take practice tests. Leverage your support network to gauge your fluency and get constructive feedback.

This guide will explore what you need to know about this exam, the qualifications and associated language levels, the type of questions to expect during the test, the criteria you’ll be graded on, and tips on preparing for the test.

Allons-y! Let’s go!

In this Guide:

  1. What is the OLA?
  2. Test Structure
  3. Evaluation Criteria
  4. Oral SLE Levels
  5. Achieve Level C
  6. Example Questions
  7. Practice Tests & Services

What is the Oral Language Assessment?

The French and English oral language assessment is a live video conference assessment developed by the PSC to measure the bilingual ability of public sector job candidates to serve the Canadian public in both languages.

From beginning to end, the assessment lasts approximately between 20 and 40 minutes and is hosted via Microsoft Teams with a language assessor from the PSC.

The test is delivered in an interview format and includes professionally-themed questions about a candidate’s work, responsibilities, and studies.

The PSC introduced the OLA in April 2021, replacing the Second Language Evaluation – Test of Oral Proficiency and the brief second language interviews.

Need a Practice Oral Exam and expert feedback? Learn more about LRDG’s Online Training and Live Test Simulations. Book a call

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SLE French Oral Exam Structure

During the SLE oral language assessment, the test evaluator will guide a candidate through the test in a question-response interactive format. The candidate simply answers the questions to the best of their ability.

The evaluator builds off the candidate’s responses to evaluate their ability to communicate effectively in a second official language based on specific criteria (we’ll discuss more on criteria later).

The test begins with simple, probing job-related questions and other familiar activities, which allows an evaluator to determine if a candidate can demonstrate Level A proficiency quickly. The test becomes more difficult as it evolves into questions designed to elicit responses from the candidate that will demonstrate Level B and Level C capability.

The evaluator determines which questions to ask and when they’ve obtained a sufficient linguistic sample from those questions to determine proficiency. This means the evaluator may occasionally redirect the conversation even if the candidate feels they have not responded as thoroughly as they could have.

Oral Language Assessment Evaluation Criteria

Evaluators grade five criteria when judging candidate responses and assign SLE proficiency levels on the oral language assessment.

The evaluator assigns an A, B, or C letter level for each of the following criteria. These individual letter grades are then factored comprehensively to determine the overall oral proficiency.

Those five criteria include:

  • Fluency & Ease
  • Comprehension
  • Vocabulary
  • Grammar
  • Pronunciation

More on these criteria and how to best prepare for them later.

SLE Test Results & Levels

As you’ve probably learned through other SLE assessments, the Government of Canada doesn’t expect complete French-English bilingualism to begin work. However, to comply with official language laws, public sector employees are expected to show a level of proficiency in both languages that best supports the responsibilities and position they are applying for.

Three primary language levels can be achieved through the SLE oral assessment, Levels A, B, and C — with Level C being the most advanced.

Other letter assignments include X, E, and Code P.

  • X denotes insufficient skill in the second language.
  • E signifies mastery of the language and exempts a candidate from future testing.
  • Code P means someone has achieved language efficiency in specialized or technical language skills.

The oral assessment is graded following a rubric to assess oral proficiency based on specific criteria determined by the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat’s Qualification Standards in Relation to Official Languages.


SLE Oral Test Rubric (Source: Public Service Commission of Canada)
Level A Level B Level C
Understands most speech that deals with concrete and routine topics and is delivered slowly and clearly in standard speech Understands the main points of clear standard speech that deals with concrete, work-related topics and is delivered at normal speed Understands linguistically complex speech that deals with work-related topics and is spoken in standard dialect at normal speed
A person speaking at this level can:

  • make themselves understood in short contributions, even though pauses and false starts are very evident
  • talk about everyday aspects of routine activities
  • handle a simple question-and-answer exchange
A person speaking at this level can:

  • give a simple description of a concrete topic
  • explain main points comprehensibly
  • compare and discuss alternatives when complications arise
  • speak with some spontaneity, although pauses for grammatical and lexical planning and repair are evident in longer stretches
A person speaking at this level can:

  • give clear, detailed descriptions of complex topics
  • summarize a discussion
  • express and sustain opinions
  • respond to complex and hypothetical questions
A person speaking at this level:

  • has sufficient basic vocabulary and grammatical structures to conduct routine transactions involving familiar situations and topics
  • uses structures and vocabulary borrowed from another language which can interfere with the clarity of the message
  • has a pronunciation that requires close attention from the listener, but there are no long stretches that are unclear
A person speaking at this level:

  • has sufficient vocabulary and a variety of simple grammatical structures to handle concrete, non-routine situations and topics and can link a series of simple elements into a connected sequence when giving a factual description
  • may be miscommunicating in some areas, but most stretches are clear
  • has a pronunciation that is generally clear enough to be understood, despite an evident accent from another language
  • will, at times, be asked by the listener to repeat or clarify
A person speaking at this level:

  • has a fairly natural and even delivery, with occasional hesitations, but most hesitations are for ideas
  • has a broad range of vocabulary and structures when talking about complex and abstract topics, with a relatively high degree of control
  • makes errors, but these rarely lead to misunderstanding
  • has a pronunciation that is clear, even if an accent from another language is noticeable
  • has occasional mispronunciations but they rarely interfere with communication


Level A

Level A is the minimum level of second language proficiency required for positions that require candidates to communicate and interact with others concerning simple, repetitive issues in a routine work environment.


A person who can communicate at Level A can:

  • Ask and answer simple questions about names, addresses, dates, times, or numbers,
  • Give simple and uncomplicated instructions related to routine work,
  • Exchange basic greetings, salutations, and expressions (e.g., thank you, you’re welcome, have a nice day).


The Level-A speaker is susceptible to language barriers due to frequent errors in grammar and vocabulary. They will also struggle to understand others speaking at a natural rate and require frequent repetition.

Level B

Speaking at Level B proficiency marks a substantial stride forward from the basics. It is considered the language benchmark for positions requiring a complex understanding of work-related topics that transcend everyday topics.


In practical terms, an individual capable of Level B oral communication exhibits:

  • The ability to sustain a conversation on concrete topics,
  • Report on actions taken,
  • Give straightforward instructions to employees,
  • Provide factual descriptions and explanations.

Being at Level B signifies a candidate is able to engage topics with some spontaneity with brief pauses for grammatical and lexical planning. This level of proficiency allows them to present simple descriptions, lucidly explain main points, and weigh in on alternatives when complications surface.


While individuals at Level B demonstrate a more nuanced understanding of the language, there are still limitations, but nothing that seriously interferes with verbal exchanges.

Individuals speaking at a Level B proficiency will struggle to express hypothetical and abstract thoughts, and should not be expected to have the capacity to handle sensitive communication.

Level C

Reaching Level C proficiency in a second language is a significant milestone. This level is required for positions responsible for handling sensitive situations, comprehending and expressing subtle, abstract, or complex ideas, and grappling with unfamiliar work-related topics.

Beyond the capabilities embraced in Levels A and B, Level C speakers are equipped to manage more intricate linguistic tasks. Their competence includes:

  • Providing and understanding explanations and descriptions packed with intricate details, hypothetical questions, or complex and abstract ideas.
  • Offering and comprehending detailed accounts of events, actions taken, or procedures to follow.
  • Discussing or explaining work-related policies, procedures, regulations, programs, and services.
  • Addressing situations that require persuasion or negotiation, formulating complex arguments, and seamlessly exchanging ideas in both official languages.
  • Presenting complex topics, answering follow-up questions, conducting training sessions, and advising employees or clients on sensitive or intricate issues.
  • Participating as a member of a board, assessment teams, or positions where communication is a critical job function.

Level C is characterized by a fairly natural delivery, showcasing a broad range of vocabulary and structures.

SLE French Oral Practice Test Questions

The oral test is designed to flow as a natural conversation progressing from questions and prompts to determine Level A proficiency up to Level C proficiency.

That being said, there is not an exact list of questions. However, there are general questions that can help you prepare and get a good feel of what to expect.

The questions in the French Oral Exam are designed to test your language proficiency, comprehension, and ability to express complex thoughts and opinions. While the specific questions can vary, they typically revolve around familiar activities, professional experiences, or hypothetical situations.

Here are some common examples of how questions are framed for Level C candidates:

  • To what extent…?
  • How would you…?
  • In your opinion…?
  • Do you agree with the view that…?
  • What do you think of ….? Do you think that…?

Here are some example questions:

  • Parlez-moi de vous-même et de votre expérience dans le domaine.
    Tell me about yourself and your experience in the field.
  • Pouvez-vous me décrire votre dernier emploi et les tâches que vous aviez à accomplir?
    Can you describe your last job and the tasks you had to perform?
  • Comment gérez-vous le stress au travail?
    How do you manage stress at work?
  • Décrivez une situation où vous avez dû résoudre un problème complexe en travaillant en équipe.
    Describe a situation where you had to solve a complex problem while working in a team.
  • Comment établissez-vous des relations efficaces avec vos collègues?
    How do you establish effective relationships with your colleagues?
  • Pouvez-vous parler des défis auxquels vous avez été confronté(e) dans votre carrière et comment vous les avez surmontés?
    Can you talk about challenges you have faced in your career and how you overcame them?
  • Comment vous adaptez-vous aux nouvelles technologies et aux changements dans votre environnement de travail?
    How do you adapt to new technologies and changes in your work environment?
  • Décrivez une situation où vous avez dû prendre une décision difficile. Comment l’avez-vous abordée?
    Describe a situation where you had to make a difficult decision. How did you approach it?
  • Comment voyez-vous votre carrière évoluer à l’avenir?
    How do you see your career evolving in the future?
  • Pourquoi voulez-vous travailler pour le gouvernement canadien?
    Why do you want to work for the Canadian government?

One of the best ways to become comfortable with a second language is by trying to speak it.

Open a voice memo to tape yourself asking these questions and then pretend to respond to someone. Or, have a friend read the questions to you and attempt to answer them naturally.

Remember, evaluators are looking for genuine responses offered clearly and concisely.

How LRDG can help

When preparing for a second language oral assessment, a detailed and comprehensive evaluation of one’s skills is crucial. This is where LRDG can help you the rest of the way, offering a range of services tailored to support individuals striving to improve their second language proficiency.

PSC Test Simulations

An important aspect of LRDG’s service is the PSC Test Simulation. These replicate the actual PSC tests, allowing learners to know what to expect during the real exam. Furthermore, based on the results achieved, LRDG can share strategies and create a course plan to help learners achieve their desired proficiency levels.

Qualified Assessment Provider

LRDG’s language professionals are fully qualified to administer and evaluate the PSC oral language assessment. This means candidates can conveniently take an assessment through an online session with a designated LRDG tutor and receive a detailed report about their performance explaining their score.

It’s worth noting that a test language assessment can be quite costly when sought from the Canadian government (with a detailed report costing $995). Candidates tutoring with LRDG have access to these exact same services for a fraction of these costs.

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Level B Level C
Converse on concrete, real subjects Debate and argue abstract ideas
Recount lived experience Elaborate on hypothetical situations
Speak specifically Speak broadly, generalize
Describe, enumerate Explain and elaboration
  Discuss the purpose and consequences
  Link cause and effect


Tips to Achieving Level C in Oral Proficiency

  • Know what to aim for
    To earn a Level C on the oral language assessment, a candidate must earn a Level C for at least four of the five criteria (fluency, comprehension, vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation). A Level C in fluency is a requirement.
  • Speak Naturally
    Those speaking at Level C should have natural conversations with complete sentences. The skills required for Level C in oral efficiency will not necessarily be identical to Level C in written expression.
    For example, a conversation and interview should feel as natural as possible. If someone were to answer oral assessment questions the same way they would write, it would likely sound unusual, uncomfortable, and rigid.

HINT: Evaluators are trained to recognize pre-rehearsed answers.

  • Dynamic Responses
    Avoid repeating the exact phrases and sentence structures, as it will sound robotic and unauthentic. Mix up the framing of your responses as much as possible to bring in your personality, keep your evaluator engaged, and showcase your language skills. While this is not explicitly required, things like these set the Level C speaker above the Level B speaker.
    For example, the ability to use the gerund or past infinitive is not an absolute requirement for Level C. However, its use helps to demonstrate mastery of complex grammatical structures and natural expression, which are important assessment criteria.
  • Think Yourself Clear
    When preparing your response, do your best to logically organise your thoughts to deliver them in the most natural succession. This will help you build and flow your answers and reduce the potential for awkward pauses and pointless fillers.
    Make your response as succinct as possible to answer the point of the question while providing as much information as possible and explaining your position in a logical, step-by-step process.
  • Prepare, prepare, prepare
    Leading up to your exam, immerse yourself in the language: turn on the radio in the background, only watch TV in the second language, record yourself speaking, and actively engage others in the language.

Practice Tests & Oral Exam Prep with LRDG

LRDG specializes in preparing Canadian public service employees for public service entrance exams, including the oral language assessment.

Whether this is your first time taking the test, you’re re-qualifying, you’ve not reached goals in previous attempts, or you seek to enhance your language profile for a new position or promotion, LRDG offers the highest-valued test preparation and evaluation services.

Contact our team to learn how you can kick-start your following test process with pedological professionals helping lead and guide you through the process from beginning to end.

Book a call

How to Achieve Level C on the Oral Exam - SLE proficiency classification

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the assessment levels in Canada’s French oral test?

There are three assessment levels: Level A, Level B, and Level C. Level A means basic knowledge, Level B means intermediate knowledge and Level C means advanced knowledge. There is also a Level X, which denotes inadequate language proficiency for public service.

What are the evaluation criteria for the oral exam?

The Oral Language Assessment evaluates candidates based on five key criteria: fluency and ease, comprehension, vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation.

How can I achieve Level C in Oral Proficiency?

To earn a Level C, a candidate must earn a Level C for at least four of the five criteria (fluency, comprehension, vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation). Level C in fluency is a requirement. Candidates should aim for natural conversations, avoid repeating phrases and sentence structures, make specific and succinct responses, and prepare intensively.

What is on the French Oral Test?

The SLE French oral language assessment is a 30-45 minute interactive exam, structured in a question-response format. The candidate is asked a series of questions by an evaluator and is required to respond to the best of their ability.

While the Canada Government PSC’s exam structure has been updated, LRDG follows the previous four-part structure. This approach allows a systematic evaluation of a candidate’s proficiency level, with the test complexity increasing gradually from Level A to Level C.

What questions will I be asked during the French oral exam?

The questions in the French Oral Exam are designed to test your language proficiency, comprehension, and ability to express complex thoughts and opinions. While the specific questions can vary, they typically revolve around familiar activities, professional experiences, or hypothetical situations.

Here are some common examples of how questions are framed for Level C candidates:

  • To what extent…?
  • How would you…?
  • In your opinion…?
  • Do you agree with the view that…?
  • What do you think of ….? Do you think that…?

What are the differences between Level B and Level C on the Oral Exam?

The primary distinction between Levels B and C lies in the ability to discuss abstract ideas and hypothetical situations. While Level B speakers focus on concrete subjects and specific details, Level C speakers must generalize, elaborate, and understand cause and effect. This shift towards advanced communication often makes the transition from Level B to C more challenging.

How do I prepare for the Canadian oral language exam?

To effectively prepare for the Canadian oral language exam, immerse yourself fully in the language by listening to it on the radio, watching TV, and conversing in it. Familiarise yourself with the test structure and the five key evaluation criteria: fluency, comprehension, vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation. Practice answering questions asking for opinions, hypothetical responses, and complex understandings. Organizations like LRDG offer PSC test simulations to mimic real test scenarios and provide valuable feedback for improvement. Remember, comprehensive and consistent preparation is key to high proficiency.