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What’s on the Second Language Evaluation (SLE) French/English Oral Test?

What’s on the Second Language Evaluation (SLE) French/English Oral Test?

The French/English oral exam is typically perceived by candidates to be the most difficult Second Language Evaluation required by the Public Service Commission (PSC) of Canada.

Do not get disheartened, though. A detailed look at what exactly is on this test, what kind of questions to expect from your assessor, and strategies for answering them will show you that this test really is not more complicated than the other components.

It’s good to remember proper preparation is the best antidote for stress and anxiety. This means you should invest in test insights, the right pedagogical tools, practice tests, and a strong support system to gauge your current French-English proficiency and give you constructive feedback.

The oral exam can be administered through a variety of qualified providers, so who your assessor is will ultimately determine how the exam will flow. LRDG follows the traditional four-section exam structure, which is as follows:

  • Interview & Presentation (est. 10 minutes)
  • Oral Comprehension 1 (est. 10 minutes
  • Discussion with Follow-Up Questions (est. 10 minutes)
  • Oral Comprehension 2 (est. 10 minutes)

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 for preparing for the test itself.

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
  8. The 4-Part Walk-Through


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 OLA was introduced by the PSC in April 2021 and replaces the Second Language Evaluation – Test of Oral Proficiency as well as the brief second language interviews.

Need a practice oral exam and expert feedback? Learn more about LRDG's Cost Efficient Live Test Simulations


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 quickly determine if a candidate can demonstrate Level A proficiency.

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.

The ABCs of SLE Levels

As you’ve probably learned through other SLE assessments, the Government of Canada doesn’t expect complete French-English bilingualism in order 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 support 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, specialised, 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.

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 characterised by a fairly natural delivery, showcasing a broad range of vocabulary and structures.

French Oral Assessment Test Example Questions

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

  1. Parlez-moi de vous-même et de votre expérience dans le domaine (Tell me about yourself and your experience in the field).
  2. 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?)
  3. Comment gérez-vous le stress au travail? (How do you manage stress at work?)
  4. 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.)
  5. Comment établissez-vous des relations efficaces avec vos collègues? (How do you establish effective relationships with your colleagues?)
  6. 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?)
  7. 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?)
  8. 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?)
  9. Comment voyez-vous votre carrière évoluer à l’avenir? (How do you see your career evolving in the future?)
  10. Pourquoi voulez-vous travailler pour le gouvernement canadien? (Why do you want to work for the Canadian government?)

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 team language professionals are fully credentialed 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.

LRDG’s SLE Test Structure

As mentioned previously, some government agencies and crown corporations have contracts in place to conduct SLE exams with service providers rather than through the PSC directly. In that case, the format of the test will be decided by the service provider.

Candidates testing through LRDG will follow the structure of the public service commission’s old testing format, which follows a traditional four-part progression and begins with the most basic answers.

This exam grows in complexity to allow evaluators to focus on different linguistic skills and aim to help your evaluator determine your fluency ranging from Level A to Level C. This test is an opportunity for candidates to build their case for second language proficiency from the ground up.

Here’s a segment-by-segment overview to help you masterfully prepare for Canada’s SLE French oral test.

Part 1 — Interview & Presentation (est. 10 minutes)
The assessor will use the first 10 minutes to quickly warm up the candidate, get them comfortable, get to know them and verify that the candidate can reach the minimum requirements of Level A.

Expect to answer straightforward questions based on your life and work, such as your workplace, daily tasks, and experiences. You might also delve into social activities at your workplace.

Sample questions:

  • Quel est le titre de votre poste? (What is your job title?)
  • Depuis combien de temps occupez-vous votre poste? (How long have you held your position?)
  • Décrivez vos principales responsabilités. (Describe your main responsibilities.)

Part 2 — Oral Comprehension 1 (est. 10 minutes)
This segment is aimed at determining oral comprehension and listening ability on work-related topics and will determine if an evaluator will grade you with a Level A.

In this segment, you’ll be asked to summarise two audio recordings that will be played two times.

Sample Recording (telephone message)
Bonjour Pierre, c’est Julie Je suis dans le pétrin, et j’aurais besoin de ton aide. Ma voiture ne démarre pas, et j’ai un rendez-vous avec un client qui va arriver sous peu. Pourrais-tu te rendre à la porte d’entrée et le guider vers la salle de conférence? Je serai là dès que possible, le taxi devrait arriver bientôt. Un grand merci!

Sample Recording (short conversation)

– Ici Paul Vaillancourt, rémunérations.
– Bonjour Monsieur. Ici Caroline Giroux. Je suis fonctionnaire depuis peu, je viens de vérifier mon talon de aie et je constate que mon taux horaire n’est pas celui dont j’avais convenu avec mon employeur.
– Laissez-moi vérifier cela, Mme Giroux, et je vous rappellerai dès que j’aurai plus d’information à ce sujet.
– Merci monsieur, bonne journée.


Part 3 — Discussion with Follow-Up (est. 10 minutes)
Here’s where the rubber meets the road. The third segment of LRDG’s oral language assessment is meant to assess a candidate’s ability to speak on past events and organise responses coherently. This is crucial for securing a Level B.

The candidate will be asked to elaborate on a situation of their choosing and make a short presentation. This can be something along the lines of a work experience they had or a project they helped execute.

Candidates are allowed time to prepare and plan their responses with a pen and paper. Once ready, the individual is expected to speak for at least two minutes and answer follow-up questions where they have the opportunity to express opinions..

Examples Topics

  • Work-life balance
  • Situations where they have stress
  • Project management where they worked
  • Something they’ve accomplished

Sample Topics

  • Racontez une situation au travail où vous avez rencontré un problème technologique ou informatique. (Recount a situation at work where you encountered a technological or computer problem.)
  • Parlez-moi d’un projet complexe que votre équipe a bien su gérer. (Tell me about a complex project that your team handled well.)

Sample Follow-Up Questions

  • Étiez-vous très stressé(e) pendant cette situation? Expliquez. (Were you very stressed during this situation? Explain.)
  • Selon vous, se fie-t-on trop à la technologie, aujourd’hui? Justifiez votre réponse. (Do you think we rely too much on technology today? Justify your answer.)
  • Que feriez-vous aujourd’hui si cette situation se reproduisait? (What would you do today if this situation happens again?)

Part 4 — Oral Comprehension (est. 10 minutes)
In the final stretch, an evaluator will seek to confirm if you’re qualified for Level C. The candidate will be allowed to listen to an extended audio recording of a conversation twice and will be asked to summarise it.

This portion of the test is intended to determine a candidate’s ability to understand a workplace problem and report about it. The candidate will be asked to offer their views and or opinions and furthermore to express themselves in hypothetical situations.

The assessor will progressively increase their follow-up questions in the sections to test how complex the learner is capable of interacting.

Tips to Passing the French/English Oral Exam

The 5 Oram Exam Criteria & Strategies

Let’s return to the five criteria you will be graded on during the oral language exam. Knowing how these criteria are being accessed and what is expected will be a key advantage in being accessed higher.

Fluency & Ease — A candidate has a consistent flow and dynamic tone of voice in their responses, regardless of the subject matter. They can avoid significant pauses, express themselves spontaneously, and show ease in long, complex sentences. Remember, fluency and ease do not mean speed.

Comprehension — Deficiency in listening comprehension can result in irrelevant responses. Candidates should be able to listen to a complete statement and decipher how their responses should be directed. Do not stop listening because you anticipate questions based on a few words.

Vocabulary — Breadth and precision of vocabulary are one of the most challenging criteria for candidates. Candidates should demonstrate a dynamic, readily available lexicon that enriches their responses and enables more effective communication. Repetition of the same words and constant hesitation in speaking indicate weakness in vocabulary. Use words that help precision (e.g., instead of “child,” be specific: newborn, infant, kid, teenager, adolescent).

Grammar — Oral conversations and responses flow more naturally when a speaker can engage in appropriate and dynamic grammatical forms, such as past infinitive form and the use of gerunds. A candidate must be able to listen to questions and recognize how to frame their answer appropriately.

Pronunciation — A candidate’s pronunciation is important to ensure their responses can be understood. Even if there are minor errors in pronunciation, the important thing is that a response is clear. Remember, only pronunciation is judged, not accent.

How to Achieve Level C on the Oral Exam

One of the major mental battles we must win while pursuing higher SLE proficiency classification is that it is absolutely possible — especially when we approach it practically and intentionally.

For those who have struggled to cross the threshold from Level B to Level C official language proficiency, understanding the differences between these milestones and how they are determined can bring much clarity to an otherwise ambiguous goal.

Level B is the broadest classification of language level and encompasses a broader spectrum of language ability. Crossing the threshold From an A to a B is much easier than crossing from a B to a C.

Differences Between Levels B and Level C

It is commonly understood that the skill gap between Level A and Level B is much easier to cross than the gaps between Level B and Level C.

Why? The difference mainly lies in one’s ability to talk and follow abstract conversations and talking points. Let’s review some common distinctions between the levels.

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, generalise
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 specialises 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 find out how you can kick-start your following test process with pedological professionals helping lead and guide you through the process from beginning to end.

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.

How is the oral exam structured?
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 generalise, 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 potential questions that ask for opinions, hypothetical responses, and complex understandings. Organisations 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 achieving a high proficiency level.