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Why You Fail Your MCA Oral Exam When You Have The Knowledge!

Interview Blog
The Problem

An excellent candidate. They’ve done everything right, studied hard, practised questions, committed time and effort to passing their orals exams.

But they fail.

The reason a candidate fails is usually explained with a phrase like,  ‘I just didn’t answer confidently enough’.

This could be the reason they were given by the examiner or just how they felt after the exam but it doesn’t tell the full story.

Before going into an exam its important to be aware of two distinct elements of the ‘hidden curriculum’ related to your performance on the day. These are confidence and the ability to speak from a position of authority.


Confidence is an emotional quality.

When we meet a person lacking in confidence we have usually picked up that they might have doubts about themselves, their abilities and how secure they are feeling in their current role.

By contrast a confident person is someone who is secure, and  has no doubt about their abilities. We start to form these opinions before we have any evidence of the persons actual knowledge and ability in their role.

Gestures such as how you walk into the room, your tone of voice, handshake and eye contact are all forms of communication. The examiner will be consciously or sub-consciously observing these before a question has been asked.

How can you develop your confidence?

 Cathy Salit[1] , writing in the HBR publication ‘Confidence’, recommends getting into ‘character’ prior to an interview. This involves becoming the person you would want to be in the role in which you are being examined for.

You walk into the exam room as a cadet, you act and behave as the OOW. You make the mental leap from being a Junior Officer to a Senior Officer prior to the examination and not after you have received the result.

This can be achieved by practice. Practice for your exam either in front of someone or in front of the mirror. Practice your tone, pace of delivery, eye contact and content of your message.

Another factor which may affect your confidence has been documented as ‘imposter syndrome’, the feeling that your not worthy or not qualified to perform a role.

Of course this isn’t true.

The fact you have gained a ‘Notice of Eligibility’ is evidence that you have all the seagoing experience required to perform the in the rank you are being examined for. You have every right to be sitting across from the examiner and demonstrating your competence.

Andy Molinsky[2]  gives three techniques for overcoming ‘imposter syndrome’. :

1) Accept that you are a novice. That you have a lot of questions to ask. That you will need support. That at this moment in time you may not have all the answers.

2) Accept that you have a lot to learn. Focus on the learning rather than your performance in the role. If we make a mistake and have a performance mindset we may think of our limitations and question our ability, if we have a learning mindset we can use it positively and accept that we have a lot to learn and use it to develop our skills.

3) Understand the power of perspective. The fact is everyone, including the examiner has had the same 'imposter' feeling when they have to do something out with their comfort zone!

[1] Cathy Salit, CEO of Performance of a Lifetime

[2] Andy Molinsky, Professor of Organisational Behaviour at Brandeis International Business School

Speaking From a Position of Authority

Speaking from a position of authority is another hidden part of the curriculum that you should be aware of. To date in your studies where have you learned about the importance of speaking from a position of authority?

If you have, it may have been in passing as part of a Leadership and Management course and yet it is really important you understand this technique before you face the examiner.

Speaking from a position of authority is different from just ‘being more confident’. It demonstrates that you have critically engaged with the content and determined the best approach to take in the situation you have been given by an examiner.

It reflects your depth of knowledge in your subject area and your ability to apply it to your practice in your role onboard the ship.

It is a skill, like many of the other ‘soft skills’ or ‘people skills’ that we can develop.

At Onboard Maritime we understand that there is more to passing the oral exam than just content knowledge. During our virtual classroom sessions we use a range of tools to not only develop your confidence prior to an examination but to ensure you can answer from a position of authority.

Onboard Maritime delivers online learning programmes for maritime professionals. Contact us to find out how we can assist in your career development.


Bass, R. (2012). Disrupting Ourselves: The Problem of Learning in Higher Education. EDUCAUSE Review, 47/2. (

Harvard Business Review, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Amy Jen Su, and Peter Bregman, (2019), Confidence (HBR Emotional Intelligence Series)

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