CAMBRIDGE CAE Mission: Ace Your Listening Test

At last, it is the turn of the Listening Paper to take the stand. Let’s examine it and the appropriate strategies closely, shall we? Now, to be clear, the listening paper is a test of endurance and attention, if anything else other than English.

The whole test lasts approximately 40 minutes, plus an extra of 5 for you to copy your answers onto the answer sheet. Comforting, isn’t it? You might think that 40 minutes is not a major engagement. It should be over by the time you even realise you are taking a test per se. Well, wonderful, let’s now imagine listening to completely uninteresting information (i.e. an interview with a supposedly famous paleontologist for almost an hour) while also trying to pay attention to the subtleties, to grasp them and to not let ourselves distracted by the impressive amount of useless information that we need not focus on in order to answer the questions correctly. So there, endurance and focus! The two main coordinates. Now that we have got you into the proper mood let’s take a look at the structure.

Which are the items involved in the paper?

  • There are four parts, which are distinct from one another in terms of what they ask of you and your knowledge and comprehension of the English language.

  • In Part 1, you listen to three short extracts on the basis of which you have to choose one of the multiple choice answers to the six questions in total. Now, if my maths is correct, that would make a set of two questions on each extract.

  • In Part 2, the name of the game changes completely and you move from answering multiple-choice questions to filling in information into the blanks of a gapped text. Needless to say, the recording is different from the text you see on paper, since the excerpt is a summary of the interview/ conversation you listen to. There will be eight such gaps.

  • In Part 3, you will be presented with a longer listening recording on which you have to answer six multiple-choice questions.

  • In Part 4, the same set of 5 recordings are divided on your paper into two separate tasks. Each task contains 5 questions in which you have to match a statement with the right speaker. Of course, there will be eight statements and only five speakers on the recording. So, there will be room for reasoning which statement fits each speaker best. And then you start over, only with a different set of statements, but you get to listen to the same speakers again.

  • A point worth noting is that each part will be played back to you twice.

  • Another interesting detail is that you have between 20 to 45 seconds, before each part, to skim through the text on your paper and expect what is coming your way.

What are you to do regarding the strategy of approaching the tasks?

  • When you listen to dialogues, try to differentiate between speakers’ beliefs and opinions, read the question again and find out who it is referring to. Keep your cool and be precise!

  • When you are confronted with the gapped text in Part 2, read it before, however boring it may seem, in order to know what type of information you ought to expect. Are you supposed to fill in a year, an sum of money, a noun, an adjective or what exactly? Be Sherlock and be good at it. Any detail matters when it comes down to several suspects you have for each gap.

  • You may hear more than one word that might fit each gap. Listen again, why don’t you? It will all clear up the second time around, don’t worry. That is the very reason you get a second shot at the recording. Nobody is trying to trick you purposefully, so do not trick yourself into thinking whatever works.

  • Also, in part 2, even if your text is different from the recording,the words you are suppose to fill in will be explicitly heard on the tape. Nothing is relative, but your way of interpreting things. In order to avoid misunderstandings read the tips above.

  • For the multiple choice parts and questions, the second time you listen is the time when you finally choose the best suitable answer. If nothing indicates towards one in particular, try to eliminate the wrong ones. The bad seeds will be cast aside, if you can overrule the distractors, the elements which appear to be correct, but show inconsistencies with either the question, or the recording.

  • Part 4 is all about multitasking. It is the only part when you cannot simply check your answers the second time you listen. Both times should be active on your part. Since there are two sets of five questions each involved, but only 5 recordings, it is recommended that you solve them in turns. Trying to focus on too many pieces of information at the same time you listen for what should be specific information can be misleading. Do not try to catch several pigeons with the same sling. All in due time, and one at a time. Of course, in time and with due practice you will develop skills that will enable you to focus on both tasks equally on the first listen. Patience and work! Those are the main ingredients!

  • As general wrap-up advice, naturally, I am recommending continuous attention throughout the 40 minutes and, most importantly, that you use those few seconds before each part begins wisely and actually scan the text once.

  • All parts are played back twice. Do yourself a favour and listen actively, even if you think you did perfectly the first time around. We all make mistakes, few of us actually take second chances to correct. Be the chosen few!

  • At the end you will have five minutes to copy your answers onto the answer sheet so, during the test, try not to fling papers around. Also, when the time is up, make sure you only copied the correct answers and did not make any mistakes.

This is all for now on the Listening Paper! It is now your turn to open those Practice Tests books and insert those CDs, in order to put any piece of advice you find most useful to good use. Play buttons pressed and fingers crossed!

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