What are exams skills?


The number of students who want to obtain any of the official certificates be it KET, PET or FCE has been growing in recent years. Unfortunately my experience shows that even those students whose level is good enough to pass those exams very often students seem to fail. Why does this happen? The answer is in the exam skills or exam strategies  that we as teachers need to develop in our students in order to pass FCE or CAE or any other exam successfully. This time I’d like to focus on the listening paper.

Exam skills are certain strategies that are somewhat beyond grammar, vocabulary and simply completing gaps in the listening task. Most of my students are potential FCE and CAE candidates and besides the course books that we’re using I find it extremely necessary to remind and focus on the techniques how to do the exam efficiently. This time I’m going to focus on FCE listening exam. It’s important to note that many other exams have very similar structures so these ideas may be very useful for other exam candidates. I hope this will serve for teachers as a sort of reminder of things that our students need to know before the exam.


Tips on exam skills – listening paper


FCE listening part consists of four parts, the whole listening paper takes around 40 minutes. Before I turn to each part separately I’d like to give some general tips for your students on how to do the listening paper accurately.

 Tip 1

Tell your students to relax and have the maximum concentration on what they listen. This may seem obvious, but as you yourselves probably remember the thousands of different thoughts running through your head in those kind of important moments. Therefore tell your students to ease their minds and listen.

 Tip 2

Never waste the time that’s given before listening in order to get acquainted with the task. The time before the actual listening can vary from 30 seconds to 1 minute depending on the part. Use this time to focus on the part and not on finishing the previous listening task or just daydreaming.

 Tip 3

Focus on one part of the listening paper at a time. I’ve noticed that many of my students tend to wander around the listening paper, checking out the following parts or finishing the previous ones. That isn’t a very practical thing to do and it can be very confusing for your concentration.



Listening Part 1 – multiple choice


Part 1 is the task where students listen to eight different speakers, one question is asked about each conversation and three options of the correct answer ae given. The students need to choose the right option. In this part the questions and the options are usually read out in the recording so no time is given to get acquainted with the task.

What makes this part especially difficult is the fact that no time is given to get acquainted with the task and that every conversation is very different from one another so this means to get ready for a wide range of different accents and situations.

My advice is to focus on the particular question at a time and not try to get acquainted with the next one or finish the previous one. Very often in this task you need to identify the emotions or feelings of the speaker about the issue so my advice is to pay attention to the intonation of the speaker. There are cases when intonation gives you the right answer more than the words.


Listening Part 2 – completing the sentences


Part 2 for many students seem to be the one that’s the most complicated one. This is where students need to listen to a conversation or an interview about a topic (the title is given in the task) and complete the sentences with appropriate words.

The trouble is that this part requires listening for general information as much as for details.

My advice is to use the 45 seconds given before the listening and read through the sentences trying to predict the information that might be needed in each gap. Sometimes it can be really tricky but at times you can clearly see where number or percentage is required. Sometimes underlining the key words in each sentence can be useful, however, the underlining makes it more time consuming and within those 45 seconds you need to get acquainted with all the sentences.



 Listening part 3


This part focuses on the main idea of the speech. There are five speakers talking about the same topic. The task is to match the topic with the speaker. As a rule there is one topic that is extra. You are given 30 seconds to get acquainted with the task.

What makes this task complicated for my student are the different accents and speed of the speakers. The trickiest part is that speakers may mention the words from the task, but you have to be careful here because very often they mean completely different thing by them so you can easily get misled by that.

My advice is to underline the keywords of the topics (since there are only 6 sentences to get acquainted with) and focus on those words and possible synonyms. Try to match each speaker with the topic when you listen for the first time and then use the second time to check your answers.



Listening part 4


This is another multiple choice task, but what makes it different from the part 1 is that this is an interview or a talk by one person. The good news is that you don’t need to worry about different accents or topics that could be discussed.

You have to be especially careful here because the questions go in the same order as the interview, but what my students have problems with is usually the fact that they loose the track of the questions.

Since this almost always is an interview each question of the interviewer separates the questions of the exam. Therefore every time the interviewer asks a new question you have to pay attention to the following question in your exam paper. This is the way not to lose the track of the sequence and helps you to do the task.

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