listening exam

How To Pass an English LISTENING EXAM


A lot of people worry too much about a Listening ExamWhat if I don’t hear the question? What if I don’t understand the accent? etc…

But a listening exam is like any other test; there are easy to learn tips and techniques to reduce the stress and make it easier.

Here is my READ – LISTEN – THINK methodology for giving your very best performance in an English listening exam. It’s worked for me many times and it will work for you!  😉


One single word

If the instructions say that you must complete such and such exercise using only one word, do not use two or three… it says one word!

Sometimes they will ask us to fill in the gaps (listening gap-fill exercises) with a single word and we fall into the trap of writing down everything that we have understood.

Huge mistake! The examiners will penalise us or mark the answer as incorrect. It’s easy, just follow the instructions… 😉

listening exam


It is very important to determine which tense of the verb the person is speaking in (present, past or future). Knowing which tense the question is in or to when it is referring helps us understand the information (and therefore give the correct answers).


Needless to say, if there are images accompanying the question it is important to study them closely; they provide clues to the correct answers. Take a look at the pictures before you hear the recording to get an idea of what you are about to hear; as the saying goes, «forewarned is forearmed».



Even if we don’t catch all of the words, often the speaker’s tone of voice gives us a clue as to whether their opinion or response is positive or negative. Be careful using this tip; sometimes the intonation may be ambiguous or even ironic but if you missed the words and the question is asking you how the speaker feels, ask yourself, What was their tone of voice?


We have to understand the conversation over all of the extraneous noise. The noise is there for the sole purpose of making the exercise more complicated.

Depending on the level of the listening exam, the extraneous noise can be more or less intrusive, ranging from monologues against a silent background to group conversations in busy cafes during rush hour. If there’s a lot of background noise, just do what you would do if you were actually in that situation (in a bar, at a railway station, etc.) and try to block out the surrounding noises while focussing on the words of the person speaking to you.

Different accents

If we are used to listening to American accents and then find ourselves listening to a Londoner during the exam we will think that we are in the wrong room listening to Korean. Don’t panic!

You can prepare for this possibility in advance. If you search the Internet, you will find thousands of examples of different accents. At the very least, practice understanding the difference between American and British accents.


Try not to write while you are listening to the recording. Yes, yes….I know that people can do two or three things at the same time (nearly everyone…) but it is better if, at least for the first time you listen, you leave the pen on the table.

Depending on the type of listening exam you will have two or three chances to listen to the dialogue so, at least on the first listen, don’t write anything down, just listen carefully with your eyes closed!

listening exam

Closing your eyes may seem a little over the top but I have seen that when my students listen with their eyes closed they can repeat what they have heard with much less difficulty because all of their attention was focussed on the sounds.

Letters and Numbers

Be very careful when you hear letters, quantities, dates or phone numbers. You should pay close attention as they usually pass like a whisper and are often difficult to catch.

Remember that numbers can be said in different ways. For example, you can say “one thousand two hundred” or “twelve hundred”, both meaning 1,200.

Another potential trap is the English expression “a fiver” or “a tenner” when referring to money. The first signifies a five-pound note and the latter is a 10-pound note.

To learn the numbers in English, you can download this free PDF by IESBecquer. With this PDF you will learn to express not only the numbers but decimals, percentages, fractions etc.



In a listening exam, our grammatical knowledge also works in our favour. Do not try to listen and just repeat parrot-fashion or write too quickly. Try to understand what it is that the speakers are talking about and take note of whether they are speaking in the past or future tense. Recognising the tenses helps us to understand the conversation more clearly. It is also important to master pronouns in order to understand who the speakers are talking about.


Remember that you are not expected to understand every single word. It is more important to understand the context of what is being said, the topic of the conversation, who they are talking about and the tone in which they are saying it.

If we accept that there may be parts that we don’t understand we will put less pressure on ourselves during the exam which takes a great weight from our shoulders.

Focus on what we do understand, what they are asking of us and don’t be distracted by secondary information which is placed there specifically to distract and mislead us. So…don’t fall into the trap!

Close your eyes and listen!



Be a detective and use your ability to deduce information. We should not assume that the information in the recording is worded exactly as it is in the question.

For example, when asked, “Are you coming to the party?” the person may respond with, “I won’t miss the party”, which is the same as, “Yes, I’m coming to the party”. It is usually quite evident but we must be alert to these little twists as they are often included to increase the level of difficulty.


When reading the questions we can try to predict the possible answer. I don’t mean you should invent the answers but it is possible to anticipate where we are being led. For example, if a question asks you for a street try to hear, for example, road or street.

Likewise, if it asks for a date, a price or a phone number, that is the moment you put your antennae up and be alert to capture the numbers perfectly.

Ok that’s it for listening exams


listening exam

Understand what the question is asking for, pay close attention to the recording and then apply your brain to what you have heard.

It may seem very difficult at the beginning but, as we always say, practice works on the ears in much the same way as a cotton bud. The more we listen to the sound of English the easier it will be to understand what we hear. Obviously, to begin with we will only pick up a few words but bit by bit we will be able to understand complete sentences.

By practising these tips, the listening exam will be better than just ok. In other words… ATTACK!




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