Top Tips for Preparing for the Cambridge First (FCE) Listening Exam


Listening is a skill that comes easy to some but is more difficult for others. One thing that definitely improves listening skills is living in an English speaking country. Certainly our students here at Atlas really notice the benefits of learning and studying in Dublin.

However, living in an English speaking country is not the only thing that can help develop your listening skills for the Cambridge First (FCE) Listening paper. You will also need to have a good level (B2) of language and, of course, be able to select and apply good exam strategies and techniques. Below we have more great tips to share with you, and they are relevant to anyone studying for the exam no matter where you are living just now.

1. Learn to listen for paraphrased language.

You won’t usually hear the answer in exactly the same words as in the question. The keywords that give you the answer will usually be a paraphrase of the words used in the question. What is paraphrased language? Well, it’s expressing the same thing in a different way by using different vocabulary, grammar and even word order.

Let’s have look at an excerpt of a tapescript below:

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After arriving in the city, the boy was in awe of what he was seeing; the skyscrapers, the yellow taxi cabs, the large masses of people, and even the wide range of accents.

 

 

   A.   How did the boy feel when he got to the city?

 

  1.   He felt amazed
  2.   He felt overwhelmed
  3.   He felt depressed
  4.   He felt awesome

—————————————————————————–

Which of the answers do you think is correct? In this case, Answer 1 is the right answer. Because to be in awe of means to be amazed. It doesn’t mean to feel awesome, or overwhelmed or depressed. So, one way to prepare yourself for this type of question is to improve your range of language by focusing on learning synonyms and paying attention to how they are used in different contexts.

2. Beware of the distractors.

When listening for the correct answer, you need to be really careful and listen for the distractors that might appear in the recordings. The distractors are the words the test designers include to make sure are not just choosing an option as soon as you hear that word in the listening. You have to listen carefully for meaning and the often paraphrased correct answer. Let’s have look at an excerpt of a tapescript below:

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He decided to leave his depressing town forever and move to the capital. After arriving in the city, the boy was in awe of what he was seeing; the skyscrapers, the yellow taxi cabs, the large masses of people, and even the wide range of accents. His father always called the city overwhelming but it was not the case for him.

 

 

   A.   How did the boy feel when he got to the city?

 

  1.   He felt amazed
  2.   He felt overwhelmed
  3.   He felt depressed
  4.   He felt awesome

—————————————————————————–

We can now see the text contains three words that appear in different forms in the answers. However, ‘depressing’ refers to his town, ‘overwhelming’ refers to someone else’s opinion, so the correct answer is of course number 1. Doing past Cambridge First exam papers can really help you to see the types of distractors that Cambridge English likes to put in the listenings.

3. Listen for pleasure.

Some students think that if you keep doing Cambridge First past papers, you will improve your listening score. But this is not usually the way it works. It’s not that straightforward.

Apart from expanding your general range of lexis and grammar, you also need to improve your overall listening skills and get used to different accents and contexts. One way to develop your listening away from exams is to listen for pleasure. Try to find something you like listening to, whether it be movies, football matches, the radio or even podcasts. The most important thing is that you listen to something you’ll enjoy and not something that is of little interest to you.

Podcasts are a great way to find something you’re interested in as they cover a wide range of subjects. There are even ones that are graded to suit different English language levels. Here is a website that has a lot of podcasts just for English language learners:

http://www.fluentu.com/english/blog/esl-english-podcasts/

4. Understanding different accents. 

One thing that students generally agree on is that some accents are easier to understand than others. But students can get used to certain accents and then you run into difficulties when you encounter an accent that you are not used to.

Also, you might have difficulty understanding words you almost certainly know but can’t recognise when spoken by someone with a specific accent. For students who have particular difficulties with this, you should look into and find out about the differences and features of that particularly tricky accent. Here is an example that can be good to know about – the British silent ‘r’.

The rule for this is:

  • An ‘r’ is said when it appears before a vowel sound
  • An ‘r’ is not said when it appears at the end of a word or before a consonant.

 

Here are some examples of this below:

  • Water sounds like ‘wataa’
  • Never sounds like ‘nevaa’
  • Bird sounds like ‘bud’.
  • However, ‘great’ sounds like ‘great‘ because the ‘r’ is said as it appears before a vowel sound.

Tips for FCE listyening test

Becoming a successful listener takes time and a lot of practice. Living and studying in an English-speaking city would give you plenty of good quality exposure to English. But even if you are not already here with us in Dublin, there are still plenty of things to be working on to help you get that score in the Cambridge First Listening paper that you want.

As you know the Listening Exam is only one part of the Cambridge First Exam. We can also help you prepare for the remaining parts of the exam. We collected our Top Tips for Preparaing for the FCE Speaking, ReadingWriting and Use of English Exams.

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