Top Tips for Preparing for the Cambridge Advanced (CAE) Listening Exam

As we mentioned in our previous post on improving your reading skills, at the C1 Advanced level, you should be able to understand the main ideas of complex texts on both concrete and abstract topics. This also applies to the CAE listening, the difference being in this form the texts are spoken and not on paper.

We mentioned that you will also be tested on understanding a wide range of demanding, longer texts and must be able to recognise their implicit meaning. Here are a few tips that we recommend you take into account when studying for the Cambridge English Advanced exam.

1. Listen out for stress and intonation.

In our blogpost on Advanced (CAE) Reading, we said how you will most certainly be tested on differentiating between fact, opinion and attitude. When it comes to listening, the most obvious difference from reading is, of course, that you’ll have to listen out for it and won’t have the opportunity to examine it word for word to make sure you have the right answer.

Stress and intonation will play an important part in understanding what is being said and which could lead you to the right answer. Let’s look at the following examples:

  1. I didn’t say we should kill him
  2. I didn’t say we should kill him
  3. I didn’t say we should kill him.

If we imagine that the speaker is stressing the words in bold, what are the differences in meaning?

A would imply that someone else said we should kill him.

B implies that he is denying saying it.

C could mean that he whispered it, implied it or even wrote it down

As you can see, depending on which word is stressed, you can be lead to choosing completely different answers about the intended meaning.

2. Listen out for language of fact, attitude and opinion.

As we’ve just said, listening out for stress and intonation is extremely important. However, the actual language you hear will also be essential in helping you find the correct answer. Here are a few examples of lexis that you will have to listen out for to differentiate between fact, attitude and opinion.

Reporting verbs

Here are a few examples of reporting verbs in use:

“He denied it ever happening”
“Tom advised me not to go to the party”
“She refused to help me in the end”
I was told that I would get some help”
“The trainer said it would be a good idea”

So what does each reporting verb mean and what could they imply?

  • Deny means that he said he didn’t do it, but could have done it.
  • Advise means that I was warned about something but I may have done it anyways.
  • Refuse means to say no to something, maybe for negative reasons.
  • I was told is used to say that I would get some help but I didn’t in the end.
  • Say can be used to express someone’s opinion and not what actually happened.

It can sometimes be tricky to fully appreciate the meaning of reporting verbs, especially as they usually refer to past events.

Adjective adverb collocations

Collocations will play a big role in the Cambridge Advanced exam. Have a look at the following phrases and see if you can work out their meaning:

  1. “Their opinions were deeply divided
  2. “He never knew that he would be seen as utterly useless by them”
  3. “Getting to work today was painfully slow, it took ages”

So what are the adjective adverb collocations expressing?

A expresses the idea that there was a massive difference of opinion between two or more people.

B really emphasises how he didn’t fully understand before how others saw him as being of no use or help whatsoever.

C expresses that the slowness of the traffic was really irritating.

Working out the meaning of these collocations can prove tricky as the adverb will express the attitude of the adjective.

Here’s a helpful slideshare to give you a better idea of such collocations:

3. Listen for pleasure.

Some students think that if you keep doing Cambridge Advanced 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 these general listening away from a strict exam focus is to listen for pleasure. Try to find things 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:

If you don’t find these challenging enough, here are a few others that Atlas recommends you listen to:


Fascinating podcast about a murder investigation


An American podcast that covers an array of topics from science to philosophy.


One of the first podcasts to become famous around the world which tells a variety of stories about American culture and the world around it.

4. Understanding different accents. 

Even at an advanced level, one thing that some students find tricky is understanding different accents. You will need to gain experience listening to and understanding a variety of accents. If you can’t get that immediate experience from living in a place like Dublin, you could use YouTube and other resources to increase your awareness of some of the differences between different accents even within an English-speaking country.

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.

CAE Listening Preparation

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 Advanced (CAE) Listening paper that you want.

If you are planning on sitting the Cambridge English Advanced exam or if you have registered for the exam already and are looking for some help to prepare the exam we would love to hear from you and help you with your preparation.

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