Listening

  • The Cambridge FCE Listening test has 4 parts and lasts 40 minutes.
  • There are 30 questions.
  • You should write your answers on the question paper as you listen, because you will have 5 minutes at the end of the test to transfer your answers to the answer sheet.
  • Each part of the listening is played twice.
  • In this part of the test, Cambridge will try to trick you. You will never hear the exact words written on your paper, so you need to learn to listen for synonyms and paraphrasing (similar ways of saying the same thing). For example, If the question asks you

What is John’s family doing to the house at the moment?

A Extending the house

B Cleaning the house

C Painting the house

You may hear words like “decorate” and “choosing the best colour”. This would indicate that the correct answer is C, as painting is the only time we need to choose colour, and it can also be considered a kind of decoration.

  • Cambridge will also try to mention the INCORRECT options (from A, B or C) somewhere in the recording, so you need to wait until you hear all the information before you decide. (These incorrect pieces of information are called “distractors”).

For example, if we look at the above sample again you may hear something like this:

My family and I have been doing a lot of work on the house recently. It’s hard work, but it’s a lot of fun too. My dad wants to add another room to the house some day, but lately we have mostly been cleaning and decorating. Currently we are just trying to decide on the best colour for the living room. My parents like light blue, but my sister and I would prefer pink.”

As you can see, the listening script mentions adding another room (which is an extension), but it refers to the future (some day). It also mentions cleaning but only refers to lately as the time. However, choosing the best colour is something that they are doing currently (a synonym for “at the moment”).

  • Cambridge recommend that you do not write anything the first time you listen. They suggest that you only write when the listening is played the second time. However, many students prefer to write the first time they listen. I suggest that you experiment with this. Try it both ways and see which one suits you best.

Part 1

Part one is the multiple choice section. You will hear 8 short recordings which last about 30 seconds each. You will hear each recording twice before you hear the next one and you must choose the best answer from 3 options –  A, B or C.

Please note that tape scripts, audio and example tasks can be found in the Cambridge English Teacher’s handbook. This information is available from the official Cambridge Assessment English site, under “Resources for English teachers” in the teacher’s handbook. You can also find the audio files there, so it is well worth checking it out and trying a free mock test by following the link below. Once there choose FCE from the “select qualification” menu, and Handbook for Teachers from the “Select Resource” menu.

Cambridge Exam English

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Part 2

Part 2 is a gap fill with a text which lasts around 3 minutes. The text you listen to could be a monologue (one person speaking), or it could be between interacting speakers. There are 10 questions which consist of incomplete sentences. Your job is to listen and fill in the gaps. Usually you will only need one word, but at times you may need 2 or a maximum of 3.

The word, number or phrase you hear on the recording will answer the question without needing any change. However, you will rarely hear the exact wording of the written question as you listen; the question will be paraphrased (mean the same in different words).

This part of the listening tests your ability to listen for specific words and like all of the other listening sections, questions are worth 1 mark each. You will have 45 seconds to look at the questions before you listen. You should use this time to think about what kind of information is missing from each sentence. For example, is it a number? A place? a person or a thing? Do you need a noun or a verb?

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Part 3

In part 3 you will hear 5 short texts which are related in some way; for example, they may be discussing the same subject or they may all perform the same function (such as apologising for something).

You will have 30 seconds to look at the questions and underline the important words. After this, you will hear all 5 extracts, which are about 30 seconds long each. You will hear all 5 and then the listening will repeat.

Your job is to match each of the 5 speakers to the general idea or the main points that each speaker makes. You must match the speakers 1 – 5 with the best summary (A – H). This means that although there are 5 speakers, you have 8 options to choose from. Therefore, you will not need to use 3 of the options.

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Part 4

Part 4 of the listening exam could be either a monologue or a conversation between 2 speakers like an interview or conversation. You will have to answer 7 multiple choice questions (A, B or C). You will have 1 minute to look at the questions before you listen. When you listen, the questions will always follow the order of the text.

It is a good idea to know what the next question is, so that if you hear something relating to the next question, you should move on. If you miss something, you can always get it the second time you listen.

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