Everything You Need to Know about: Listening Tests!

Mariell Ear

For many students, the listening part of the level test is often the most challenging as it requires students to activate not just their listening skills, but also their thinking and writing skills. With lots of things happening all at once, many students can become very overwhelmed, very quickly.

Picture a typical listening test scenario: First, you have to focus carefully on what it is you’re hearing; next, you have to decide what the word or phrase you just heard might be; then, once you have decided, you have to quickly start writing because as all this is happening, you have to remember to keep listening for the next word! Not surprisingly, listening tests can cause even the best English language students to become stressed.

But don’t panic. There are ways to make listening activities easier to manage, which you can do by remembering a few basic things:

Tip number 1: Take Notes

Good students know that whenever you’re listening, you should always be making notes and writing down the important words that you hear. Don’t attempt to write sentences. Focus on the key, content words as this will help you to build a much clearer picture of what is happening, when it’s happening and who it’s happening to.

 Tip number 2: Listening for ‘Gist’

Gist means ‘getting the big idea‘, which is especially helpful for answering comprehension type questions. Comprehension questions are designed to test how much you understood. So, if you practice listening for gist and make notes while you’re doing it, then you’ll be better able to answer any comprehension questions which may follow.

Tip number 3: Listening for Detail

Listening for detail is the opposite of listening for gist. Here, you are less concerned with the big ideas and more focused on the smaller, precise details. Listening for detail involves having to identify specific words, phrases or other pieces of information. However, problems often arise when the word or phrase you hear isn’t something you’re familiar with. While there are no short-cuts to expanding your vocabulary, there are a couple of things you can do, which can help increase the chances of figuring out what the word might be.

On the first listen, if you don’t instantly recognize the word, then you should write down any of the syllable sounds which you do recognize. For example, verbs ending in -ed, -ing should be easy to hear as should other word suffixes, such as -er/-or, -tion, -ly and -est, all of which are very common English word endings. Being able to identify and distinguish these and other syllable sounds can be helpful in figuring out what the word might be.

As well as trying to identify specific syllable sounds, you should also listen for any consonant sounds you hear. Certain sounds, such as Ss and Ts for example, are often easily heard above other word sounds and, as with identifying syllable sounds, can help determine what the word might be. So, always write down anything you hear, whether it’s a syllable or any single consonant sounds as doing so could be helpful.

To conclude, listening is a skill which needs to be practiced frequently, both in terms of listening for context (gist) and listening for specific information (detail). When listening for detail, you should think about the main ideas and the general opinions/ideas expressed. In contrast, when we’re listening for detail, we’re thinking about the smaller details (dates, times, locations and names etc) and other specific information. Finally, do what you can to train your ear, so that you can distinguish easily between common English syllable and consonant sounds as this will help you figure-out any words you hear which you’re not familiar with.