Listening tips for English proficiency exams

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1. Learn about the different sections and types of questions

We recommend that you learn about the specific English proficiency test that you are going to sit. You can get the most accurate information directly from the examination body’s website (e.g. IELTS, TOEIC, TESOL and the Cambridge English exams and more).

You should know in advance about the length of the exam, the number and types of listening sections and questions. Check if the listening text is played only once or twice, and whether there is time to complete the answer sheet after the listening has finished. This information can help you with your strategy in the exam, and help you to perform better.

2. Read examples of the exam

It is a good idea to read and listen to examples of the listening test in your exam preparation. You can find this information in free materials on the internet and in numerous books. Many listening test samples also come with answers and tape scripts, which enable you to read the texts and find the answers.

3. Practise and develop your listening skills

As with any English exam, you should read, listen and practise with exam preparation resources.

You can also develop your listening skills, by doing things that you enjoy! Some test takers like to listen to music and read the lyrics, you can listen to the news on the radio or the internet, and you can watch television and movies, either with or without subtitles.

4. Develop your English vocabulary

Listening exams also test your knowledge of English vocabulary. The vocabulary used in the listening does not always match the vocabulary used or required in the answers.


5. Read questions before the listening starts

You should quickly read the questions before the listening in each section starts. Do you need to choose more than one answer in each task or question? Or, how many words or numbers should you write in the answer?

6. Underline key words

We also recommend underlining key information in the questions, because this can help you understand the questions and identify the answers more easily in the listening text.

7. Think about the context

If you think about the question and identify the topic or context, you can better understand and predict each section of the listening. For example, if you have to give times, dates and prices of a music concert, you can listen more carefully for this type of information.

8. Make notes during the listening and don’t try to understand every word

During the listening, you may hear several answers in a short time. If you try to listen to understand every word, you might miss answers. Therefore, it is better to listen for the main information. You can also make notes directly on the test paper while you are listening. This can be quicker, and give you more time to focus on listening.

9. Write answers on the listening answer sheet

Make sure that you have time to write your answers on the answer sheet. Some exams give a period of time after the listening has finished to do this. Check that you are completing the questions accurately and make sure that your spelling is correct.

10. If you don’t know the answer, guess!

You will only get marks for giving correct answers, and will not lose marks for writing an incorrect answer. In other words, there is no risk in guessing answers that you do not know, so try to complete every question on the answer sheet.