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Listening: Four Essential Exam Skills



There are four important techniques that you will need to use throughout the listening exam.


Specifically, we will look at:


  1. 🎯 Predicting answers

  2. 🔍 Predicting and understanding synonyms and paraphrases.

  3. ⚖️ Avoiding being tricked by 'distractors'

  4. 📝 Understanding fast, connected, and reduced speech

  5. 💬 How improving your vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation will improve your listening score


1. 🎯 How to Predict Answers


Before listening, you have 20 - 35 seconds to read the questions and predict some of the answers. Making predictions will help prepare your ear to catch the correct answer.


Look at the following exercise and ... 1) ... think about what type of word/number the answer could be.

  • Which of the answers (1-8) would be: - nouns - verbs - adjectives - numbers - names - times - prices - days of the week


2) ... if it's a noun/verb/adjective, think about what specific word it could be.

  • Can you make any reasonable guesses as to the missing words?


source: https://ielts.idp.com/prepare/article-free-listening-practice-questions


  • Did you make predictions similar to those below?



If you would like to complete the above exercise, here is the audio for the exercise, and here are the transcript and answers.



When preparing for the exam, take your time to practise looking at these gap-fill type exercises and making predictions for 1) the type of word it could be 2) if it's a noun/verb/adjective, what specific word it could be.


On exam day you only have 20 - 35 seconds to read the questions, but if you've practised this skill beforehand, you should be able to make predictions quickly and efficiently.


2. 🎯 How to Predict and Understand Synonyms and Paraphrases


Look at the following multiple choice question.



It is very unlikely that in the recording the speaker will say the exact words you can see in the question (“Stevenson’s was founded in 1926”) - they will most likely use a synonym of ‘founded’ or explain the idea using a paraphrased sentence.


Some possible synonyms for 'founded' could be:


- started

- began

- set up

- launched


This is the answer:



In the recording, instead of "founded", the speaker says "set up" and instead of "he set up Stevenson's" he says "this company", referring back to the first sentence.



When preparing for the exam, take your time to practise predicting synonyms and paraphrases.


you should get into the habit of predicing synonyms and paraphrases in the exam.


Look at questions 11 - 14 and discuss the following question with a partner.





Now look at the audioscript.


  • How have the ideas in questions 11-14 been expressed in the audio with synonyms and paraphrases?

3. 🎯 How to Avoid being Tricked by 'Distractors'


Low level listeners or candidates who are only listening superficially might think they hear an answer, but it is actually only a ‘distractor’ (or, 'red herring'). These distractors are designed to separate the higher level listeners from the lower level listeners.


In contrast to lower level listeners, higher level listeners will be able to understand the meaning of whole ideas, not just individual words or bits of phrases. They will also be more sensitive to ‘signpost’ language like ‘but’, ‘however’, ‘actually’ and ‘in fact’ as well as rising and falling intonation.



Distractors Exercise


Look at the following examples of typical distractors and answer the following questions.


  • What is the correct answer?

  • How might a listener get ‘distracted’ or confused by some other information in the recording?


The first one has been done for you.


 

1. John decided to study _____. A) Literature. B) Maths. “I’d always wanted to study literature, but in the end I thought that studying maths would be a better idea, so I chose that”



What's the correct answer, how might the listener get 'distracted', and what 'signpost' language indicates what the real answer is?

 


2. The festival will start on ______.

“Tickets for the event will go on sale on Wednesday, and the main events of the festival mostly take place on Saturday, but some of the festivities will actually begin on Friday evening.”

What's the correct answer, how might the listener get 'distracted', and what 'signpost' language indicates what the real answer is?

 


3. The bus leaves at ______. A) 6:13 B) 6:30 C) 6:31 “The bus will depart at 6:30. In fact, 6:31 to be more precise.”


What's the correct answer, how might the listener get 'distracted', and what 'signpost' language indicates what the real answer is?

 


4. Name: _____. Customer: “My name is Lucas Balvennie” Receptionist: “Ok, Lucas … Balvenie - is that B - A - L - V - E - N - I - E?” Customer: “Almost, it’s B - A - L - V - E - double N - I - E.”

What's the correct answer, how might the listener get 'distracted', and what 'signpost' language indicates what the real answer is?

 


5. Telephone number: _____. “My number is 01322 750021, hang on, sorry, actually it’s 01322 70031, I only just moved here and I’m always getting those last numbers mixed up!”


What's the correct answer, how might the listener get 'distracted', and what 'signpost' language indicates what the real answer is?

 


6. Solimax hired several new _____ to complete the project. “We contracted a new team of designers, despite the fact that we needed many new engineers to complete the project.”


What's the correct answer, how might the listener get 'distracted', and what 'signpost' language indicates what the real answer is?

 


7. The teacher wants the uniforms made with _____ material. A) Blue B) Green C) Red “Honestly, I think either blue or green would look best, so, umm, I think I’ll go with blue. Oops, sorry, I meant green, as I think that would go best with the school’s red logo.”

What's the correct answer, how might the listener get 'distracted', and what 'signpost' language indicates what the real answer is?

 


8. Jenny is probably going to write her masters’ thesis about _____. A) Plato B) Aristotle C) Socrates D) Hereclitus “Plato would be the most obvious option, because we have been studying his work all semester, and I did write my undergraduate thesis about Aristotle, so I’m also tempted to write about him again. Hmm. Writing about Socrates would be really interesting too. However, I don’t think anyone else will write about Hereclitus, and I’d really like to do something a bit different, so I’ll most likely write about him.

What's the correct answer, how might the listener get 'distracted', and what 'signpost' language indicates what the real answer is?

 

Now look back at the multiple choice questions and the transcript about "Stevenson's".


Notice how the text is full of distractors? The speaker will often mention something about all 3 of the multiple choice options, but you have to listen carefully to the whole idea to understand what the correct answer is.



4. 🎯 How to Understand Fast/Connected Speech


Being able to understand fast, reduced, and connected speech will help you follow the recordings in general, and in some cases will also help you identify the correct answer.


When English learners think about 'fast speech', they might simply think how native speakers say many words in a short space of time, or, very quickly.


However, one of the ways in which native speakers are able to say many words in a short space of time, or, speak quickly, is by using reduced forms and connected speech.


Reduced forms and connected speech are quite large topics, which include pronunciation features such as:


  • Contractions (I am > I'm, we'll, they've)

  • Geminates (twin sounds: She's studying > She'studying")

  • Catenation (linking words: Pick it up" > Pi-ki-tup)

  • Intrusion (adding an extra sound: Do it > Do-wit)

  • Elision (deleting a sound: Don't go!" > Don' go")

  • Assimilation (joining sounds to make a new sound: Don't you > Don'cha)

  • Abbreviated phrases (want to > wanna, going to > gonna)

  • The Schwa (He's a friend of the family > He's ə friend ə thə family.)


Look at the following transcript of the end of a converstation between two friends.


I have to go because I have got to pick up my wife. What are you doing later?
I do not know. I will let you know.
Ok. Give me a call!

It is very unlikely that a native speaker would speak like this, as it would sound very strange and robotic! 🤖



The following transcript gives you an idea of which words would be stressed, and how some sounds and words would connect or reduce.


I hafta go 'cause I've gotta pick up my wife. Whatcha doin' later?
I dunno. I'lletchaknow.
Ok. Gimme a call!

This would sound much more natural. 🎶



This next transcript is the same, but shows which sounds might reduce to a 'schwa' (ə)


I haftə go 'cəz I've gotə pick up my wife. Whatchə doin' latə?
I dəno. I'lletchəknow.
Ok. Gimme ə call!

Learning about these pronunciation features will help you understand the speakers in the test and will improve your listening comprehension in general.


But don't worry, in the IELTS exam, the speakers never really speak that fast. You'll never come across this for example:




5. 🎯 How Improving your Vocabulary, Grammar, and Pronunciation will Improve your Listening Score


To improve your listening comprehension, as well as listening to more English, you should work on building your vocabulary, improving your grammar, and learning more about how native speakers sound when they're speaking naturally.


If you improve your vocabulary by learning new words and phrases, synonyms, paraphrases, and collocations, it will be much easier to predict answers and follow the audio in the listening exam.


If you improve your grammar, this will help you predict answers, as well as distinguish distractors from the real answers.


If you improve your pronunciation, you will be able to better understand fast, connected, reduced speech.

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