English Learner Article How to teach Cambridge First Certificate Listening Part Four

Summary: Hints and classroom activities for the last part of the Cambridge English: First (FCE) listening test

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After gap filling in Part Two and multiple matching in Part Three, the FCE Listening test ends with a multiple-choice task. Unlike the short extracts with one multiple-choice question each of Part One, Part Four is a single long extract with seven multiple-choice questions about that one conversation. There are, however, quite a few similarities between the multiple-choice tasks in Part One and Part Four:

  • There are always three options to choose from (A, B or C).

  • The words in the options tend to be different to the words in the recording. This is particularly true of the correct option, but is also usually so with “trick questions” (things which are similar to but different from the recording which are written in the wrong options). These different words in the recording are often just synonyms or near synonyms of the words in the option (e.g. “surprising” and “extraordinary”). However, sometimes the sentence in the recording has a totally different structure to the one in the question (“I wanted to see him again soon” and “My desire was to be able to meet not just anyone, but that very same guy”, etc), and occasionally the option or recording have examples of the word in the other one (e.g. “insects” and “mosquitos and ants”) rather than things which have equivalent meanings.

  • Something similar to the wrong options is often mentioned, with the differences between the option and what is said often being just a word or two. The recording occasionally contradicts what is written in the wrong options, (e.g. “We have to avoid errors” and “It doesn’t matter if we make mistakes”), but more commonly the option and recording are just not quite on the same topic (e.g. “He had to sit on the floor” and “Seating space is limited”). There are also a few options which are totally unlike anything in the recording.

  • There are sometimes phrases which suggest that the right answer is coming (“So, in the end we decided…”, etc), that the wrong is coming (“We were originally planning to…”, etc), that the thing just said was the right answer (“So that’s what we chose”, etc), or that the thing just said was the wrong answer (“but we gave up on that”, etc).

  • There are fairly often things mentioned before or after the right option that are worth listening to in order to reinforce your understand (e.g. “We wanted something filling” before or after they say “We chose beef pie” if the option is “A meat dish” rather than the other choices “A salad” or “Some juice”).

  • There are likely to be at least one or two questions where students have problems understanding the correct option due to a lack of vocabulary rather than due to actual listening problems such as speaking speed.

  • The options are often, but not always, in the same order as the recording.

  • Unlike in some other exams, it is perfectly possible for the correct option to be the first thing mentioned.

As in all parts of the FCE Listening exam, students can listen to the recording twice and can make any notes they like on the question sheet (as they will transfer their answers to another answer sheet when the listening finishes). Also matching the rest of the exam, the questions are always in the same order on the question paper and in the recording, e.g. the topic of question 25 always coming after the topic tested in question 24.

There are also some differences between Part One and Part Four. As well as the obvious “many short extracts” and “just one long extract” difference mentioned above:

  • Part One extracts vary in format, including some short conversations and some monologues. Part Four is always an interview, usually about someone’s job.

  • Part One is the only part of the test where the questions are read out as well as being printed on the question sheet (although the interview questions in Part Four are worded very similarly to the questions on the question sheet, e.g. “What is the best thing about his job?” if the interviewer asks “What is the best thing about your job?”)

  • In Part Four students listen to the whole thing through once before it is repeated, but in Part One each extract is repeated before the recording moves onto the next extract and question.

  • Part Four is more likely to have correct options which don’t just have synonyms of the words in the recording but are reworded in a more complex way such as having a list of examples or an antonym with “not”. That can sometimes including Part Four questions which students find difficult to answer correctly even by reading the transcript!

  • In Part Four it is rare for the opposite of one of the wrong options to be said – it is much more common for the wrong options to be on not quite the right topic. Therefore it is usually easier to eliminate both wrong options in Part One than in Part Four.

  • Part Four tends to be spoken more slowly and carefully than Part One, but with trickier questions. Again, this can mean that Part One is very easy to understand from the transcript but Part Four questions can be more of a challenge even when reading.

  • In Part Four the important words are almost always only in the options, but in Part One it might depend on the whether each option matches the question before them (e.g. “What is he unhappy about?” not matching “the food” because that was something he was interested in hearing more about).

  • Grammar can help and occasionally be important in choosing the correct option (e.g. by whether something is past or still true) in Part Four, but this is more likely in Part One.

  • Work on positive and negative words can be very useful for Part One but it isn’t very important for Part Four.

 

What students should do during FCE Listening Part Four

Students have one minute to read through Part Four before the recording starts, plus a few more seconds if they have turned over as soon as they answered the last question in Part Three (as I would recommend that they do). This is usually long enough to read through all or most of the questions. While doing so, they should underline words in the options which are likely to be important when they are listening. For example, if option A says “His mother wanted him to be a farmer” the important words are likely to be “mother” and “farmer” because the candidate will have to listen out for words like “mum” and “work in the fields” if it is the right option or things like “father” and “gardener” if it is the wrong option. In this case it could be that the important word is actually “wanted” because the recording says either “dreamed about” or “still dreams about”, but students don’t really have time in one minute to think so carefully about all the things that could come up! If they do have a few seconds left after reading through and underlining important words, they could try to guess what synonyms of the key words in the first couple of questions they might hear when the recording starts. 

As students listen they should cross off wrong options and circle the right option, or even better cross off or circle the specific word or words that mean an option is wrong or right. They could also write symbols such as question marks next to possible correct answers and “X?” next to probably wrong options, to help them remember when it is time to listen for a second time. As mentioned above, there is no point listening out for the key words that they underlined. Instead, they should try to listen out for synonyms, things on the same topic such as examples, antonyms, and phrases which suggest that the right option or wrong option is coming up or has just passed (“We decided against…” etc).

As Part Four is the last part of the test and there is lots of time to transfer their answers straight afterwards, students can spend a bit more time on this part of the test after the recording finishes if they need to. If they don’t know the answer they should always guess, preferably after having eliminated at least one option because something written in it isn’t mentioned or is contradicted by the recording.

 

Classroom preparation for FCE Listening Part Four

Whenever possible, prep for this part of the exam should be done with real practice exams from Cambridge, as textbook examples tend to be a little unrealistic due to too many options which can be easily crossed off (because they contradict the recording etc). 

The first time that you do a Listening Part Four exam task in class, ask students to underline the most important words, doing so as a class for the first couple of questions before you put them in groups to do the same for the rest of the task. After listening once, let students compare their answers before they listen again. When they have listened twice, there is not much point in just reading out the answers and moving on. Instead, you need to make sure that they actually learn something from the experience of doing a practice test. The simplest way of doing this is to play the recording a third time, stopping after anything that is related to any of the three options and asking students about what they just heard and how it relates to the question. Specific questions that you can ask include “What did they just say?”, “What option is that similar to?”, “Is that exactly the same as that option?” and “If so, what words mean the same thing in the question and in the recording?” or “If not, which bits are different?” It can also be useful to stop after phrases like “Well, we were thinking about…” and “In the end we…” to ask “Is the next thing that the speakers says likely to be the correct option?” After going through the whole recording stopping before and after important things in this way, you can then quickly read out the answers in case someone missed some of them during your (probably rather complicated) discussion. 

If getting students to look at the tricks that examiners play is more of a priority than actual listening practice, another option which I use is giving students the tapescript straight after the second listening to start checking their answers with. To do so, you’ll need a basic tapescript without clues to the right answers such as important text being underlined, so that the students have to read transcript carefully to track down the words which mean the right option and contradict the wrong options. After checking their answers as a class, it is then very useful to get them to look at the tapescript in more detail for the kinds of things that were mentioned above like synonyms and phrases which introduce the right answer. The most systematic way of doing this is for you to make a worksheet with a question for each option in the test that they have to look in the tapescript to answer, e.g. “What word in the recording means the same as ‘main meal’ in option A?”, “What word in option B isn’t mentioned in the recording?” and “What words after the topic of clearing up is mentioned show that option C is not the right option?” After checking the answers to those questions with an answer key or as a class, students can try to find patterns in the kind of tricks that they have to listen out for in Listening Part Four such as “Words which aren’t mentioned in the recording”. 

You can then do nearly the same thing with a second Part Four recording, this time not giving any additional help when you ask students to work together to find the same kinds of things (synonyms, examples, etc) in the tapescript after doing the listening task. After they spend five or ten minutes trying to underline and/ or write down such useful language, go through question by question and option by option. Ask each group of students for any of those things that they found, e.g. the first group saying “‘Water’ in the recording is the same as ‘liquid’ in option A” and then the second group saying “‘Dirt’ in option C is not mentioned in the recording” for question 24. As in this example, I tend to let them choose which of the three options they want to give an answer for each time. 

If students make a list of the kinds of things that they need to listen out for in the exam as suggested above, this can also be used to make questions to test other groups of students with. To make this easier to write, you can give different groups different question sheets with only a few options missing (e.g. one option per question). This could be a Word document on a computer so that it isn’t obvious which options they wrote when they then pass these questions to another group to answer. Alternatively, you can give students typed question sheets with gaps but with the gaps being a mix of the right option and wrong options so the group that receives it doesn’t get any hint just by seeing handwriting. 

There are several ways of making these kinds of setting questions for each other activities more challenging. The best for listening practice is to ask students to come up with their tasks without being able to see a transcript, instead going to different rooms and listening over and over to their recordings to be able to write their questions (with different groups obviously having different recordings). They then swap tasks and rooms and try to answer the questions that the other group(s) set. Simpler options for making the task more difficult include only giving them the question and asking them to write all three options, or even just giving them transcripts to make their own questions from. It is also possible, if incredibly time consuming, to give students real questions and ask them to write a transcript to match one of the options. It’s rather unrealistic to ask them to write a full transcript on one topic, so instead you could give them some questions chosen from one or more exams to illustrate particular characteristics of the exam such as giving examples instead of synonyms and ask them to write a short extract for each question. 

After doing a few exam tasks in class, it can be useful to do a bit of extra work on synonyms. I managed to collect 28 pairs of synonyms from the transcript and questions of the four tests in one practice exam book. If you choose carefully which one of each pair you give students, you can ask them to brainstorm synonyms of those words, e.g. “vital” or “essential” for “crucial”. You can then give them mixed answers to match up with those words. It is also possible to include examples when writing this worksheet, e.g. students brainstorming “bread and pasta” for “staple foods”. To make the task less challenging, you can include synonyms from tests that they have already done, e.g. making a worksheet with 50% revision of old words and 50% ones that they haven’t seem yet. 

Although they are not as important in this part of the exam as in some other parts (and seemingly not as important in the updated 2015 exam as they were in earlier versions of FCE), it is also possible to do some work specifically on phrases which give hints before and after right and wrong answers such as “…so that’s what we went for” for correct options and “…but we changed our mind” for incorrect options. I managed to find around 20 of these in the four Part Fours of a single practice exam book and it was fairly easy to make up similar phrases that might well be in future tests such as “Our intention was to…” and “I finally achieved my goal of…” Write out at least forty such phrases, putting the letter “A” in them to represent the thing which is similar to the option (“I used to A” etc). Read out some of those phrases and get students to hold up “A” and “Not A” cards depending on what the phrase suggests about A being the correct option in the exam (“We are determined to A” etc) or not (“We gave up on A” etc). They can then label the same phrases on a worksheet with “A” and “Not A”, before testing each other in the same holding up cards way and then trying to use the phrases to make real sentences. 

These kinds of phrases are good examples of something that helps students in the exam, with rarely hearing the actual words which are written in the options being the most important example of the opposite – things which make the exam trickier. Looking at these two categories of things can be an easy and useful way of talking about what they need to do in the exam. For example, I often get students to analyse a task and transcript for things that make the exam easier and things that make it more difficult, then give them a list of statements about Listening Part Four like “The right option isn’t always the last one” to classify in the same way. They can then search the same tasks and tapescript for examples of those things. This list can then be used to help them make realistic questions in question writing activities like those suggested above. 

The last stage of preparation for this part of the exam should always be more realistic exam practice, with exactly 60 seconds to read through the task (on their own), then listening through twice without stopping or any help. It can still be a good idea to let them look at the tapescript before going through their answers as a class. You should also try a whole listening test all the way through at least once, as students tend to get tired before the end and so need to build up their concentration powers. It can be useful to include transferring their answers in that exam practice at least once too, as it is quite common for students to accidently put some errors in at this stage.

 

How students should prepare at home for FCE Listening Part Four

What students do at home should be quite similar to what you do in class, but in their case always starting by doing all four parts of the listening test all the way through without stopping, including transferring their answers to the separate answer sheet. 

After checking their answers with the transcript and then the answer key, in Part Four students should look for reasons why the correct option is so and also reasons why each of the other options is incorrect. This should also be done for questions they got right, in case they did so through sheer luck or there is some nice language hiding in there. They should then choose useful language in the transcript to learn such as unknown vocabulary, synonyms and antonyms, and phrases which suggest that what is being said is or isn’t the right option. Unlike the Reading paper, virtually all language in the listening is well worth learning, as the phrases there are fairly common in other listening papers, other parts of the exam, and real life. That language worth learning includes idioms and grammatical forms such as “be used to” and “should have done”, as well as just words that they didn’t know.