Monologues, information lines, phone messages, announcements and radio documentaries are just a few of the things that learners taking FCE for schools may have to listen to.
Teachers always have a more difficult time teaching listening skills and often claim that it’s something you acquire and not learn. Equally students too have difficulties with listening due to lack of practice, lack of focus or being misinformed by teachers who confuse the general FCE exam and the FCE for schools.
One of the biggest challenges participants in the FCE for schools face is the listening section as it’s a total length of 40 minutes. Quite often teachers focus on one listening at a time which gives learners unrealistic practice. When it comes to the day of writing the exam, students are tired and they have less of an ability to focus on the whole duration time which results in missing vital parts for gap fill exercises and losing track of where they are. Of course, it’s difficult timing-wise to spend a whole lesson on just listening which is why many teachers and course books break up the listening sections and practice each part separately – while this makes sense, they often, however, forget to play the listening through as a whole non-stop. It’s necessary for students to have this practice in order to become more accustomed to timing and remaining able to follow the words and the questions without tiring.
Make Your FCE Students Accustomed to the Listening Format
Just like in the reading section of the exam, the FCE for schools has a different answer sheet for the listening section. The biggest issue with the answer sheet is that teachers do not inform their students that a separate answer sheet has to be filled in and as a result they will often just write down the answers next to the question like they’d been practicing in class. Also, what a lot of teachers fail to tell their students is that they are given extra time at the end of the exam (5 minutes) to transfer their answers over to the answer sheet. It’s important for you as a teacher to really understand the ins and outs of an exam so you can fully prepare your students prior to sitting the exam. When students are left feeling vulnerable or shocked after an exam (especially younger students) they have more of a tendency to let this affect the rest of the papers and as listening is the first paper that is written, it’s important to really be prepared and feel confident in order for the the rest of the exam running smoothly too. Additionally, you need to remind students that they must transfer their answers using capital letters only – if they do not, they will be marked incorrectly – this is particularly important for younger learners as it goes against everything we teachers have taught them in the past as we’ve always told them to write the first letter of a sentence or of a proper noun etc – and everything else is wrong, which is not the case in the FCE for schools listening.
Mastering Different Listening Techniques
More often than not students are not taught how to listen properly – they aren’t taught the right skills and are just expected to listen to audio recordings and get better. However, students need to be able to listen for different information. They need to be able to identify key points and understand the recording generally for an overall opinion. It’s a great idea to change the focus of your students. Changing focus will prepare them for different kinds of listening questions and also it will help them remain alert throughout the recording. Interchange your tasks – one time you can ask your students for an overall summary where they have to report back the general message through notes they have taken and then next time write a few keywords on the board and ask the relevance of them related to the audio recording thus helping them improve their listening for specific information skills.
Teach Students to Use Reading Time Effectively
All Cambridge exams give students approximately 40 seconds to read through the questions and alternative answers. Generally speaking students do not use this time effectively instead it is advisable to teach them how to identify key words in the question and read through the possible answers too. As they’re reading encourage them to predict what’s going to be heard and to draw on their schematic or pre-existing knowledge to help in the process of elimination if they meet trickier questions. Another tip that is vital in helping students succeed in the FCE listening section for schools is that all questions are in the correct order unlike the higher levels which are mixed up and can appear in random order. This is imperative to know as if they miss one answer they should quickly follow on instead of pondering on the question that has stumped them in order to be able to complete the rest of the questions without getting lost. Contrary to popular belief, the FCE for schools DOES play the recording twice just like the general FCE examination.
Variety Is the Spice of Life
The thing about FCE listening for schools and the general exam is that they try to use ‘real life’ snippets of speaking audio to make it more authentic. The students may hear a variety of different accents including non-native speakers speaking English therefore it’s imperative to try and have them listen to as many different kinds of listening as possible for example a snippet of the news, a weather report, a teacher’s announcement and so on. Using real audio is more beneficial than learning listening from course CDs as they tend to be too scripted. Have your students identify the different topics while listening and the text type – this is particularly useful for part one.
Controlled Practice for Part Two
Part two of the listening exam consists of a gap-fill exercise where the students will be required to either write one word or a short phrase (consisting of two or three words) to insert into the gap. This particular exercise is more challenging for students as they will also have to use their knowledge grammar and spelling to make sure that the sentences are grammatically correct. Quite often students will write down exactly what they hear without making the correct grammatical modifications which would result in the answers being incorrect.
To practice for this particular stage, it’s a good idea to have the students write dictations which will help the students listen, write and read at the same time as it’s quite often difficult for students to multi-task with all skills. When practicing the actual gap-fill exercise try to encourage students to read before and after the gap as this is going to determine what they insert. At the beginning of their training some teachers prefer to actively guide their students pausing the recording immediately after the answer has been said – this is a good idea, however, they should not get too used to this as they’ll grow complacent and will have a hard time adapting to the real test.
Answering the Questions in Their Own Words
To practice specifically for part 4, students could practice their listening for specific information by just looking at the question and answering it in their own words without even looking at the alternatives. Quite often or not students will get caught out on one option which is why they should learn to listen for the answers themselves and then compare their notes to the alternative answers and see if they match up.
Listening is a particularly difficult area to master when it comes to the FCE for schools and it should never be left until the last minute.
It’s imperative to pay equal attention to all 5 areas of the exam throughout the course intermittently so they will keep in constant contact with different areas of English instead of focusing too much on one particular area. Listening takes patience and to help your students you need to implicitly guide them through with more rigid controlled exercises to freer exercises until they have built the confidence to tackle the whole listening paper.