Guidance for teachers preparing candidates for Part 1 of the Listening paper of the Cambridge Proficiency Exam, with a worksheet taken from Mark Harrison's New Proficiency Testbuilder.
The task type
This is a listening comprehension task involving multiple-choice questions. These consist of a question or incomplete sentence, known as the stem, and three options, which are possible answers to the question or possible ways of completing the sentence. When the stem involves a full question, the options may be full sentences or they may be phrases.
Remember that there are three options in the multiple-choice questions in this part of the exam, whereas there are four options in Part 3 of this paper and four options in Parts 2 and 4 of the Reading paper.
There are four short pieces to listen to, and there are two questions on each piece. The questions normally follow the same order as the relevant parts of the recording, although some questions may be about the piece as a whole.
The pieces that candidates listen to may be monologues or they may involve more than one speaker. At CPE level, they are all likely to be quite complex and to require candidates to understand not only the information given or the points made but also to interpret what is heard, for example to decide what a speaker implies or how a speaker feels.
The categories of questions
Certain terminology is commonly used by the exams board in its specifications and publications (e.g. handbooks) to refer to the different focuses of questions in this part of the Listening paper. It is important when preparing candidates for the exam to have a clear idea of the different possible focuses of the questions and therefore what candidates will have to think about while they are listening.
Of course, the candidates are not required to have a detailed knowledge of this terminology and these different focuses, but they should be aware of the kinds of question they may face. As a teacher, however, it is a good idea for you to be very familiar with the different kinds of question and the terminology for them, as this will mean that you have a good, detailed knowledge of how this part of the exam operates, which will greatly assist you when you are preparing candidates for it. Questions in this part of the Listening paper are not always the obvious kinds of question that could be asked about what is said in the recording, and you need to know about the different focuses the questions may have so that candidates can be aware of what to expect.
The exam aims to have as wide a coverage as possible of all the possible question focuses. It is impossible for all the possible focuses to be tested in any exam, but any of them might be, and so familiarity with all of them is essential.
The following is a brief explanation of the terminology and the categories of question focus in these parts of the exam:
A gist question focuses on the general idea that is communicated, rather than on specific detail.
• main idea
A main idea question focuses on a speaker’s main point, rather than secondary or less important points.
A detail question focuses on a specific piece of information given or point made by a speaker.
A function question focuses on what a speaker is doing when speaking, for example praising or disagreeing.
A purpose question focuses on what a speaker is trying to achieve when speaking, for example the effect the speaker wants to have on someone else, what the speaker wants someone to do, etc.
A topic question focuses on the speaker’s subject, what a speaker is talking about.
A speaker question focuses on who the speaker is. Such questions are comparatively rare.
An addressee question focuses on who a speaker is speaking to. Such questions are comparatively rare.
A feeling question focuses on the feeling expressed by a speaker.
An attitude question focuses on the stated or implied way the speaker regards someone or something.
An opinion question focuses on a speaker’s stated or implied opinion.
Preparing candidates for the task
In addition to training given for this task in a course book, and in addition to going carefully through the tests in a practice test book such as New Proficiency Testbuilder, you should expose students to as wide a range of listening material as possible. This needs to be at the required high level of the CPE exam, and to enable practice of as wide a range of the question focuses as possible.
Depending on what is available to you as a teacher, and what you are able to record yourself, the following are all suggestions for classroom preparation for this task:
• news broadcasts
These can be used for practising gist, main idea, topic and detail focuses. Students listening to them may not be required to understand every word but to get the gist of what is said for each story or news item, they can get practice in separating main points from more minor points, they can decide precisely what the topic is, and they can get practice in understanding the precise detail of what is said (ie the information, facts and figures given).
Discussions on radio programmes are a valuable way of practising for many test focuses, including attitude, opinion, feeling, function and purpose.
• vox pop
This basically means ‘ordinary people talking’ and it is a key part of this part of the exam, because many of the short pieces that candidates have to listen to are presented as genuine speech acts by real people in various real-life situations. If you can find material of this kind at a suitable level, perhaps in other, non-exam books, you can use it to practise a variety of test focuses.
If it is possible to do so, you should consider using video/DVD as well as radio – TV programmes are as valuable a source of practice material for listening as radio programmes are.
In the course of preparing students for this part, and indeed for the Listening paper in general, you should make sure that they are as familiar as possible with a variety of native-speaker accents (e.g. regional British, American, Australian), as they will hear these accents in the actual exam.
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Cambridge English: Proficiency (CPE)
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Cambridge English Proficiency: Listening Part 1