Audio now available! Guidance for teachers preparing candidates for Part 2 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 productive task, which means that candidates have to write words rather than choose from options.

The focus of the task is on information and facts rather than on ideas. This means that the questions themselves require candidates to write down specific pieces of concrete information. The recording may contain opinions but the questions mainly or entirely focus on the facts.

For this reason, the recordings for this part of the exam are usually monologues or near-monologues of an informative nature, giving information about a certain topic. They may be presented as talks, lectures or broadcasts. They are likely to be dense in complex information, with some distraction. That is to say, not only will the information that candidates have to write down be quite complex, there will also be information in the recording that candidates might incorrectly believe to be the answer to a question (for example, two pieces of information may be given that relate to a particular question but only one will be the correct answer to that question – candidates will have to understand both, study the question, and eliminate the piece of information that does not correctly answer the question).

How the questions work

  • The questions are in the form of nine separate sentences, each of which contains a gap which must be filled by information that is given in the recording. The questions/sentences follow the same order as what is heard in the recording.
  • All the answers are single words or short phrases. Furthermore, and most importantly, the answers all consist of actual words and phrases spoken in the recording. Candidates are not required to, and for obvious reasons should not, attempt to paraphrase what they hear, come up with synonyms, or make grammatical alterations to what is said. If they do try to this, they will not only waste time, their answers will be wrong.  
  • Though the answers are all words and phrases that are actually said in the recording, the task is by no means a dictation one. Instead, the content of the recording is paraphrased in the questions. Thus, each of the nine sentences paraphrases what is heard, and a very important skill for candidates is to know what is being paraphrased in the sentence so that they can insert the correct missing piece of information. Much of the paraphrasing at this level is of a sophisticated nature, so that the phrasing of each sentence in the questions may be very different indeed from the way in which the same thing is said in the recording. The paraphrasing very often involves summarizing in brief and in totally different words a longer piece of information given in the recording.
  • To get a clear idea of how this works, look at this example from New Proficiency Testbuilder. The speaker is talking about her current job in a hotel and she says:

‘I love the work there, although sometimes the duty management shifts are a bit of a killer. Usually the hotel is overbooked when I am on duty and so I often end up as the one who has to book out guests. We use a nearby hotel of the same standard and provide transport but it is understandable when a guest gets very irate, arriving after a long journey.’

The question that relates to this part of the recording is:

In her present job, she has to deal with problems caused by the hotel being (17)_____________.

The question/sentence completely rephrases what she says (‘deal with’ and ‘problems’ and ‘caused’ do not appear in the recording), as well as forming a summary of what is stated in this part of the recording.

The question/sentence also contains a grammatical transformation of what is heard – the present simple passive structure is overbookedis replaced by the passive structure, preposition + noun + present participle of be+ past participle (by the hotel being overbooked). So, the only part of the question and the recording that is identical is the answer – overbooked.

Furthermore, there is distraction – candidates may be tempted to try to write something connected with management, location, transport or guests.

Preparing candidates for the task (1)

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 spend time in class training students in the particular skills required for this task. The two key skills here are:

  • focusing on specific, concrete information
  • understanding paraphrasing

Preparing candidates for the task (2): focusing on specific, concrete information

One way of dealing with the skill of focusing on specific, concrete information is to play the students a recording from a practice test book, but not show them the questions. Ask the students to note down all the pieces of key information that they can while hearing the recording twice (as they will in the exam, of course). This is useful practice because it focuses them intently on what is said and the information that is given, with none of their attention being paid to the questions.

The same exercise can be carried out with any other non-exam informational listening pieces at a suitable level that you have at your disposal. Another idea is to take written informational pieces of broadly the right length, again at a suitable level, and read them out, getting students to note down the salient pieces of information. You could do this with newspaper and magazine articles, and indeed you could do this with news articles from that day or that week. This latter idea has obvious merits – you can cover news and current affairs in class and increase students’ knowledge of what is going on in the country and the world while simultaneously practising a vital exam skill. 

Preparing candidates for the task (3): understanding paraphrasing

One way of dealing with the skill of understanding paraphrasing is to ‘deconstruct’ a practice test piece. After you have done the piece with the students and checked the answers, you could show them how it all worked. To do this, get them to look at each question and underline or highlight the part of the recording that relates to each one, together with the answer. Focus on the way in which the relevant part of the recording has been paraphrased and how the correct answer fits in.

Focus, too, on any distraction – information that might appear to be the answer but in fact is not. Then show them how far apart (or close together) each answer comes in the recording. Showing students the mechanics of this part of the exam will increase their knowledge of what to expect and make them much more prepared for dealing with it.



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