Guidance for teachers preparing candidates for Part 3 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 four 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 four options in the multiple-choice questions in this part of the exam, whereas there are three options in Part 1 of this paper. Whereas Part 1 involves four short extracts, each followed by two questions, this part involves one longer recording followed by 5 questions.

The questions always follow the same order as the relevant parts of the recording. It is possible that the last question may be a global one, asking about the recording as a whole. 

The aim of the task is to test candidates’ understanding of attitudes and opinions expressed by speakers as well as the details of what they actually say.

Text types

The recordings in this part have speakers interacting with each other, and usually take the form of interviews or discussions. The emphasis in the whole of the CPE Listening paper is on authenticity, and these recordings are usually taken from genuine broadcasts. They may be extracts from a longer programme, and they may have been edited to some degree, but they are basically genuine examples of authentic speech. Everything in the Listening paper (as with all Cambridge exams) has been specially recorded by actors for the purpose of use in the test, but in CPE, the vast majority of what is heard is exactly as it was stated in the original broadcast.

The focus of questions

In this part of the paper, the questions fit into four general categories, as listed by the exams board. The following is a list of these categories, together with explanations of the terminology used for them by the exams board and what the questions in each category involve. Candidates don’t need to have detailed knowledge of this sort of information, but it is important that as a teacher you have a good idea of the kinds of question that are commonly asked and how those questions operate.

  • detail
    Questions in this category focus on the specific information given by a speaker. A speaker may give some complex details about something when they speak and a question may require the candidate to decide which of the four options matches exactly what the speaker has said. The three incorrect options in such a question will refer to things that the speaker does actually mention, but that are not correct answers to the particular question. The candidate therefore has to sift out the incorrect options as well as identifying the part of a speaker’s speech that matches the correct option. Is this use of ‘distracters’ that ensures that this type of question is sufficiently challenging for Proficiency level.
  • gist
    Questions in this category focus on the main point made by a speaker or on the general idea of what the speaker says in the relevant part of the recording. Whereas the relevant part of the recording for a detail question may be a single phrase, the correct answer for a gist question relates to more than one thing a speaker says, and may relate to several phrases or to more than one sentence. 
  • opinion
    Questions in this category focus on views expressed by speakers. Candidates may have to distinguish one speaker’s view from another speaker’s view in order to answer such a question. They may also have to eliminate what a speaker says is not their view in order to settle on what their view actually is.
  • inference
    Questions in this category focus on what speakers imply rather than what they state directly. To answer such questions, candidates have to think about the result of what a speaker says in terms of what they are strongly implying when they speak. The speaker won’t use actual words and phrases that correspond with the words and phrases used in the correct option, they will say something that amounts to what is stated in the correct option. 

Preparing candidates for the task

The key skill here is very close and focused listening, because little or none of the recording can be considered redundant (meaning not relevant to the questions). All the options in any question are likely to be very closely related to something that is said in the recording. In this sense, this part of the test could be regarded as being similar to Part 4 of the Reading paper, except that candidates are not able to see the text.

When preparing candidates for the task, you need to get them to practise close listening to discussions between people and interviews, with a view to understanding or making a good guess at the meaning of everything that is said in them.

One way of doing this is to take a recording from a practice test, such as those in New Proficiency Testbuilder, and get students to listen to the piece without seeing the questions. After they have heard the piece once, play it again in stages and this time get the students to do any or all of the following:

  • summarize what a speaker has said, the speaker’s view, etc. (this is especially important if the speaker has said quite a lot in one speech).
  • paraphrase what a speaker has said (if the speaker has only said one or two sentences).
  • explain or guess the meaning of high-level lexis in what a speaker has said.

You can then play the piece again, this time getting students to do the questions.

This type of training can also be done with any listening piece you have available to you that involves an interview or discussion and that is of the right level. Getting students to practise listening closely to everything stated by interacting speakers is an invaluable way of preparing them for this part of the exam. If they get practice at noting, summarizing and paraphrasing what interacting speakers say, they will be more efficient at dealing with the very demanding multiple-choice questions that come in this part of the paper.



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