An article by Russell Whitehead about the Cambridge English B2 Business Vantage (formerly BEC Vantage Business English) exam Listening component Part 1 (the note completion task) with tips for preparing candidates and a sample task and explanation.
The task type
Students will listen to three monologues or dialogues. For each they have to listen and fill in four gaps in a short text, such as a form. This is a productive listening task and candidates are required to demonstrate their understanding of what they hear by processing the spoken language and a written task in relation to each other. They complete the task by writing words and numbers into spaces to form a whole text. The aim is to test candidates’ understanding of specific information. It is designed to be a life-like and thus authentic task.
There are twelve questions in total, comprising of three separate tasks. Performing badly in one task does not have any ‘knock-on effect’ on the others. Students get one mark for each correct answer.
It is fair to say that the task makes fairly complex demands of candidates, as they need to co-ordinate listening, reading and writing. However, the difficulty of these tasks is the same as that of the rest of B2 Business Vantage exam.
The Business English Certificate Vantage assesses English used in the context of business at Level B2 of the CEFR (Common European Framework). Three pass levels are available for this exam:
- Grade A (CEFR Level C1) – 180– 190 marks
- Grade B (CEFR Level B2) – 173– 179 marks
- Grade C (also CEFR Level B2) – 160– 172 marks
Candidates receive a separate score for each skill area (reading, writing, speaking and listening) and their overall score and grade is the average of these individual scores.
Candidates who gain 140– 159 marks receive a certificate stating that they have demonstrated ability at CEFR Level B1.
Candidates whose scores are below 139 do not receive a result, CEFR level or certificate.
A range of audioscripts are used, and candidates are likely to encounter different types across the three tasks. Examples may include a conversation between two people in which the meaning is shared or split across the two speakers, or in which one speaker simply asks questions of the other or an answerphone messages, in which there is only one speaker.
Candidates should pay very careful attention to the instruction rubrics, as these contain essential information about the identity and relationship of the speakers and the context in which the task is to take place.
A wide range of accents may be heard. Speakers speak at natural speeds. Each audioscript is played twice in the exam, so candidates have the opportunity to check and revise their answers.
When it comes to the questions, the answers are not entirely obvious. Distraction – that is, answers that appear possible but which are not in fact correct – will be included. This means that reading through the audioscript after trying the task will always be interesting and useful.
The task for the candidate to perform varies, but it always involves completing some kind of form or set of notes.
The context is meaningful, and it is always a good idea to spend a little time considering it. The lines or sentences that the candidate completes will make sense as complete lines or sentences if the correct words and numbers are put in. In other words, candidates should always re-read the finished task to check that it all makes sense.
If there are strange words – for example names of people or companies – to write, they will be spelt out. Otherwise, all the required answers will be within the range of language a B2 Business Vantage candidate should have. This means that spelling is important, and students with poor spelling should work on improving this before they take the exam.
It is important to remember that this is not a dictation task. Candidates should write in the gaps the exact words and numbers which they hear that make sense within the task. However, the information in the task before and after the gaps will not be the same as what the candidate hears in the audioscript. Candidates are required to process the information around the gap and then to write in the exact things they hear.
Distraction – that is, answers that appear possible but which are not in fact correct – will be included. For each answer, there is likely to be a ‘dummy’ answer. It is important for candidates to be on top of this. For example, a customer might be heard phoning a supplier and mentioning three different kinds of goods. There will be some subtle differences involved. Perhaps two of these will have arrived, but not the other. Or perhaps one is damaged or is in the wrong colour. The task will require a note to be made about something: for example, which thing still needs to be sent to the customer.
There are several important aspects of the task that candidates need to be well prepared for.
Above all, the authentic nature of this task type should be emphasized to students. Encourage them to reflect on the kinds of phone conversations they make and receive and on the kinds of notes, messages and forms they deal with in a normal working day.
The task will expose candidates to different accents. Make sure students have had prior exposure to lots of different accents in English and encourage them to make use of various media for encountering these.
Get students doing lots of role-plays for telephone conversations. Have them sit back to back in class, and get them to perform different types of information-exchange tasks. Give them completed tasks and ask them to devise the audioscripts that could have been behind them.
Make sure your students see the usefulness of the instruction rubrics. Give them tasks to do without the rubrics, and then show them the rubrics afterwards, so they can see how helpful they are.
Many tasks contain a name/number/date/time, etc. Make sure your students are very well practised at writing these down when they hear them in a variety of contexts.
Synonyms and paraphrasing are essential aspects to successful performance in this task type. On a basic level, make sure your students can easily match what they hear – 'the machine parts haven’t arrived yet' – with what they read in the task – ‘the components are late’, etc.
There may be a case for ‘over-preparation’ here. Performance in productive tasks like these is highly likely to be adversely affected by exam nerves on the day. You may want to consider preparing your students with some higher-level tasks. You could use some C1 Business Higher practice materials, perhaps, so that they are really strong in their listening skills.
Look at the note below. You will hear a man telephoning an office supplies company.
Message for Clara ~
Rowfords called about their order.
The (1)……………………… weren’t included.
The (2)……………………… has mistakes.
Contact the (3)………………….. tomorrow.
Man: Hello. This is Jack Rome. I’m calling from Rowfords. Is Clara there?
Woman: I’m afraid she’s out all day. Can I take a message?
Man: Please. Our order arrived this morning, but there are some problems.
Woman: I’m sorry to hear that.
Man: We requested a stationery set, and while we got the headed paper, and also the business cards were OK, the envelopes have been left out. We can write letters, but we can’t send them.
Woman: Oh dear. I’ll tell Clara.
Man: That’s not all. The prices aren’t right either – there’s something wrong on the invoice. It needs to be re-done.
Woman: She’ll get back to you first thing tomorrow. You’re the Purchasing Manager, aren’t you?
Man: That’s right. But I’m going to be away for a few days, so have her talk to the Reception Manager.
Notice that the rubric, although apparently very simple, contains useful information. It prepares candidates for the fact that it is the man making the call and orientates them to the area of office supplies.
3. Reception Manager
- Whilst stationery set is mentioned, but the task sheet says ‘weren’t included’, not ‘incomplete’. Headed paper is mentioned, but this has been delivered, and in any case would not go with the plural ‘weren’t’. The business cards … 'were OK'. The envelopes have been left out: candidates need to process the paraphrasing across the task sheet they read and the conversation they hear.
- Prices and invoice are mentioned. Only the latter can fit the task sheet grammatically. Candidates need to apply the normal rules of grammar when listening.
- Candidates must be wary of writing the down the first plausible thing they hear. If they rush in and start writing ‘Purchasing Manager’, they may well miss the correct answer, ‘Reception Manager’.
Note: It’s important to remind students how like real life this kind of task is. The kinds of mistakes they might make would cause actual problems in a real-life version of this situation.
Cambridge English qualifications for business (BEC)
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B2 Business Vantage: Listening: Part 1