Tips for listening comprehension tests

You can find below some tips on how to tackle listening comprehension tests:

Tips during the exam:

  1. Make good use of the time you’re given before listening to:
    • read and understand the questions and possible answers
    • highlight, circle…keywords
  2. Use the time you’re given between first and second listen (1 min):
    • re-read questions/answers
    • concentrate again on keywords
    • cross out wrong options/use brackets for headings you are not going to use

You may be faced with different types of tasks:

A. Match extracts to headings: you will listen to different short clips that you will have to match to a suitable heading. You are likely to be given more headings than needed. The headings might be either summarising the gist of the clip or rephrasing one specific part of the clip. 

B. Multiple choice questions: you will be asked to choose the best possible answer.

  • Choose the best answer- it may not necessarily be the only one: choose the most complete, the most accurate
  • Beware of distractors
  • Eliminate the options you know for sure are wrong- decide on the best
  • Take quick notes on the side to help you remember

C. Fill in the gaps:

  • Before you listen: try to anticipate the kind of information you’re going to need (noun, adjective, verb…)
  • By and large, you’re expected to give the exact word (s) you heard or a synonym. 
  • Sometimes, some word-building will be required. For example, if you hear  ‘I feel happy’, in your answer you will have to write:  The speaker talks about the happiness he’s experiencing.   
  • partial points may be awarded if the answer is not 100% correct, but somehow does provide some of the information. 

For most exams, the final tip would be to give an answer to every question, as no points are usually deduced for wrong answers. Check with your exam specifications, anyway. 

More resources for listening comprehension:

Last-minute resources for B2-C1 tests:

One Vision /ˈvɪʒ(ə)n/ by Queen and Love Profusion /prəˈfjuːʒ(ə)n/ by Madonna to practise /ʒ/, /ʃ/, and /dʒ/

The phonemes /ʒ/, /ʃ/ and /dʒ/ can be tricky to identify and sometimes produce in certain contexts for Spanish speakers of English. The song One Vision by Queen can help students get acquainted with the differences in sounds.

One Vision (Queen) -You can do this interactive exercise: click here or on the screenshot below:

Alternatively, you can download the worksheet below. Start watching the video from 1’15”:

Love Profusion by Madonna also contains plenty of words featuring those sounds (profusion, destruction, illusions…). It also contains examples of yod coalescence (I’ve got you –/ɡɒt juː/ becomes /ɡɒtʃuː/). 

Love Profusion lyrics

My Favourite Things (from The Sound of Music) to tell the difference between /s/, /z/ and /ɪz/

This activity is aimed at helping students tell the difference between /s/, /z/ (and /ɪz/) in plural endings (the same as in 3rd person singular present simple endings and possessive ‘s). It uses the song “My Favourite Things” from the film The Sound of Music, which makes a long list of plural things the singer allegedly loves.

Students are provided with the phonemic transcription of the singular word. By applying the rule, they can guess what sound(s)/phoneme(s) would be used to pronounce them in the plural. Then, they can check their answers against Julie Andrews’s performance, by paying special attention to the way she pronounces either /s/ or /z/. Can they tell the difference?

  • Exercise- click here
  • Key to answers- click here


Norwegian Wood, by the Beatles- vowel sounds, diphthongs, weak forms

This is an activity I came up with long ago for a course on phonetics and pronunciation. Ask students to listen to Norwegian Wood by The Beatles, and have them fill in the gaps with the vowel sound/diphthong they hear. To do so, students can have a phonemic chart in front of them. [The same number in brackets means the same vowel sound or diphthong is being used]

  • Exercise– click here
  • Key to answers– click here

Students can listen to the song twice. Then, they can share their answers with the other members of their group, or partners if they’re working in pairs.

The objective is to increase their phonemic awareness, and help them tell the difference between some tricky vowel sounds (/ɪ/ and /iː/, for example). As a follow-up, students are also asked to spot weak forms of grammatical words. These are marked green in the answer key.

IPA phonemic charts and other tools to help students improve their pronunciation

These are some of my favourite phonemic charts. They can be useful to help students make sense of phonetics, and realise they can help them improve their pronunciation and overall phonological control:

Screenshot from Sounds Right app

You may also be interested in this tool to create automatic phonemic transcriptions.

Alternatively, if you need to type IPA symbols, you can copy and paste the transcriptions from a dictionary. My favourite one for that is the Macmillan dictionary.  You can visit this website: 

Finally, you can find links to and ideas on how to use ‘living’ pronunciation dictionaries here.

Words in the news- Come what may, do or die

Listen to this clip from a news report about Boris Johnson’s take on Brexit. It contains some interesting expressions you may want to use:


You can find the transcript to the clip below. Click on the links to find dictionary definitions or explanations for the words and expressions:

Come what may, do or die, and nothing ruled out in order to achieve it. Boris Johnson has been forthright in his promise to deliver Brexit by the deadline of October 31st, with or without a deal, should he become Prime Minister. And in recent days, Philip Hammond, who has long spoken of the risks of a no-deal Brexit, has become increasingly vocal [2nd meaning] in his warnings to a potential Boris Johnson government.

You can watch the interview where Boris Johnson makes these claims here (00’40”):

The first two expressions (‘come what may’ and ‘do or die’) are actually coming up regularly in the past few days in the media, in reference to Boris Johnson’s approach.

The Guardian

If you want a nicer context than politics to help you remember these expressions, you can also find the expression ‘come what may’ in the song by the same name featured in the film Moulin Rouge (2001):

Help!- recursos online para sonar más “natural” en una lengua extranjera

Publicado 2.5.2014, actualizado 20.07.2019

Todos los profesores de/en lengua extranjera, así como los alumnos, en algún momento desearíamos tener a algún hablante nativo al lado para poder preguntar algo que no sabemos decir, o que quizás podemos expresar de una manera gramaticalmente correcta, pero no sabemos si suena “natural” para los hablantes nativos. Para intentar paliar este problema, os propongo varias herramientas lingüísticas online gratuitas:

Diccionarios online: 

  • diccionario “vivo” de pronunciación. Busca una palabra, nombre propio, marca, nombre de lugar…hablantes nativos se han grabado pronunciando ese término. Permite oír a alguien real pronunciando (no a un ordenador), y además, se puede mostrar a los alumnos (confiere cierta autoridad a lo que ha dicho el profesor: “¿no me creéis? Escuchadlo”. Acentos de diversas variedades geográficas y sociales.
  • YouGlish: busca términos en videos de YouTube. Ese video, además, aparece con subtítulos. Ideal para oír la pronunciación de términos, expresiones…y para buscar videos relativos a un tema. Disponible en inglés y francés.

Click en el idioma para cambiar inglés / francés

Expresiones en contexto:
  • permite encontrar expresiones, frases hechas, en contextos reales online (fundamentalmente periódicos, revistas…), para asegurarnos de su uso,  qué preposición va con qué verbo, ejemplificar nuevo vocabulario…Disponible en varios idiomas (click en el idioma para seleccionar).

Inglés- online collocation dictionaries:

Intercambio de idiomas: 
  • registro gratuito. Puedes escribir textos, o hacer preguntas a la comunidad. Hablantes nativos corregirán ese texto, o te dirán qué suena más natural. A cambio se solicita que tú, como hablante nativo de tu idioma, también corrijas a otros miembros que aprenden tu idioma materno como lengua extranjera. MUY ÚTIL

Así, por ejemplo, si queréis practicar la expresión escrita, podéis copiar vuestras redacciones, y hablantes nativos os las corregirán, no solo desde un punto de vista gramatical, sino que lo harán desde el punto de vista de “qué suena natural”. De este modo además tendréis varias posibilidades, ya que es un foro abierto. Y en muchas ocasiones tendréis comentarios de por qué os cambian vuestro texto original.

Para acceder a esta opción, pinchad en vuestro nombre de usuario, y allí os saldrá la opción “mis correcciones”. Allí podréis escribir vuestro texto, o corregir el de otras personas que aprenden español.



Además, la comunidad de polyglot club organiza reuniones en ciudades, así que de vez en cuando podéis ver que hay un “polyglot club meeting” en vuestra ciudad, por si queréis practicar la lengua extranjera que aprendéis con otras personas que también están aprendiendo.

  • (similar a polyglotclub).
  • https://hinative.comEs un servicio derivado de lang-8 (puedes usar la misma cuenta, registro gratuito). Permite hacer preguntas sobre el idioma, cultura, o cualquier cosa que quieras preguntarle a un hablante nativo de un idioma de cualquier parte del mundo. Tú también puedes enseñar cosas de tu lengua o tu cultura. Aunque no preguntes, también es interesante leer lo que otros han preguntado. 


* Aviso: en alguna ocasión, si planteáis estructuras gramaticales poco frecuentes, demasiado académicas…puede que la solución que os planteen estos hablantes nativos sea que digáis algo mucho más sencillo. No porque vuestra opción sea incorrecta, sino porque les suene demasiado “academicista”, poco frecuente…y en ese caso esa recomendación no os sería de gran ayuda. Es algo que os puede pasar, especialmente en niveles C1-C2. Probad a encontrar algún ejemplo similar al vuestro en, por ejemplo (ver explicación más abajo).