FCE exam listening tips

Getting a good score on the FCE listening paper requires a lot of time and practice. A good level of English (B2), combined with effective exam strategies and techniques, will help you to complete the listening paper successfully.


Paper format

The listening paper is made up of four parts: in part one, you have to complete a multiple-choice task, based on short monologues or dialogues; in part two, you are required to complete sentences, which are taken from a monologue of 3-4 minutes; in part three, you have to match short monologues to the correct options from a list of possibilities; finally, in part four, you have to complete a multiple-choice task, which is based on a dialogue lasting 3-4 minutes.


Tip # 1: Understand different accents

Generally, candidates find certain accents of English easier to understand than others. You may end up getting used to accents you are comfortable with but then run into difficulties when you come across an unfamiliar accent. You should practice with a variety of accents, such as British, American, Canadian or Australian, among others.


Tip # 2: Listen for paraphrased language

Paraphrasing means saying the same thing using different words. This can be done through the use of synonyms and/or similar expressions. For example, he was lounging on the couch means the same as the man was sitting comfortably on the sofa. You have to be able to recognise paraphrased language when listening and completing the relevant tasks.


Tip # 3: Recognise distractors

A distractor is a word or an expression that seems to be the right answer but is, in fact, wrong. This is done in order to make sure the answers are not obvious, i.e. not the very first thing a candidate hears. For example, when listening for the answer to the question What time is the match?:


Does the football game start at 14:30? – Actually, it starts at 15:00.

14:30 is the distractor and 15:00 is the right answer.


Tip # 4: Improve your skills by listening for pleasure

While it is true that practising with FCE past papers is useful, you should practise your overall listening skills by listening to things you enjoy in real life, such as music, films, radio or even podcasts. In that way, not only will you improve your listening skills, but you will also expand your vocabulary and grammar in areas you are interested in.


If you need some extra help with the FCE exam, take a look at our previous blog post How to prepare for the FCE exam: speaking tips.


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