English tests - Listening Sample Lessons and Exercises

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Enlish listening exercisesThe page looks at the listening sections of various ESL tests. We will look at the IELTS exam (The International English Language Testing System), TOEFL test (Test of English as a foreign language) and FCE (Cambridge University First Certificate English).


The IELTS exam has four taped sections that become progressively more challenging. The listening passages are on a variety of current topics and are chosen for their suitability for people entering university. IELTS candidates can only hear the listening section once.


English learners often feel the longer talks on the listening part are the hardest part of the TOEFL test. Short conversations often use a lot of English language idioms, but the computer TOEFL exams have long talks, or lectures. These are similar to academic listening that you would have to do if you study at a university.
The listening section of the paper based TOEFL test and the listening section of the online computer based TOEFL test do differ. In the online TOEFL exam, the questions integrate listening, visuals and reading skills; therefore TOEFL test candidates must order steps or click on maps or pictures referred to in the listening texts. Questions in the computer based TOEFL test are more challenging than in the paper based version of TOEFL because they involve such tasks as classification, ordering, referring, and insertion. Added to this, the listening section of the computer based TOEFL test is computer adaptive. This means that at the beginning of the section, TOEFL test candidates will be given one moderately difficult listening question. If this is answered correctly, the next question will be more difficult. If the answer is incorrect, the next question will be easier. There is no specific number of questions in this section of the computer based TOEFL test. The number of questions depends on the answers given to previous questions. You have only one chance to listen to each question or conversation.


For the FCE - (Cambridge first certificate English) listening test there are four parts and 30 questions. Part 1 has 8 questions, Part 2 has 10, Part 3 has 5 questions and Part 4 has 7. The listening section is 40 minutes long and FCE exam candidates can hear the listening texts twice. The listening section is worth 40 marks; 20% of the total FCE exam.

The types of listening skills you need to learn for ESL tests include:

  • listening to identify the gist of a conversation or monologue extracting specific factual information
  • listening to identify speaker roles
  • listening to identify relationships between ideas or pieces of information, such as: - cause and effect - order of events - comparison
  • following directions and instructions
  • listening for numbers, dates, time, etc.
  • making inferences
  • determining when a speaker is expressing fact, assumption or opinion.
  • listening for main points, detail, function, location, roles and relationships, mood, attitude, intention, feeling or opinion

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Try some exercise samples from a variety of our Academic lessons!

SelfAccess.com has two types of online lessons for all levels of English study.
Academic English lessons are perfect for students who need to prepare for IELTS, TOEFL, FCE or TOEIC. These lessons are longer than the General English lessons and students intermediate level and above will find these very helpful for exam practice and preparation.
General English lessons range from elementary for beginners to advanced and include grammar, listening, writing, reading and comprehension activities.

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