How can I improve my performance on the Listening sub-test?

Our test developers and Assessors for the Listening sub-test have identified a number of areas for improvement which apply to many candidates at each test session. We hope you will find these useful.

How can I improve my language proficiency?

1. Develop your skills outside test contexts
Listening skills at the level required for OET Grade B are developed by listening regularly to a wide range of speech, at natural speeds, from different speakers in different contexts. Don’t limit your listening practice to test preparation materials: broaden your ability to deal with new content and unfamiliar voices by listening to programmes on the radio and online lectures. Try to listen to sources where a speaker is giving their own point of view. This will give you good practice in identifying and following a writer’s line of argument and attitude, which is a different skill from picking out factual content.

2. Use the right skills for each part of the sub-test
Listening Part A (the patient consultation) is about gathering information, and the answer format is relatively open. Provided you give the correct information, you can choose how to express it in your answer. For most candidates, this means staying fairly close to the words you hear on the recording. You don’t have to spend time converting those words into the kind of language you might use in real-life medical notes, unless you find it quick and natural to do so. OET Assessors are trained to recognise and accept a range of answers, provided the information is correct.

Listening Part B (the talk on a health-related topic) involves two main types of listening: understanding direct meaning and understanding inferred meaning. For questions about direct meaning, you will for example be asked about the speaker’s main idea or about specific factual details which are mentioned. Questions about inferred meaning might focus on the speaker’s attitude or require you to work out the meaning of unfamiliar words or phrases from the context.

There are a range of different task formats in Part B, and it is important to check the instructions so that you know exactly what you are being asked to do in each task. For all task types, use the pauses included in the recording to read the answer book carefully; this will help you identify what you need to listen for. Remember that to answer correctly it may not be necessary to understand every word you hear. In multiple choice tasks, be careful not to choose an option just because you hear a word or phrase from it on the recording. Think about the whole meaning of what is said and match it to the closest option. In task types where you have to write down information, such as note completion, listen for words which indicate the structure of what the speaker is saying. This includes names or terms which match headings on the page, and also organising words like ‘next’ and ‘for example’. These will help guide you through the information on the page and choose answers which fit logically.

A good way to practise writing the correct amount of information is to listen to a radio programme or online lecture. Make notes about the main points of each section and keep your notes to one side. A few days later, read your notes and try to reconstruct the main content of what you heard. (If you can ask somebody else to try to reconstruct the content from your notes, the exercise is even more effective.) If you can do this easily, then your notes have the right sort of content and the right level of detail. If you have problems, ask yourself why. Are your notes too short, like a puzzle? Or do they not make enough grammatical sense to convey the point? Practise this exercise until you have the habit of making the right sort of notes.

3. Manage your time in the sub-test
In the test you hear the recording only once, so it’s important to write your answers as you listen. But remember to check your answers afterwards. There are short breaks between each question where you can do this, and also a 2-minute period at the end of the sub-test. Use this time to check that what you have written makes sense in the context, especially in Part B. Sometimes candidates understand what they hear but miss out on marks because their answer does not fit into the context given on the question paper.

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