CAE Listening Exam Basics

The Listening exam is one of the four exams that you will do when you take the Cambridge Certificate in Advanced English (CAE) exam. Below you'll learn some essential information about the Listening exam and the different parts of it.

How many parts

There are four parts/exercises in the exam.

How much time you have

It takes around 40 minutes to do the exam. Each part of the exam lasts about 9 minutes (some last longer, some shorter). You will be told when to start looking at each part in the exam. In addition, before the audio recording(s) for each part start there will be period of time where you will be given instructions about what you have to do and what you are going to be listening to.

For the last three parts, you will also be given some time to start reading the text of the exercise/exam (the questions, sentences and answers) before the audio recording starts.

When you do the exam

You will do the Listening part of the CAE exam on the same day as you do the Reading/Use of English (UOE) and the Writing parts of the exam. The Listening part of the exam will be the last of the three that you will do on the day (you will start by doing the Reading/UOE exam first, then do the Writing exam).

How many times you will listen to the audio recordings

The audio recording(s) for each part of the Listening exam will be played two times.

Differences to the FCE listening exam

If you haven't done or studied for the Cambridge First Certificate in English (FCE) exam before, you can ignore this part and start reading the next one. But if you have, I recommend that you read it.

It is will be no surprise to hear that the CAE Listening exam is more difficult to do than the FCE Listening exam. One of the reasons is that the level of the vocabulary used is more advanced. But in addition to this, the people on the audio recordings speak more quickly and often talk about more specialised and less commonly talked about topics (e.g. on science, technology, careers etc...) than in the FCE exam.

With the different parts of the exam, you'll notice that two of the parts of the CAE Listening exam have the same format (question types and number of audio recordings) as in the FCE exam. But even in these, there are differences to the ones you'll find in the FCE exam (the number of questions you have to answer and the number of multiple choice answers given).

There are two parts where you have to do similar things to two parts in the FCE exam, but the format of each part is different (number of questions and/or number of audio recordings). Of these two, one of these two takes time to learn how to do well. You'll find out more about this in the 'the parts' section below.

Also the type of information that some of the questions ask you to identify is more difficult. Instead of asking you to identify synonyms and specific detail (e.g. Why did Peter leave his job?), there will be some questions which ask you to identify what the purpose is of what somebody says (e.g. Why does Peter mention the example of whales?).

Each part is different in some way

Although for all the part of the Listening exam you have to listen to the audio recordings to identify the correct answers for the questions, there are some differences between them.

There are differences in format/structure. The first difference is with the questions. For three of the four parts the questions are multiple choice (where you are given a list of possible answers and you choose the right one). For the other part, you have to identify the answers from the audio recording and then write them down on the question paper yourself.

In addition, for two parts of the exam you will only have to listen to one long audio recording (that lasts around 4 minutes), while for the other two parts of the exam you will listen to number of shorter audio recordings (For part 1, three different audio recordings. While for part 4, five different audio recordings).

The parts

Below I will explain what the different parts are and what you have to do:

Part 1

In the first part you will listen to three short ( each lasts around 60 seconds) different audio recordings (different people are talking in each about different things). For each of the audio recordings there are two multiple choice questions (with three possible answers in both) for you to answer. They will play each of the audio recording two times (the second time directly after the first time) before they move on to playing the next audio recording.

'Click here to see an example of part 1 of the Listening exam'.

Part 2

In part 2 you will listen to only one long audio recording (that lasts around 4 minutes) in which one person is talking. This is the one part of the Listening exam which is not multiple choice. You are given eight different sentences from the audio recording with a gap in each where a word or short phrase (of normally two words) is missing. You have to identify the missing word or short phrase for each sentence and write it down.

Each sentence is talked about in the audio recording in the order you see it. So the first will be talked about first, then the second will be talked about second and so on. They won't say the sentences as they are written on the question paper in the audio recording (the person will use different words to say the same thing).

'Click here to see an example of part 2 of the Listening exam'.

Part 3

In part 3 you will listen to only one long audio recording (that lasts around 4 minutes) in which two or three people are talking in an interview. There are six multiple choice questions that you have to answer. In each question there four possible answers written down. Each question is talked about in the audio recording in the order you see it. So the first will be talked about first, then the second will be talked about second and so on.

'Click here to see an example of part 3 of the Listening exam'.

Part 4

In part 4 you will listen to five short different audio recordings (each lasts around 40 seconds). In each, a different person is talking about the same topic (e.g. living in a new country). There are two questions that you have to answer for all five of the audio recordings (e.g. 'Why did each speaker decide to move to the new country?' and 'How did they feel when they arrived?'). For each of the two questions, there is a list of eight answers that you can use for all of the audio recordings. You have to choose which one is correct for each of the speakers/audio recordings. There are three answers which are wrong for all of the speakers/audio recordings.

In the exam they play each audio recording two times, but unlike part 1, they will play each audio recording before repeating them for the second time (so, you'll hear audio recording 1, then 2, then 3, then 4, then 5 and then 1 again and so on).

'Click here to see an example of part 4 of the Listening exam'.

What it is testing

All four parts are testing you on your listening comprehension. Many of the questions are testing your knowledge of both synonyms for English words/phrases and examples for specific situations (e.g. 'the World Cup' is an example of a sporting event). In the audio recordings you hear, they will use different vocabulary to what is written down for the different parts on the question paper.

But in addition to this, there are some questions which are testing you on your ability to identify a person's purpose/reason for saying something and (similar to purpose) what somebody is doing when they say something (e.g. complaining, being sorry etc...).

There is one part (part 2) which is also testing your ability to both identify grammatical word structure (i.e. if a word is a verb, adjective, noun etc...) and predict a type of word from the context of a sentence (e.g. if a missing word(s) is a thing, a place, a person, a date etc...).

How many points per question

You will get 1 point for each correct answer you get on each of the four parts of the Listening exam.

The percentage of the final mark it gives

The Listening exam contributes 20% to your final mark.

How much you need to pass

Like in all the parts of the CAE exam, to pass the Listening exam you need to get 60% or over of the possible points (which is equivalent to a 'Cambridge English Scale Score' of 180 or over).

Remember, you can still fail this part of the exam (get less than 60% (equivalent to 180 points on the Cambridge marking system which you'll see on your results)) and still pass the CAE exam as long as you do well on the other parts of the exam and your average score for all of the exams is 180 points or over.

Many people find it difficult

Of the four exams in the CAE exam, the Listening exam is the one that most people get the lowest mark on. This is not because of the level in English used in the audio recordings is very advanced, because it isn't. In fact, the vocabulary and the grammatical structures you will find used in the Reading/UOE exam it is a lot more advanced. To do well in this exam has as much to do with the method/technique you use to do the different parts of this exam as your level of English.