FCE Listening – tips and common mistakes to avoid

Your students may feel they do lots of English speaking and listening practice on a regular basis with their weekly English classes, or through the talking they do with their language partner or others who speak English as a second language, especially if they are in an international environment. But these situations are formulaic and artificial: language partners and teachers often deliberately speak slowly, with clear pronunciation, in order to be understood and enable the conversation to flow, and the vocabulary also tends to be chosen in order not to confuse learners.

However, the speakers from the FCE listening section will not be so highly considerate. They speak naturally, the way in which native speakers communicate with each other – often using informal expressions and regional idioms as well – and many students at this stage may not have so much experience of conversing with native speakers in this manner.

It is also important to highlight to students the use of contractions among native speakers, which is something often overlooked when teaching listening techniques. Consider the difference in pronunciation between the two following sentences:

Written English

  • ‘I would have gone if I had known about it’

Spoken English

  • ‘I’d’ve gone if I’d known about it’


Additionally, there is the matter of accents. Not all countries have such accent variations as those which exist in different regions of the English-speaking world, so students need to be advised that they should not expect everyone they hear during the test to have the same accent as their teacher, or as Harry Potter. Prior to the test, it would be wise to practise listening to as many different accents as possible.

Moreover, if students only ever practise speaking English with people of their own age they will be surprised when they take the exam and hear people of all ages using vocabulary and expressions that are relative to different generations – so they need to be aware of this and practise accordingly.

The best kind of practice is for candidates to do exercises from past papers so they become familiar with the structure of the exam and know what to expect in each section. The FCE listening test always follows the same format, so as long as this is practised in advance the students can feel confident that they will know what to expect, and will subsequently be able to spend more time in the exam focussing on the correct answers.

Lastly, it is common for candidates to hear a word they see in a list of options in a multiple-choice test, and then automatically select this as the correct answer. However, needless to say it is rarely this easy. Words that candidates may hear are often listed as options even when they are not the correct answer, which is a typical trick utilised by the creators of the exam – so be sure to encourage students to fully read and understand the questions as best as they can, and to listen to the speaker both times in order to confirm the answer is correct.


Martin Wilson has been working as a teacher of English to non-native speakers for over 13 years, since qualifying from St. Giles International College, London, in 2004. His Trinity Tesol Certificate was followed shortly after with a Masters Degree in Linguistics and Philosophy from The University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Martin’s experience within the various fields of ELT has been plentiful, and has involved teaching children and teenagers in Thailand, as well as asylum seekers and refugees throughout Europe, and university students and business professionals in London, UK. In this series of blogs, Martin aims to share his insights into the world of ELT, including tips and tricks for students and teachers alike, in addition to observations and reviews regarding current available material and resources. Martin can be contacted at martinwilson@mwlc.co.uk.

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