The second part of our blog series on the GCSE language exams looks at the listening paper.  Sometimes students can get quite concerned about this paper, or can be left wondering why they missed out on marks when they thought they had understood what was being said.  These tips will help you to prepare well, and also give you some idea of the little examiner “tricks” to look out for.

What can I do to prepare for my listening exam?

When it comes to the listening exam, there is one way to prepare which you can start now, which only needs to be done for 10 minutes or so at a time, but which should be done consistently to get the best results.

What could it be?

  • – Listening!

Specifically, listening to as much of your target language as possible, in as many different accents as possible, and as many different contexts as possible.  While the exam board is not going to present you with an impossible accent, getting practice with as many native accents as you can will prepare you better than if you have only ever heard your teacher speak.

What should I listen to?

Pretty much anything.  To get you started, here are some ideas that we have used with past and current students:

  • Try a music radio station using your chosen language. Make sure that it is one which plays music in your target language rather than just American music!
  • Alternatively, use the internet and look for “Extra!” in the relevant language – it’s a great little sitcom aimed at language learners and available in French, German, Spanish and English.
  • Use BBC Bitesize – this revision website has a range of activities together with the answers. You can choose Foundation or Higher Level.
  • You could try looking for TV shows online as well. There are many clips on popular video sharing websites.  Or you can see if your favourite show is also available in another language.
  • If you are reasonably confident, then you could try using the news. Deutsche Welle have the “news read slowly” in German and there are several sites offering something similar in French. Alternatively, Euronews can be good (although rather fast) as you can read the text at the same time.

What else can I do to prepare?

Try some exam papers, which can be found on the exam board website. As you are aware, this year there is a new curriculum and some new question styles, but the exam boards have put up some sample material which should be available if you look.  Your school teachers may want to use it too, so you can always look for past papers from other years – all practice is good practice and most of the topics have remained the same, despite the changes.

Do you have any tips for the actual exam?

Of course!  Here are some helpful pointers:

  • You will be given some time to read the questions before the test starts. Do use that time wisely and get some idea of the different types of question and what you have to do. It may sound odd, but the questions will give you a good idea of what each extract is about.
  • Remember each extract will be played twice, so you don’t have to get ALL the information the first time you hear it.
  • Also, make sure you have put some sort of answer for every question, even if you are not sure it is right. A blank answer is guaranteed to get zero points, but if you put something logical and sensible then you have a better chance.
  • Listen carefully for the “stretch” questions. You may think that you have a good idea of what the extract was about, but did you hear the words “not”, “often” or “rarely”?  Sometimes the different options for a question will all be mentioned in some way, but there will be other words like these which change the meaning of the answer.  Here is an example in English:

Q: What did Ben do at the weekend?

Extract from Ben: “I wanted to go to the cinema at the weekend but I didn’t have any money so we played football in the park instead”.

If you answer “went to the cinema” then you won’t get the point as this is what he WANTED to do, but couldn’t.  The correct answer is that he played football in the park.


If you found these tips helpful then please feel free to share them with your friends.  There will be more useful hints like these in the next few weeks as I cover the Reading and Writing papers.  If you are looking for information about the Speaking test then please look for my earlier blog post on the oral exam.


Teri Fleetwood is an experienced language tutor with over 10 years experience of tutoring to the GCSE and A Level curriculum.  For more information please look at the rest of the posts in this blog and also check our Facebook page  If you would like to discuss 1:1 or small group tuition, whether for exam preparation or pleasure, then do get in touch!