This lesson looks at how you can improve your listening score by thinking about how to listen for key words. This is an area where many candidates make a basic mistake. To help you understand this mistake, there is a short interactive listening practice.
Read before you listen
What do you do in the listening exam before you listen? You read the questions. Of course. And as you read the questions you underline the key words. Of course. Well, actually maybe not.
I would like to make you think again about this common strategy. I suggest that it can cause mistakes and needs to be thought about very carefully. I’m not saying “don’t do it”, just think carefully first.
How can you identify key words?
One problem is how can you identify what the key words in the question are. It may seem obvious what the key words in the question are. Let’s take an example I have adapted from a book:
For the speaker, what is the most impressive aspect of a solar eclipse?
What words would you underline here? My guess would be most people would choose “eclipse”: it’s an unusual word and it’s a noun and that might seem like a a good starting point. If you thought that, however, you might be making a bad mistake. To understand why, try this quick listening exercise. It is quite short and is in the form of a part 4 listening. Do listen carefully.
How did key word strategy work for you?
If we look through history, the solar eclipse has always had a profound effect on mankind. If we think for a moment what it means to have the sun blotted out: the source of life eradicated. In ancient times, people were unaware of its natural cause and were profoundly impressed and believed it must be supernatural. Today most people know that it is caused by the moon passing between the sun and the earth and are more impressed by its beauty. SPEAKING AS AN ASTRONOMER, I FIND it scientifically fascinating.
The key words here are “For the speaker”. If you underline key words, would you underline those words before you listened. I doubt it. The conclusion is read the whole question.
Well done if you got it correct. If you didn’t , here is my tip:
Don’t concentrate on key words: read the whole question and listen for the meaning, not words.
Many, many mistakes are made in the listening by not really reading the question. If you only focus on key words, you are likely to word match. You see a word in the question and you hear a word on the cassette and you assume that that must be the right answer. In parts 3 and 4, it is not always that easy: the test is to see if you have understood the meaning, not if you can hear individual words. If you made a mistakes with my exercise, it will be because you did not focus on the meaning of the question, but just looked at words.
Only use key words to let you know when to listen.
Key words in the question can help you of course. I, like many teachers, do talk about key words. But key words mostly help you know where the answer is: they don’t always tell what the answer is. This means that if you hear the word “eclipse” you know that the answer will be coming soon.