English & EAL

How To ACE the EAL Listening Exam

Pik Yee (Pallas) Chan

October 19, 2020

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Listening is always viewed as the easiest section in an EAL exam, however, it is also the easiest section for students to lose marks as many of them may carelessly misread the question and/or comprehensively fail to answer the question. I personally find listening really challenging as it requires you to concentrate on multiple things at the same time, for example, the characters’ main contention, emotions, tone shift, and the context of the recording. However, as long as you do more practice, you will soon be able to master the listening skills! Here are the 4 steps that you will have to know if you want to do well in listening!

1. Read the background information of the text

Use your reading time (15 minutes) wisely and spend around 2-3 minutes in the listening section. The background information of the text is extremely important as it tells you the context of the recording which can also give you a basic idea of the characters involved in the text and the content they will be talking about. From the background information quoted from the VCAA 2019 EAL Exam, you will be able to recognise the two characters (Sue and Joe) involved in the text and you can also relate their conversations to the garage sale.

“Sue lives in a small seaside town. She presents a regular podcast called Sue’s Local Stories for the local radio station. Today she is talking about garage sales with John, who has just moved to the town. A garage sale is a sale located in a person’s garage or in front of their house, where they sell their unwanted items.” - Background information of Text 2

2. Scan through the questions carefully

Look for the keywords in the question, such as the 5W1H (Who, When, Where, What, Which, How), the character names, and the number of points that needs to be answered in each question. READ THE QUESTIONS FOR EACH SECTION CAREFULLY. That’s the only piece of advice I can give you to avoid losing marks on careless mistakes. Usually, the questions in listening are quite straightforward and easy to follow. Hence, it is particularly important for you to understand what the question is actually asking and what you are expected to answer in order to secure full marks in that specific question.  

Examples of the 5W1H Questions

  • Who is he referring to when he says “You”?
  • When did he open his first bookshop?
  • Where did he go after his graduation?
  • What message is he trying to convey in his speech?
  • Which phrase did he use to express how dry it was in the desert?
  • How does he express his anger?

3. Note taking

You should be using the spaces provided in the exam answer booklet to jot down any key words and phrases that are related to the questions. Do not bother to fill in the answers on the answer line just yet, as you are very likely to get distracted, hence, it may increase the risk of missing the answer for the next question. Remember that your notes should be as concise and clear as possible so you will be able to write down the answers immediately once the recording stops.  

Examples of notes

Question 1: Which type of animal does Sarah think is cleaner? Give an example and comment on her delivery.

  • Cat
  • “MUCH MUCH cleaner” → emphasis

Question 2: How does Ryan show his feelings about plastic waste? Comment on his language choice and delivery.

  • Exclaims → “putting sea life in a serious situation”
  • Critical tone → emphasise the harm caused

4. Focus on the questions that you’ve missed

Bear in mind that you will have the chance to listen to the recording two times in total so please DO NOT stress if you miss out any answers or you are not sure about the answers after the first time. Highlight the questions that you have trouble with and focus on them when the recording is played the second time. 

If you have any spare time, I would recommend you to go through all your answers and check them in case you have any careless mistakes. Alternatively, if you are really confident with all your answers in the listening section, you could definitely start doing other sections in the exam, such as the Language Analysis and Text Response section.

Types of Questions you may get in Listening

In this section, I am going to introduce a few question types that can be seen in SACs and EAL exams. You will be able to perform well in all listening tasks if you do enough practices and are very familiar with these different questions:

  • Support your answer with one piece of evidence from the text
  • Give an example of delivery and language use to support your answer
  • Give an example of the character’s indirect language
  • What is the purpose of the text?
  • Describe the character’s tone
  • Describe the interaction between the characters

1. Support your answer with one piece of evidence from the text

This is a basic question type that can be seen in nearly every single listening task. It just means that you will have to quote a word or a phrase from the text in order to support your answer. Please ensure that your spelling is correct and the phrase that you quote is in the exact same wording as what the characters have said in the recording. You will only get the mark for your evidence if the above two rules are followed.

2. Give an example of delivery and language use to support your answer

You have to pay attention to the tone, pace and wording of the characters in order to answer this question. This kind of question is kind of tough, however, as long as you can memorise couples of examples of delivery, you will be able to answer this question effectively. 

Here are some examples of delivery and language use:

  • Repetition — “No, no, no”
  • Imperatives — “Do not do this…”
  • Fast pace — “[quickly] What are we supposed to do now?” 
  • Pausing — “But…”
  • Place emphasis on words — “We have to STRIVE for our rights!”
  • Increased volume
  • Asking a question rather than making a direct statement
  • Emphatic tone — “Do what I said!

3. Give an example of the character’s indirect language

An indirect language refers to an expression of the content of a statement in a longer or unclear fashion. It is often used in negotiation, diplomacy and in different types of embarrassing situations which can avoid the person from directly saying what he/she means.

Here are some examples:

“Oh… well… I am just browsing”
"Ummm… I am still thinking about it”

4. What is the character’s main argument?

In order to answer this question, you will have to pay attention to the standpoint of the character and be able to find the strongest point raised by him/her in the text. That’s why you have to read the background information of the listening task carefully and deliberately before you actually start looking into specific questions. This will enable you to have a basic idea of the character’s viewpoint towards the issue. Besides, the aim of this question is to test your understanding towards the text and your ability to interpret the character’s reasonings. Therefore, I would recommend you to focus on how the character is structuring his/her argument in order to help you to find the strongest argument. Bear in mind that your answer will have to be precise in order to secure full marks. No marks will be awarded to you if your answer is vague and not straightforward.

5. Describe the character’s tone

Here are some examples:

  • Outraged tone — “Can you stop?”
  • Astonished tone — “Wow!”
  • Nostalgic tone — “I missed my hometown”
  • Patriotic tone — “I am proud to be an Australian.”
  • Amiable tone — “Nice to meet you.”
  • Encouraging tone — “You can do it!”
  • Accusing tone — “How could you make that mistake!”

You can also read through 195 Language Analysis Tones if you want to learn more tone words in order to drastically improve and expand your vocabulary. You are encouraged to memorise tone words as you will be able to apply them on your Language Analysis section as well!

6. Describe the interaction between the characters

Words to describe positive interactions:

  • Genuine
  • Direct
  • Smooth
  • Efficient
  • Intimate
  • Friendly
  • Caring
  • Polite
  • Kind

Words to describe negative interactions:

  • Disrespectful
  • Awkward
  • Tense
  • Strained
  • Defensive
  • Unpleasant
  • Sarcastic
  • Damaging
  • Unfriendly

For more resources on the Listening Exam and VCE EAL, check out The Ultimate Guide to EAL.

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