I love listening to music, listening to my friends, listening to the radio... I just hate listening!
— One of Andrew's students

CAE Listening Introduction

The listening test has 4 parts and takes about 40 minutes. You normally have to do it after the Reading and Writing test, so you'll be quite tired. Every recording is played twice, but it's still a test of your concentration.


Here are some general tips before we look at each section in a little more detail.


Sometimes students get used to hearing their English teacher and think their listening skills are really good. But then comes the exam, and accents from all round Britain, America, New Zealand, etc. Suddenly it's not so easy! Avoid this by listening to English in all kinds of accents. Where? Movies, TV shows, Podcasts, Audiobooks.


Get used to predicting answers before you listen. Read the question, underline the key words, and then think what is the most likely answer. It doesn't matter if you're right or not - just predicting the answer helps you 'tune in' to the recording.

Time Management

You might think there isn't much time management you can do in the listening test, but I disagree. Not everyone prepares for the CAE exam, so Cambridge have to explain what to do in a long, slow introduction. But since YOU know what to do, you can ignore the introduction and get started!

As soon as you are allowed to open the test paper, turn to section 1 and start underlining key words in the questions. Meanwhile, the other students will be listening to this:

Now open your question paper and look at Part 1.


You’ll hear three different extracts. For questions 1–6, choose the answer (A, B, or C) which fits best according to what you hear.

There are two questions for each extract.

Extract One:

You hear two friends discussing the topic of marketing. Now look at questions one and two.

— Introduction to the Listening test

And you can skip the introductions to the other parts, too, when you get there.


Cambridge uses distractors to lead weaker students in the wrong direction. If you underline a key word in the answer and you hear that exact word in the recording, it's probably not the answer! Watch out for answers like 'The man lives in China' when the speaker says 'I used to live in China' or 'I always wanted to live in China'.

Learning from Mistakes

One of the best ways to improve (and to learn about distractors) is to read the transcript of the recording after you've done the exercise. In my experience, students never do this, and it's a real shame. Not only will you learn some vocabulary and grammar by studying the transcript, but you'll see which of Cambridge's traps you fell into.

Challenge your ideas

A common mistake students make is to pick their answer and stick to it. You might be so sure that you've found the right answer, but you must be open-minded to the possibility you've fallen into a trap. You hear the recordings twice for a reason!

CAE Listening Part 1



Part 1 is a multiple choice section. You hear people talking to each other and you have two questions about what you hear. There are three short recordings, which means a total of 6 questions to answer.

Here's a sample:

CAE listening part 1

First we have to underline keywords and predict what the answer might be.

CAE listening underlined example

I would be surprised if the answer was C, because who cares if the brochures look nice or not? A is more likely than C but I'm going to guess B. The point of the college brochure is to describe the courses, so that's probably what's most important to these friends.

Here is a transcript of what they say. (F = female speaker; M = male.)

CAE listening transcript extract 1

Let's start by reading the transcript in terms of answer C (visually attractive). We have the words glossy brochures and trying to attract interest. These seem to be phrases about the attractiveness of the brochures, but the friends don't disagree about that, so that can't be the answer.

What about B? Well, they don't mention the descriptions of the courses at all! Almost the whole discussion is about the environmental rating system. The woman says it wouldn't impact her choice of course, but the man says he might consider it. They disagree! So the answer is A.


Remember that when you've listened twice and checked your answer to question 6, immediately turn to part 2 and start reading the questions!

CAE Listening Part 2

Part 2 is called 'sentence completion'. Someone talks on a topic for about 3 minutes. You have to show you understand what he says by filling in the gaps in 8 sentences. Like this:

CAE listening sentence completion

Remember I said you should use your preparation time to predict answers? Let's do it now. We know that we will hear from a guy called Josh and the intro tells us he was going to research botany in South Africa. Apart from his academic writing, what else might Josh write about?

Josh planned to write a:

  • travel guide

  • website

  • article

  • some crossword puzzles

  • his autobiography

  • crime story

  • the script for a movie

Well, we haven't heard the recording yet, but we can already eliminate some of those answers. First, the answer can't be 'website' because the next part of the question is 'for a website'. He isn't going to write a website for a website! Be sure to read the whole sentence and make sure your answer fits grammatically!

Next, it can't be 'article' because the question says 'a' and article must be preceded by 'an'. The answer could be 'good article', though. Similarly, his autobiography doesn't fit.

Finally, 'the script for a movie' is too long. Answers are normally between one and three words.

Let's 'listen' to the recording.

cae listening sentence completion extract

There are three types of writing mentioned there - diary, blog, report.

Alarm! This is a classic case of Cambridge distractors! By mentioning three different types of writing they make it easy for weak students to make a mistake. Look closely - two of the possible answers are things he didn't write.

So the answer is 'report'.

Was it useful to predict the answer at the beginning? After all, we didn't think of diary, blog, or report in the prediction stage. The answer is yes -listening for a specific piece of information is much easier than listening to the whole recording. Try it a few times and I'm sure you'll agree with me.