Listening exam #1

This is a complete exam, following the pattern of the new Listening Component. I would immediately point out that it is in no way an 'official' example. I have not seen the specifications in instructions to paper-setters, so I cannot be certain that this is exactly how the new component will sound. However, I have followed closely the model of the only currently available example, and the types of text and questions are appropriate, I believe. At the least, this is an accurate enough example, I suggest, to be able to provide realistic practice.

Note that this is an HL exam - the lengths of recordings, the level of difficulty of the texts, and the challenge of the questions are all more appropriate for HL than for SL. That said, most SL students could benefit from attempting this exam, since they will certainly be able to deal with many of the questions. I intend to devise an SL exam fairly shortly, so watch this space...

A full Paper 2...

Remember that the new Paper 2 (from May 2020) combines Reading and Listening. The exam provided here would supply the Listening element, but what about the Reading?

The new Reading element will be basically the same as the 'old' Paper 1, so you should be able to make up the Reading element by copying suitable texts from old papers, and assembling 3 texts with a suitable total of marks.


The whole exam is contained in a single recording - all you need to do is to pull up this page on your classroom computer, make sure you have an adequate speaker system, and then press 'play'.

The sequence is as follows:

Brief introduction - summarising the structure of the exam, including the timings of each phase

Three texts, A, B and C, which are all introduced by the following sequence of instructions...

  • "Text (A/B/C): reading time 4 minutes"
  • "Text (A/B/C): 1st playthrough"
  • "You now have two minutes to fill in answers"
  • "Text (A/B/C): 2nd playthrough"
  • "You now have two minutes to fill in answers"

The whole exam lasts 48'54"; and contains the following three texts:

Text A – The English We Speak ... 2'52"... from BBC Learning English, a simple explanation of the phrase 'to pull the wool over someone's eyes'

Text B - Mermaiding  ... 3'51" ... journalistic report about a new craze in swimming

Text C  - Fixing globalization ... 5'00" ... background feature report about the consequences of globalisation

The length of the recordings used are within, but at the top end of, the specified timings for HL (see the relevant section of the page A Summary of Guide 2018 ).

Two general points:

  1. these are all 'authentic' materials - real off-air recordings, with native voices speaking naturally. Remember that the real IB Listening exams will have been transcribed and edited (to remove any vocabulary deemed to be difficult), and then re-recorded using actors, in a studio for perfect sound. I don't remotely have the resources to do that kind of thing, so these materials may be slightly more difficult than the real thing.
  2. there is some range of accent - specifically in Text C Fixing globalisation, which has Midlands UK and American accents included. The real exams can be expected to have some range of accent, but I believe the range will be as accessible as the accents in this sample exam.

Design and techniques

By 'design', I mean 'exam design' - the assessment rationale for chosing the texts and for applying the various different questions. By 'techniques', I mean 'exam techniques for students' - lessons that can be learnt for the experience of dealing with this exam, and the various intellectual skills required to deal with listening to, and understanding, these texts.

In designing and writing this exam, I followed certain basic principles:

  • there should be a range of difficulty in the stimulus texts chosen
  • the difficulty of the texts should be organised as ... relatively simple (A) ... somewhat more challenging (B) ... most challenging (C)
  • the number of marks available for each text should increase with the difficulty level
  • the exam should contain all of the question types specified by the IB
  • the sequence of questions should follow the sequence of the recording itself (i.e. students should not have to jump backwards and forwards to find the answers - something you can do in reading, but that you can't do in the time-based sequence of listening)
  • there should be bunches of questions of the same type (i.e. students should not have to be continually changing from one set of rules to another, e.g. from MCQ to short answer and back again...)

I have kept to these principles quite successfully, I feel, although there were some difficulties at points where certain principles are in conflict with others, or are simply not practical with a given text. Such difficulties are discussed below.

Here are some notes about each of the texts.

Text A – The English We Speak

This was intended to be the 'easy' or 'warm-up' text to start the exam. Hence the use of a BBC Learning English short podcast, marked by relatively easy choice of vocabulary and clear pronunciation. In addition, the content is not very challenging: the ideas and explanations are pretty simple.

The questions are all of the short answer type, requiring the student to scan for a target word or phrase, recognise that it fits the question, and then write it down - effectively, a CLOZE exercise.

Exam techniques

> explain that the questions will follow the sequence of the text, and so they should move methodically from one question to the next, and the answer to the next question will come soon after the answer to the first (in most cases, anyway)

> in short answer questions, remember to be short - all you need to write down is the 'target phrase' or even 'target word'

Text B - Mermaiding 

I chose this is a quirky and hopefully interesting subject - and everybody has some experience of swimming, so the basic subject matter should be reasonably accessible. However, two elements may well prove challenging:

  1. second language learners may well not be familiar with the word 'mermaid', so they are going to have to infer from the various clues and explanations in the text (for example, "a tail and a fin" and "creature of folklore")
  2. the text largely involves description and narrative, which students should be able to follow reasonably well - but the prose is actually quite dense, and so students are going to have to focus quite carefully on what they have to listen for in order to sieve out the answers ... they may be distracted by some quite sophisticated vocabulary and phrasing

In fact, I dithered for a long time as to whether this should be the final, most challenging, Text C, instead of the 'Fixing globalisation' text, but ended up deciding that the globalisation text was longer and involved more complicated arguments and explanations. But this remains debateable ... I will be very glad to hear feedback from you when you try out this exam!

Note that each of the groups of questions is labelled by type (e.g. 'MCQs' ). This will almost certainly not happen in the real exams, but I thought it was a good teaching point to familiarise the students with the idea of different categories of questions, with different ground rules.

Note also that Qs 5-11 basically follow the sequence of the recording, and so require scanning methodically as the recording plays - but that Qs 12-14, the 'Identifying true statements' group, require overall skimming, so that students will have to answer these by thinking about the overall sense of the text.

Exam techniques

> explain that the questions will usually follow the sequence of the text - but that 'general understanding' questions (which might come in various forms) will require thinking about the text as a whole

> the question type Who says what? is easy enough provided that you pay close attention to names that are mentioned in relation to quotations (even if, as in this case, the quotations are embedded in the author's discourse)

Text C  - Fixing globalization

I chose this text because it involves a quite lengthy development of arguments about a serious theme. The level of language is actually fairly simple and accessible (notice that much of the report includes recorded conversations, using informal colloquial language).

Most of the questions (Qs 15-20) involve scanning for precise details - figures or phrases - so students will need to read the questions attentively, and then be alert for when the answers appear. The last three (Qs 21-23) require skimming and inference skills in order to grasp overall meaning.

Exam techniques

> emphasise the value of reading the questions carefully to begin with, and perhaps underlining the key targets - which should generate a 'shopping list' of details to listen for 

> explain that the questions will usually follow the sequence of the text - and so students should follow the recording methodically, ticking off the items as the appear.


The exam materials

Below, you will the link in order to play the stimulus recording; and below that, you will find the question paper and the markscheme.





And finally... I have produced this whole paper on my own, without the back-up of collaborators that would apply to the writing of an official IB paper. It has been a lot of work, but that's fine - what concerns me slightly is that the paper has not been criticised, cross-checked and confirmed. I believe that the stimulus texts are appropriate, that the questions are fair, and that the answers are accurate... but I can't be sure, and I have lots of experience in writing papers and finding significant glitches in what seemed to be perfectly straightforward!

So, I would be very glad to hear from you about ** the overall design of the paper, and ** specific issues about specific points such as debateable answers. Use the Comments below...


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