Paper 2 Listening

For exam sessions N20, M21 & N21...

The Listening Comprehension component has been removed from Paper 2 for the three exam sessions stated above. This is because the IB is concerned that the problems created by COVID19 will (i) make it hard for schools to provide appropriate training in class for listening comprehension, and (ii) cause difficulties in organising correct examination conditions.

The IB plans to re-introduce the Listening Comprehension component from M22 onwards.

Remember, here is the basic structure of the Paper 2 Comprehension component:-

Listening & Reading paper (Paper 2 / Assessment 2)

SL - Listening: 45 min + Reading: 1 hr

HL - Listening: 1 hr + Reading: 1hr

** At both levels, there will be 3 listening texts and 3 reading texts - but at HL, the listening texts will longer and the reading texts more challenging.

** The specifications for the length of the listening texts are as follows:-

SL - Text A = up to 2 min ... Text B = up to 3 min ... Text C = up to 4 min

HL - Text A = up to 3 min ... Text B = up to 4 min ... Text C = up to 5 min

** Notice the phrase "up to" - this necessarily means that the overall times allowed (SL = 45 mins; HL = 1hr) are maximum figures: in practice, the actual total time of the recording to be played is likely to be less than these, since the precise time of each of the texts will vary according to the edited length.

Listening: Issues about timing

'READING TIME' ... note that there are two periods of 'reading time' for the Listening Comprehension component:

5 minutes before the exam starts, i.e. before the recording is started

in this period, students can only read the paper, but cannot take notes, annotate, or do any form of writing

4 minutes within the exam itself, i.e. once the recording has been started

in this period, students can write, annotate, underline key words, etc

This adds up to a total of 9 minutes 'reading' - which seems a lot. However, note two reasonings behind the IB's decision:

(a) a 5 minute 'reading time' is standard practice in most Diploma exams; and (b) it may seem a lot for our generally competent English B students, but the level of proficiency may be lower in other Languages B and so IB feels it fair to give all students the best possible chance. (And, I suspect, there is a desire to be as generous as possible with the introduction of the new assessment system of Listening - in the future, it is possible that IB may feel that the 5 minute reading time is not necessary.)

'WHEN DOES THE EXAM END?' ... In the overall IB exam timetable, the Listening component is allocated 1 hour at HL and 45 minutes at SL. However, according to the planned time structure of the recordings stated in the User Guide (see below), on pages 10-11, there is "remaining time" after the cycle of listen-plus-answer has been completed for all three stimulus texts. This suggests that after the students have, in effect, completed answering the questions, they will have to wait 13 minutes 47 seconds at HL, and 5 minutes 47 seconds at SL, until the official end of the exam.

Is this "remaining time" mandatory?

In short, yes it is. This is stated explicitly in the FAQs document (see below), pages 3-4.

  • During the "remaining time", students can finish answering the questions, and can check their work.
  • "IB policy stipulates that no candidate is permitted to leave the examination room during the first hour or the final fifteen minutes of an examination. This rule applies to the listening examination."

Listening: Key documents

Listening comprehension: the 'user guide' - a comprehensive guide / set of instructions about the Listening element of Paper 2 was published in August 2019. It can be found by following these directions:

Programme Resource Centre > Diploma programme > Language Acquisition: Language B (first assessment 2020) > Assessment/General material > ‘Language acquisition listening comprehension examinations user guide

Listening comprehension FAQs - this document covers questions and concerns raised by the Listening procedure. It can be found by following these directions:

Programme Resource Centre > Diploma programme > Language Acquisition: Language B (first assessment 2020) > Assessment/General material > 'Language acquisition listening comprehension examinations: frequently asked questions'


I understand the following points about Paper 2:

  • This component is called 'Paper 2', but it is actually viewed as two separate papers, i.e. Listening and Reading, for IB administrative purposes. It has had to be categorised as one single paper in order to fit in with the allocation of examination time for Language B within the overall timetable of Diploma exams.
  • One consequence of this, I am given to understand, is that the two separate elements may be done in either order - i.e. Listening, then Reading OR Reading then Listening. Whichever order is chosen, question papers should be collected in at the end of the first time period, and question papers for the other element given out - the two elements should be treated as separate exams.
  • In fact, it is likely that the most sensible order to do the elements is #1 Listening, followed by #2 Reading. This is because the technical organisation of the Listening element is evidently more complicated than the Reading element, so best to set it up at the beginning.
  • My understanding is that standard IB exam procedure is that students should not be in the exam room while papers are being set out. Accordingly, students will need to leave the exam room after the Listening element, if you follow the order suggested above, and return as soon as the exam room is ready for the Reading component - and that means that (i) the Reading papers (Question paper and Text booklet) are laid out; and (ii) any equipment required for the Listening component has been cleared away (if, for example, students have been doing the Listening using individual laptops + headphones).

I emphasise that these are my personal understandings, and are not official IB instructions. It is essential that your IB Coordinator pays close attention to instructions supplied by the IB, especially near the time of the Paper. 


The Paper 2 Listening section, introduced

Here are summaries of what each page offers -


Listening question types ... a list of the question mechanisms that will be used in the Listening exam, with examples and explanations ...

+ Examples:  subordinate pages provide various examples of texts, which practice the various question types

Listening Tasks ... an index of links to various listening materials in pages around the site + subordinate pages: some pages specifically dedicated to practising listening

Listening exam #1 and Listening exam #2 ... full-scale HL Listening exams, written according to IB specifications, for use as Mock exams, and so on

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