Listening is the very first part of your EAL exam. It consists of two parts and accounts for 20% of the total exam marks. The listening task tests students on their understanding about the appropriate language used for different occasions and different audiences. It features a variety of both formal and informal interactions between friends, colleagues, family members, etc.
Therefore, students must demonstrate their knowledge of the Standard Australian English as well as how it is used by different people in daily life. Unlike the text response or language analysis component of the exam, the listening comprehension does not require students to write long responses with fancy vocabularies. Rather, students are expected to keep their answers concise and use words with accurate meaning in their explanation. While it may be overwhelming to gather all necessary information and familiarize yourself with different conventions of the English language, listening is a skill that can definitely be improved with practice. In this blog, I will guide you to ace your EAL listening by providing you with some fundamental skills and valuable tips that helped me to achieve a study score of 49 in EAL.
How to approach the task
Step 1: Read background information
Background information gives you an idea about the context of the talk. As you read through the background information, you can start anticipating the related topics, the tones used by speakers, and the way they communicate with each other. For example, if the conversation is between a student and a teacher, you can expect that the tones used would be courteous and instructional.
Step 2: Highlight key words in each question
It is critical that you understand the type of the question to ensure that you are answering what the question requires you to do. For example, if the question asks you “how” or “why” or to “explain” something, you need to make sure that you provide more detailed descriptions compared to the “what” or “list” type of questions. It is also helpful to look at the number of marks allocated for each question. Usually, 1-mark questions only require you to list whereas 2, 3, 4-mark questions would expect you to provide more details and explanations.
Step 3: Take notes
While some people like to answer straight away on the answer box as the task progresses, I would highly recommend you to start taking notes on the note section and write down your answers later. This would avoid missing out on key information and gives you an opportunity to give justifications where required. Note, however, that you only need to write down information that you think is significant or potential answer to the specific questions. It might be difficult to memorize what information would be important to note down. Hence, it is best that you read the questions for the listening part last in your reading time, after you read your text response prompt and language analysis text.
Step 4: Transfer your answer from your note
In this step, it is crucial that you are copying the information from the correct section. Read the question again to avoid misplacing the answer or providing insufficient details to questions that require you to provide reasons and explain.
Although it might be tempting to rush through the notes, it is very important that the note you wrote is readable. Practice writing notes quickly and use symbols instead of full sentences to help save time.
Words to describe tones and interactions
Learning adjectives to describe tones and interactions will not only be helpful for your listening task but also your text response and language analysis. Use a table to separate different tone words to describe positive, negative and neutral feelings. However, make sure that you are using the words correctly, otherwise, you will confuse the examiner and lose marks consequently. Below is a summary of words that I found can be used most frequently:
Know the difference between features of language and delivery
Some common delivery techniques are pauses, emphasis, backchanneling, etc, while the most common language technique that you can apply in almost any circumstances is connotations. However, whatever method you are using, make sure that you justify why that technique can create the intended effects. For example, the long pause by the speaker shows uncertainty and hesitation regarding the matter. Do not just quote the speaker without naming the specific language technique. If there is no other technique like rhetorical question or analogy or you are unsure about the name of the technique, you can use the phrase “words like …” or “adjectives like…” in your answer. Another point to note is that repetition can be both a delivery or language technique. If the repetition is deliberate, it is a language technique used to emphasize. However, if the repetition is not deliberate, it illustrates that the speaker might be nervous or unsure about the issue. You can find some helpful language and delivery techniques below:
Sample questions and answers
Give a word or phrase to show that the A admires B. (1 mark)
A describes the chance to meet B as “a privilege” to demonstrate her appreciation for B’s presence.
While it is not necessary to explain the meaning of the word “privilege”, it is a good habit to give a mini explanation for every answer as this will help you to secure the full marks (remember that the EAL listening task is marked globally, meaning how your answer looks compared with other students’ responses).
How do A and B feel about gift giving? In the table below provide evidence to support your response. (4 marks)
Double check if the quotes you have chosen best represent the feelings you have described. There can be many answers to such questions but the ones that best reflect the feelings you listed would ensure that you receive full marks.
Explain how A shows her support for B’s choice of gift. Give one example of language use and one example of delivery, which show her support.
- Language: Question: “What’s the problem?” to show her care and willingness to assist B.
- Delivery: Exuberant tone: “That sounds great!” to reassure B that he makes the right choice.
As I have suggested earlier, a justification for each technique of language or delivery is crucial especially for the “explain” type of questions. You can see that I have paraphrased the question in my answer. The question asked for A’s “support” for B so I used the verb “assist” and “reassure” in my answers. This will give the examiner an impression that you understand what the question is asking and you are directly responding to the question. Therefore, prepare yourself with a bank of synonyms as this will also be helpful when writing text responses and language analysis.
Every year, VCAA provides a report for the average mark for each question and the mistakes that they found occurred most frequently. This can be a valuable resource for you to avoid losing marks for questions you know the answers to but are unsure of how marks are allocated.
Wrong word forms
When describing the feeling of a person, students need to choose the correct form of words (eg: a person is “worried” not “worrying”. An interaction is “respectful” not “respect”)
Information from the wrong section
The EAL listening section on the 2022 exam included a discussion about the “Bring Your Pet to Work Day”. The speakers talked about both “pets” and “animals” which are two different things. Thus, students must be able to distinguish these distinct objects before proceeding to answer.
Using imprecise adjectives
While I mentioned that you do not need to choose the fanciest vocabularies for the listening task, you must ensure that you know different adjectives that best describe the actual feeling of the speaker. For example, “happy” is not a close adjective to describe someone who is “thrilled” or “very excited”. Similarly, a person may be “irritated” or “slightly annoyed” but not “angry” or “exasperated”. Different adjectives can describe different degrees of a feeling, therefore, practice using different adjectives in your answer to save time in the actual exam.
In this blog, I have gone through strategies to approach the task, tips, sample questions and answers and some common mistakes made by students in the listening task. I have included all the tips and tricks that I gathered through my experience as an EAL student. However, this can only be beneficial for you if you put it into practice. Like I said, your listening skills will definitely enhance as you practice more. I wish you all the best with your studies! Remember, the only important thing is that you can look back and say you tried your best! Thank you so much for reading this blog!
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