Listening exam

The listening exam is different to the one at GCSE as you are in total control of your own personal device so you can listen to the extract as many times as you like and fast-forward, rewind and pause all when you need to.

This section’s got all the info you need to fly through the listening, we've got it all covered; the exam format, revision, what to do in the exam and some lovely listening links.

Exam format

The listening assessment is part of the reading and writing paper and you’re advised to spend between 30 and 40 minutes on it. The total audio length is between 5 and 6 minutes but you don’t have to listen to it all at once! With the recording under your control (as you have your own personal device) you can listen as many times as you like to pick out all the details and information that is required. Be careful though as you can easily overrun on your advisory time for the section and not leave enough time for the reading and writing parts. If you think you might overrun, you can always come back to the listening section if you have time at the end. You may need to answer in English and the foreign language so read the paper instructions carefully and make sure you answer in the right one at the right time.

The listening exam grades you on the content that you include as well as the quality of your language. Depending on your exam board you may only have a listening exam at AS and not A2 or for both-ask your teacher if you’re not sure. 


The key to improving your listening is to listen to authentic material; things that have been recorded/produced by native speakers. Listen a few times as it gets easier to understand each time so keep at it. In the exam you may hear different accents, male and female voices and recordings that have background noises. Listening to different sources will tune your ears to pick up information no matter how it is presented.

Handy hint:

”When you practise your listening, make sure the environment around you is nice and quiet - things sink in much easier when they’re the only thing to concentrate on.”

Here are just a few ideas on what you could listen to and do to make sure it’s an active activity:

  • Work through past papers with the recordings at home to get to grips with the layout, difficulty and timing of the listening section and extracts.
  • Listen for a purpose - stop yourself daydreaming by setting a target of something in particular to listen out for or questions to answer afterwards.
  • Listen to music in the language and look up the lyrics online so you can follow along. This is great for improving listening and reading skills.
  • Share and share alike - anything that you’ve found useful for listening means your mates will probably like them too, so tell them about it!
  • Many radio stations are available to listen to online. This gives you the chance to hear what sort of music is played in that country or which games they play with listeners.
  • Use YouTube to find videos in the foreign language, check out the videos in ‘suggestions’ too.
  • Watch films produced in a country that speaks your language. Alternatively, DVDs often come with different options for audio and subtitles-try putting both in the foreign language. This way you listen and read so you see the spelling, hear the pronunciation and learn the meaning all at the same time.
  • Listen to audio magazines and podcasts (including video ones). Look at the useful links to find great ones for your language.
  • Practice listening to numbers. Exams love to have questions that test you on your number skills (dates, statistics, years) so brush up on them so you don’t get caught out.

And finally...when you’re practising your listening, make sure the environment around you is nice and quiet - things sink in much easier when they’re the only thing to concentrate on. Don’t panic if you don’t understand everything! If there was no challenge it would just be boring. Take your time to listen over as many times as you need and every time you’ll be one step closer to understanding everything said.

In the exam

Here’s a mini timeline of what to do in the listening part:

Exam tip:

”Listen to the text and read the questions - this gives you an idea of what’s on the tape and which questions fit where.”

  • Remember to take in your personal device if your school doesn’t supply one.
  • Have a play round so you know how to use all the buttons - especially the rewind to be time efficient.
  • Listen to the text and read the questions - this gives you an idea of what’s on the tape and which questions fit where.
  • Start answering. Once you’ve listened all the way through you can start answering. Don’t forget to make the most of being in control; listen as many times as you need.
  • If you don’t understand some of the audio, listen again. 9 times out of 10 you’ll recognise a word once you’ve heard it a few more times so don’t give up the first time you hear it.
  • Answer the questions correctly! Use the correct language and give all the info required.
  • Check! You’re used to doing this by now, but don’t forget to read through, listen again and check all your answers at the end.

French weblinks

Radio France produces lots of podcasts, using material taken from its broadcast shows.

The VERBcast is a great podcast for brushing up on verbs and tenses.

CERIMES has over 200 documentary-type films online - most are about the sciences, but there are a few for the arts, history, geography and social sciences.

RFI is a French radio station which produces lots of resources for learners of French. You can watch a news clip and answer questions afterwards. It’s great because the material is authentic.

Le journal en français facile is an easy and painless way to improve your listening skills. 10 minutes of the news in "easy" French, every weekday, at 8.30am and 8.30pm (UK time), with transcripts and exercises. Plus, you can download the morning version as a podcast.
Download the nightly news from TF1 as a podcast. The newsreaders do speak quite fast but there’s no reason not to give yourselves a bit of a challenge.

Francais Extra is a great site for interactive vocab learning, videos and grammar.

TV5 is the website of a popular TV channel and has lots of exercises and videos aimed at language learners to help them improve.

Ma France is a series of videos produced by the BBC covering a range of topics and it’s great for learning new vocab as the videos all have English subtitles.

BBC Cool French is awesome for picking up french slang and hearing how to pronounce it. Be careful though, not all of it is suitable for your oral exam but it’ll help you no end if you go to France!

German weblinks

Hoergold is a German audiobook company that provides free mp3 clips on its website.

BBC Cool German has fab audio clips and exercises all about the young people in Germany.

Ehrensenf is an online TV programme with funny, short news in German, presented by young people and based on interesting and curious websites.

Planet Schule has loads of wicked films covering A-level topics so is a great revision tool!

Tages Schau is a famous news programme in Germany and here you can download podcasts, read blogs and watch online video news.

Sprach Zeitungen is a monthly magazine which gives learners of German newspaper articles, vocab lists and language exercises.

Spanish weblinks

BBC Mundo has daily podcasts that you can subscribe to which are about 10 mins long. With reporters from all over the Spanish speaking world, you’ll get used to picking out words and info no matter what the accent may be.

El Mensual is a great learning resource - there are listening exercises and reading comprehensions and the topics featured are similar and relevant to what you’re learning in class. This is a perfect way to pick up some new words and improve your listening and reading skills. You can work your way through the exercises by topic focus or language focus which is excellent news if you know you need to work on something in particular.

Español Extra - this website used to be free in my day, but you can still download some free resources. There are podcasts to download; worksheets to fill in for reading, writing and listening; games; crosswords; tests; key vocab lists (Spanish-English) on topics you’ll cover in class. It’s quite a useful website really.

Spanish Language Resources  has song lyrics that you can download - you just need to youtube/spotify the song itself and you have a quick and easy listening revision resource at the click of a mouse.

BBC Languages have loads of listening exercises with subtitles in English and Spanish to help you really get to grips with the Spanish accents.

Notes in Spanish is a great podcast which you can listen to on the website or download it to your computer.

Audira is a podcast covering lots of cultural topics as well as grammar.