This guide explains the format of the OET Listening test and suggests techniques to help you to deal with the particular challenges of each part.
The OET Listening Sub-test
The listening sub-test consists of 42 questions in three parts. You are tested on a range of listening and language skills, including prediction, recognising synonyms and paraphrases, identifying specific details and interpreting overall meaning. The listening sub-test is the same for all 12 professions, and it is not necessary to have specialist knowledge about the subjects of the dialogues.
Listening Part A
The first part of the sub-test lasts about 15 minutes in total and contains 24 questions, 12 for each of the two dialogues, which are consultations between health professionals and patients. There is only one question type: completing the practitioner’s notes using words or short phrases from the recording.
The first thing you should do is use the 30-second pause before each dialogue to examine the incomplete notes. You can employ two prediction techniques here: structure and content. Structure prediction involves using the grammar of the notes to predict the type of word that will fill the gap. For example, your existing knowledge of English will tell you that a preposition is followed by a noun, so a gap after suffers from requires a noun or noun phrase. This is also an opportunity to use content prediction, in which you focus on the meaning of the words around the gaps to come to logical conclusions about what the answers will be. In this case, suffers from will almost certainly be followed by the name of a disease or other condition.
The words that fill the gaps are taken directly from the dialogues, so there is no need to transform words to make them fit. However, the language before and after the gaps is not usually the same as the recording, so you need to use your knowledge of synonyms and paraphrasing to recognise when the speakers are discussing the subject of the answer. So, while the notes might refer to oral medication, the patient might say pills or tablets, or you might read inability to ______ and hear the patient say I can’t ….
You will hear the answers in the same order as they are printed on the question paper, so you should follow the notes closely as you listen. You will be helped by the fact that the notes are organised into sections with headings and subheadings, so a section called Medical history might contain subsections called Medication and Surgical history. Pay particular attention to the speakers’ use of intonation, pauses and signposting words to identify a change of subject. In this example, the doctor might pause before saying Now, let’s talk about any operations you’ve had. This tells you that you need to focus on the Surgical history subsection.
Finally, don’t worry too much about accurate spelling, as this is not one of the criteria for a correct answer in Part A. Spelling errors are acceptable as long as your meaning is clear.
Listening Part B
In Part B, you will hear six recordings involving medical professionals, each 40 to 60 seconds long. There is one multiple choice question for each dialogue, with three possible answers.
As in Part A, you should use the pause before each recording – 15 seconds in this case – to prepare for what you will hear. Identify the key words in the question and each answer to help you focus. For example, if the question is Which technique does the surgeon recommend?, listen for the language of recommendation, such as I think it’s best to… or I would suggest… . Then focus on the meaning of each answer and be prepared to recognise synonyms for the key words here as well.
You will need to use various techniques to succeed in Part B. Some questions require you to understand the overall meaning or purpose of the dialogue, while others depend on picking up specific information. In all cases, however, you shouldn’t expect to hear the exact words used in the questions or answers in the recordings – being aware of synonyms and paraphrasing is crucial here, just as it is in Part A. The dialogue is likely to contain references to all three answers, so you will have to listen carefully to identify the answer that fits completely, rather than simply recognising key words.
Listening Part C
The final part of the listening sub-test lasts around 15 minutes, and you will hear two recordings of healthcare professionals, which could be solo presentations or interviews. There are 12 questions and, as in Part B, you need to choose from three possible answers.
Once again, it’s very important to make good use of the pause before each recording. In Part C, you have 90 seconds to look at the questions for each section before you listen. Use this time to establish the main idea in each question and underline key words in the question and the answers.
Part C tests your ability to interpret a speaker’s intention or point of view, so you need to listen for gist rather than detail. Synonyms and paraphrasing are still important, but instead of focusing on facts and figures, you should look for comparisons, opinions, emphasis and connections between cause and effect.
Once each dialogue starts, there will be no gaps in the recording. This makes it especially important to notice when the speaker is moving on to a new topic. As in Part A, you will need to be aware of the way they speak as well as the words they say. A pause, a stressed word or a signposting expression like So, Now or Well will often indicate a new subject. If you are listening to an interview, the interviewer’s questions will tell you what is about to be discussed.
One last thing to remember is that in Parts B and C you need to use a 2B pencil to mark your answers. You must remember to bring a pencil (or two) with you, as your testing centre is not obliged to provide one for you. Parts B and C are scored by a computer, so clearly fill in the circle next to your chosen answer and if you change your mind, completely erase any other marks to avoid losing points. And of course, make sure that you give an answer to every question, even if it’s a guess – any answer is better than no answer.