This week, Insight writer and EAL teacher Niki Cook gives tips and strategies for preparing for Section A of the EAL exam.
As we head towards end-of-year exams, it is easy to overlook the ‘Listening to texts’ section during exam preparation, particularly for students who are in a combined English/EAL class.
Today we’re focusing on strategies to help you prepare for Section A of the EAL exam, and to help you maximise your score in a section where there are designated marks for specific responses – a rarity in English exams!
Today’s tips are divided into two sections: strategies for general preparation, and strategies for effective time management in the exam.
General preparation and revision strategies
The main thing to focus on when you revise for Section A is preparing yourself for the types of questions you can expect and the types of answers you will need to give.
Identify frequently used key question words
Look carefully at the sample VCAA paper and past exams, and identify repeated question words and question types. You can find these papers, as well as exam specifications and examination reports, here:
You can also use commercial trial exam papers to help with this. Practise answering the common types of questions, particularly the multi-mark questions. Use the sample answers to help you understand the types of responses that examiners are seeking for each question type. (For past VCAA exams, answers to Section A questions are included in the examination report.)
Learn vocabulary to describe interactions
Typically, for at least one of the audio texts, there will be a question that asks you to describe the interaction between the speakers. Learn vocabulary for describing a range of interactions so that you are prepared for this. Words such as ‘friendly’, ‘polite’ or ‘respectful’ are examples that might suit positive interactions, whereas negative interactions could be described as ‘confrontational’ or ‘tense’.
There are also often questions on tone, so make sure you have vocabulary to describe different common tones. Pay particular attention to writing the correct word form – for example, ‘a sarcastic tone’, not ‘a sarcasm tone’.
Practise, practise, practise!
Practising listening for specific information under timed conditions is crucial for this task. Complete practice tasks regularly in the build-up to the exam. Even if you are doing this in class, you need to do similar tasks in your own time as well.
If you don’t have access to lots of exam-style practice tasks, work with a friend to develop your own. Write questions that are similar to VCAA ones for different texts, and then test each other to see if you can answer the questions. ABC radio is particularly useful for this, as transcripts of many of their radio segments can be found on the ABC website. Search ‘ABC radio transcripts’, select a clip of around five minutes, and then develop 10 marks’ worth of questions in the style of a VCAA exam.
Exam time-management strategies
You must plan how you will use your time in the exam itself. This is important advice for all sections of the exam, but particularly for the listening task. You know that it will be the section of the exam that you’ll complete first, and that you’ll have very limited time to use your pen before the first audio track begins. Therefore, you need a strategy that makes the best possible use of the reading time, and ensures that you clearly understand what information you are listening for.
Focus on the Section A questions in the final minutes of reading time. This will help ensure that the questions are fresh in your mind, right before the first playing of the audio material.
Don’t try to write down everything!
It can be tempting to try to take notes on everything that is said, but this is extremely difficult. It’s also hard to take in information about delivery if you’re just concentrating on what is said; you also need to listen for how it is said.
Use the one-minute break effectively
Avoid using the one-minute break to fill in your final answers – save that for the six-minute break at the end of the second playing. Instead, use symbols such as ✓ ? X to show what you know, what you aren’t sure about and what you still need to find out.
- If you are confident that you have noted down the correct answer to a question, put a large tick next to it in pencil.
- If you aren’t sure, or want to double-check an answer, put a question mark next to it.
- If you still need to find the answer, put a cross.
This gives you a set of visual reminders of the information you need to focus on when you listen to the second playing of the material. You can erase the symbols once you’ve finalised your answers.
Once you’re done – move on!
Remember that once you’re confident that you’ve answered the questions as well as you can, you need to move on to the next part of the exam. This means that after you’ve written your answers for Text 1, move on to identifying key words in the questions for Text 2 so that you are ready for the first playing of that material. Then, when you’ve finished with Text 2, move on to the rest of the exam – there’s no need to wait for the announcement at the end of the audio track if you finish before this, as every minute in the exam is vital.
Use your trial exam to refine your approach
It’s likely that you’ll have at least one trial exam in the coming weeks. This is a valuable chance to identify areas of strength and areas for further revision. It’s also a chance to refine your time-management strategy. After you complete your trial exam, reflect on how things went. Did your approach help you to answer the questions? Were there things that confused you? Could you have done things better? It is, however, important to focus this reflection on strategies, rather than the content of the exam – you can control your approach, but you can’t control the content!
Need help preparing for the listening task on the EAL exam? Make sure you purchase Insight’s EAL Listening Practice Student Collections. Each collection includes five original audio texts with exam-style questions, mark allocations and sample responses for all questions to make sure you’re ready to tackle Section A of the VCE EAL exam.
Insight EAL Listening Practice Student Collections are produced by Insight Publications, an independent Australian educational publisher.
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