So, you’re preparing to take the Cambridge B2 First Exam (FCE). You’ve been studying for each of the four sections; reading, writing, speaking and listening. They all have their challenges – but listening is tricky. You never know what people are going to say – and you’re a little stressed that you might not understand things the first time.

We want to help you feel more confident and relaxed – In this blog post, we are going to focus on how to get the best score possible in the listening section of the B2 First.


What is the B2 First listening test like?

There are four parts in the listening test. In total it will take about 40 minutes to complete. You will always hear each recording twice and these can be on a variety of everyday topics, such as travel, the weather and entertainment.

Keep reading to see some tips and tricks for each part of the B2 First listening test.


Part 1: Multiple Choice

In Part 1, you will listen to 8 short unrelated recordings and answer a multiple-choice question about each one. The recordings are either brief monologues, which means only one person is talking, or a conversation between two people. They usually talk about everyday situations like work and hobbies. Or you might hear dialogues where the speakers give their opinion on something, such as a restaurant or music concert.

In each question, there are 3 answers to choose from and you should choose only one. In this part of the exam, you will hear each extract twice before moving on to the next question.

Here is an example of a part 1 question:

Part1 Multiple Choice | How to get a high score in the B2 First Listening Test | Oxford House Barcelona

Cambridge English: B2 First Listening Sample Test 1(zip)

The first thing you should do is read the question and answers carefully and underline the key words. In the example above, the key words are “confirm,” “issue an invitation” and “persuade.” These will tell you what to focus on while listening.

Now here comes the tricky part. The recording will never contain these words exactly, instead, they will use synonyms or different phrases to say the same thing.

For instance, you might hear something like:

“Hi James! Just calling to check that we’re still meeting for lunch on Friday. Looking forward to seeing you!” This is a confirmation of an arrangement but it doesn’t use any of those words.

Another thing to look out for is distractors. Often, the recordings will try to trick you by saying things that are almost the same as one of the answers, but not quite. Here’s an example, “I just got your invitation in the mail, unfortunately, there will be an issue with timings and I won’t be able to come.” In this recording, both the words “invitation” and “issue” are used, but in a different context. The answer to the question means to invite someone, but the recording shows someone declining an invitation. Tricky, right?

Tips for B2 Listening Part 1:

1. Read the questions and answers very carefully and start thinking about possible synonyms of the key words before you listen.

2. Listen to the whole recording before making a decision, often it will contain distractor words that can throw you off.

3. Use the second listening to check your answer. You can do this by crossing out the wrong answers to be perfectly sure you’ve chosen the right one.


Part 2: Sentence Completion

In this part of the Listening test, you have 10 questions to complete while listening to a longer monologue. These could be in the style of a radio broadcast, a travel programme or classroom presentation.

In this task, your job is to fill in the missing words in a sentence. Each gap can represent one, two or three words. In fact, they can even be numbers, such as a percentage or a year.

The missing words should be exactly what you hear in the tape – but the rest of the sentence is not. What is written in the exam paper will be a paraphrase of the recording.

Let’s look at an example of a part 2 question below.

Part 2 Sentence Completion | How to get a high score in the B2 First Listening Test | Oxford House Barcelona

Cambridge English: B2 First Listening Sample Test 1(zip)

This is what you might hear, “Not only is the bear’s face covered in stripes, it also has them on its stomach.”

The answer to the question is the word “stomach.” However, instead of eyes and cheeks, the recording used “face” and instead of markings, “stripes”.

Like part 1, it is very important to read the questions carefully and predict the synonyms that you may hear. But here are some extra tips for this part of the listening test.

Tips for B2 Listening Part 2:

1. Stay organised. The questions are in chronological order, which means the answer to question 2 will never be before the answer to question 1. This can help you to mentally break down the longer recording into smaller pieces.

2. Predict the answer. Sometimes this can be easy, like the example above. We know that the word is going to be a noun because of the possessive pronoun “its” before the gap, and we can also guess that it’s going to be a body part like eyes, or cheeks, because of the phrase “as well as”. It won’t always be simple, but most of the time you will be able to decide if the missing word is a verb or a noun and this can help you to focus during the recording.

3. This ties into the next tip; make sure what you write is grammatically correct. Does it need a third person “s”? Does it need an article like “a” or “the”?

4. Watch your spelling. Write in capital letters to make sure your writing is easy to read, and if the answer is a number, then make your life easier and write it as a number! Don’t risk spelling “two thousand three hundred and forty pounds” wrong when you can just write “£2340”!


Part 3: Multiple Matching

Buckle up and get ready for part 3. This time, you have five monologues on an everyday theme e.g. sharing experiences of a holiday. There are five speakers, but eight possible answers. So after matching each speaker, you will have three unused answers left over.

Below is an extract from a part 3 question. Like the previous parts, the recordings contain words and phrases to trip you up, e.g. “I thought I would be really impressed by the modern public transport, but in reality, the best thing about the train were the truly spectacular views.”

The monologues are longer than this, and often contain key words from several of the answers. So it’s really important to listen carefully and wait till the end of each speaker’s recording before locking in your choice.

Part3 Multiple Matching | How to get a high score in the B2 First Listening Test | Oxford House Barcelona

Cambridge English: B2 First Listening Sample Test 1(zip)

Tips for B2 Listening Part 3:

Make sure you consider these points when tackling a part 3 question:

1. Read each question carefully before the listening starts. This is because the recordings are in no particular order and recognising the key words will help you to find the correct answer.

2. During the first listening, write all the possible answers next to each speaker. You can check these during the second listening.

3. Pay attention to the use of contrast linkers like “but”, “however”, “despite” and “although”, as these completely change the overall meaning of the sentence.


Part 4: Multiple Choice

Multiple choice again? Yes. But this time it’s a bit different. Instead of short recordings, it’s one long dialogue, that is, a conversation between two people. It could be an interview or a phone call, for example. There are seven questions to answer in this part of the test.

Part4 Multiple Choice | How to get a high score in the B2 First Listening Test | Oxford House Barcelona

Cambridge English: B2 First Listening Sample Test 1(zip)

Tips for B2 Listening Part 4:

1. Look out for signposting language, e.g. “moving on to the next point” which can help you to notice when the speaker will answer the following question. (As with part 2, the questions are in chronological order, so you can answer one at a time).

2. Choose the best answer. Looking at the example above; the question says, “the most common reason”. This means that the recording could mention all the answers, but you have to choose the one that is the closest match. You might hear something like this, “There are several reasons why a gallery won’t show the work of an artist. It could be that the topic is of a sensitive nature and may offend some people, or that the work looks cheap. More often than not, it’s down to the personal preference of who is in charge.”

You can see here, the question paraphrases the recording, and the answer is C because of the phrase “More often than not” which means most commonly.


More listening test tips

Now that you have a good idea of what each part of the listening test looks like, here are some additional ways to brush up on your exam technique.

Focus on learning common exam vocabulary. Most of the listening recordings will be on a familiar everyday topic e.g. education, work, the environment and hobbies. If you know a word already, it will be much easier to recognise it and understand the meaning in a listening exercise.

Do lots of exam practice. There are many B2 First listening websites and textbooks available. You know what they say, practise makes perfect.

Once you’ve finished an exercise, read through the transcripts, you’ll be able to see where the answers are and it’s a great way to learn new vocabulary and phrases. Another thing is to check why a wrong answer is wrong. The answer is usually a tiny detail like the word “not” which is very easy to miss when you’re listening.

In the real exam, you’ll have 5 minutes at the end to transfer your answers to the answer sheet. Make sure you do this accurately and remember to always put an answer, never leave it blank – you could get it right!


Improving your general listening skills

1. Nailing the exam technique is only one part of the process, you should also work on improving your general listening and vocabulary when it comes to preparing for B2 First.

2. Although watching movies and TV series can be a great way to improve your English, podcasts are even better for listening practice because you won’t have videos or subtitles to rely on.

3. Get used to different accents. English is spoken all over the world, and it doesn’t always sound the same. Youtube videos are a good way to listen to a variety of accents.

4. Watching talk shows and interviews are useful for listening to multiple speakers.

5. TED talks can give you the opportunity to practice listening to longer monologues. You can even use the transcript to follow along while the speaker is talking. This is called “shadowing” and it’s great for learning new vocabulary.

There you have it, lots of pointers to help you ace the FCE listening test. Of course, the listening test only counts for 20% of the FCE, there are three other tests – the speaking, reading and writing tests. You can check out how to get top marks in the speaking test, and top tips for part 1 of the writing test.

At Oxford House this summer we are running intensive Cambridge English courses, which are one of the best ways to get ready for an exam. Click here to sign up!

And we also run intensive Cambridge English courses during the school year. Check it out!

Glossary for Language Learners


Find the following words in the article and then write down any new ones you didn’t know.

Distractors (n): an incorrect answer designed to trick you.

To throw someone off (pv): to distract someone.

To paraphrase (v): to use different words to say the same thing.

To buckle up (pv): to get ready for something.

To trip someone up (pv): to trick someone.

To lock in (pv): to make a decision.

To tackle (v): to face a problem.

To brush up on (pv): to review.

To nail something (exp): to do really well.

To give pointers (exp): to give advice.

To ace something (exp): to do really well.


n = noun

pv = phrasal verb

v = verb

exp = expression

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