How to prepare for the HKDSE English Listening exam

  • Don’t spend all your time revising for the reading and writing assessments; this overlooked section is just as important
  • Time management is essential, as is good note-taking skills and summary writing
Doris Wai |

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Like last year, this year's English HKDSE will consist of three parts instead of four.

As in 2020, this year’s DSE English exam will comprise only three papers. Kenneth Lau from Beacon College tells Young Post why Paper 3 (Listening and Integrated Skills) is possibly the most overlooked section, and how best to prepare for it.

Good time management is essential to acing this paper. Students often panic and spend unnecessary time pondering tasks while listening to something they may not really understand. That, added to the pressure of being bombarded by different types of text in the time given, can make it difficult to focus on the audio, which may lead to anxiety.

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But this reaction is usually due to a lack of preparation because students generally spend more time revising for reading and writing in Papers 1 and 2.

Lau says while all three papers are important, make special time to brush up on your pre-listening skills for Paper 3. When doing practice papers, start by answering the following questions: what is the role of the persona for whom you’re writing the task, what is the nature of their company or organisation, and what is the overall theme and topic.

“This helps to give you an idea about who is speaking, why and where. Once you’ve grasped the basics of the conversation and its context, it is easier to predict possible questions and answers,” he says.

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He points out that in Part A, the most challenging tasks are the sentence completion and question-and-answer ones. It is important to submit grammatically correct answers and correct spelling. If you are unsure how to spell a particular word, try using expressions with similar meanings.

Lau explains that context refers to the topic of the recording. For example, it might be about a talk, in which case there will usually be a guest speaker. Students can usually expect this to be a one-way conversation in which the goal is to deliver information from the speaker to the listeners. In this case, pay more attention to sequential words (eg “to begin”, “meanwhile”, “by this point”) and connective words such as “but”, “when”, “because” that point to key, different ideas in the talk.

Look for key words in the recording that will help you determine what type of conversation you're listening to.

On the other hand, if the audio revolves around a work meeting, you should look out for words and phrases like “I beg to differ” and “I’d go along with that”, depending on whether it is a debate (competitive, two-way conversation) or dialogue (a cooperative, two-way conversation) to get the general sense and direction of the conversation.

Lau adds that students tend to fumble with different sorts of reports, speeches and business correspondences. He brings up an example from 2018 in which Part B, Task 7 asked students to write a feedback report on a new game.

“Many went straight for a conventional formal business report even though the setting was a small board game company set up by some friends. In this case, the tone should not be overly formal. You can see why it pays to understand the context.”

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You can also avoid repeatedly going through the data file by skimming through the questions before the audio is played.

“You don’t have to read everything word for word. Skimming gives you an idea of the main topic and what to possibly listen for. Then read the situation again before listening to the audio. Again, getting the context right can save you valuable time in referring to unneeded sources in the data file.”

Lau says it’s important to remember that each piece of the data file is usually used only once, and you’re on the right track as long as you can relate bits of information in the data file to the correct task.

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Lastly, he gives some pointers for acing note-taking and summary-writing.

“Don’t be overwhelmed by the long conversation. Instead, isolate all the important points that are crucial to the objective of the task. Also, a summary needs to be concise, and that means there shouldn’t be any repetition even if the same points are mentioned several times.

“You can also skip supporting details such as examples and reasons,” he says. “Remember, the objective is to come up with an overview.”

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