For the first time in May 2020 the students of Language B, either for Spanish but also for any other language, will take an exam on listening comprehension as part of the external evaluation of receptive skills. This article is aimed at teachers but also at students that are going to take soon the new examination of Spanish B according to the new specifications that started being taught in 2018.
The fact of having an extra examination with no previous experiences and no past papers to practice, the listening comprehension paper, is really stressing students. Even some of them are panicking! But teachers as well have more difficulties to prepare their lessons and include an extra skill to develop and improve in their students in the same amount of hours of teaching and learning than before.
The good new for the students is that the exam is not very difficult –trust us-, and here we will give you some tips to achieve more marks during the exams. For the teachers, here we mention some resources to practice during the lessons that will finally help you to better train the students. For both of them we also analyse on detail the characteristics of the exam.
As the main fact, the listening comprehension paper will account for 25% of the total grade of the student, so let’s take it seriously ;)
What are the different parts of the listening comprehension paper of Spanish B and its main characteristics?
In both Standard Level (SL) and Higher Level (HL) the exam is made up of three different texts related to the five themes worked along the two years Spanish B preparation. Then, the main differences between SL and HL are the grade of difficulty of the texts, as well as the final length of the listening passages and consequently the exam.
Here we summarize the characteristics of each of the texts and questions of the specimen paper for both, SL and HL papers. So if you don’t have it or you don’t want to listen to the complete audio passages, here you have an in-depth description of it.
Texts and questions of the SL listening comprehension paper are:
Text A (SL): questions 1 to 5: the audio corresponds to a message where only one person speaks and five multiple answer questions with three options are provided.
Text B (SL): the audio is divided in two parts, with only one person speaking in each of them –the person speaking in the first part is different to the one that does it in the second. Questions 6 to 10 ask the student to complete the gaps provided with no more that three words according to the first part of the audio. Focusing on the second part of the audio questions 11 to 15 are again multiple answer questions with three possible options.
Text C (SL): the listening passage is again divided into two parts. In the first part only one person speaking presents the coming interview of part 2. Question 16, where the student needs to pick three true sentences from a pool of six, corresponds to the first part of presentation of the interview. Questions 17 to 22, where open questions are to be answered by the candidate, correspond to the second part of the audio file, the interview.
Texts and questions of the HL listening comprehension paper are:
Text A (HL): questions 1 to 5: the audio has the same characteristics of the Text C of SL, an interview to an expert that is first introduce by the person that later does the questions. In fact in the specimen paper the audio file is same for Text C of SL and Text A of HL. The difference is that in the case of the HL paper the five questions are multiple answer questions with three options provided.
Text B (HL): the audio passage corresponds to a news report divided in two sections, each of them reported by only one person. Questions 6 to 10 ask the student to complete the gaps provided with no more than three words, and all of them refer to information in the first part of the audio. Question 11, focusing on the information of second part, demands the student to pick five true sentences from a pool of ten.
Text C (HL): a debate in presented in first place, and in the second part of the audio this debate takes place between the presenter and two experts, so a total of three people speaks in this second part. Questions 12 to 15 are open questions to be answered by the student according to the presentation of the debate, while questions 16 to 21 demand the student to decide which of the participants in the debate declares the sentence provided during the second part of the audio file, the debate itself.
Tips for candidates to better answer the questions and increase the rate of success
1. In first place it is essential to know very well the parts of the paper, and of course the type of texts in each of them and the questions related to it. This is what we have accurately described above, so read it again if you still don’t have a whole and clear idea about it.
2. Study vocabulary and don’t keep it just ‘enough’. Maybe selecting limited sets of smart and impressive vocabulary for each of the topics you can be asked to write about in the written exam is more than enough for getting a good mark on it, but this may not be the same for the listening paper. A non-native speaker will (almost) never recognise neither guess the meaning of words he/she does not know, and this is the main handicap to listening comprehension.
3. Once in the exam, get the most from the time you have to read the questions between the instruction of the task and the listening of audio passage. As in the reading paper many of the questions are based on the use of synonyms, so try to figure out how the same information in the sentences provided, for example in a multiple answer questions, can be formulated with different words or synonyms. For example, conocer a alguien cara a cara is the same as conocer a alguien en persona, or tener ganas de algo is a synonym expression of tener ilusión por algo.
4. During the same time you can start doubting about the extremist or radical options. These are the ones containing words like solo (only), siempre (always), inevitablemente (inevitably), nunca (never), exclusivamente (exclusively), únicamente (just or only), and so on. Although you need to double check while listening, this type of statements that do not accept any exceptions are generally false.
5. In all cases in the paper and with no exceptions, the information in the audio file is mentioned in the same order that in provided in the questions. That means, for example, that the information related to the five multiple answer questions of Text A of either SL or HL are mentioned by the speaker one after the other; so if you miss one, go ahead for the next questions and do not keep behind, you’ll had a second listening opportunity to catch up! More interestingly, also for the questions where a selection of true statements have to be picked from a pool, the audio file will refer to all of the statements in same order, sometimes reinforcing the statement that is true that you have to pick up then, and other times reformulating it and changing the meaning so it’s false; but always in same order as provided in the paper. It even applies for the debate between three people in the Text C of the HL paper, so it’s not so difficult to follow! Remember, all the information in each of the questions of the exam is mentioned always in same order in the audio file.
6. For these tasks where two different types of questions are asked, also two easily recognizable parts of the audio exist, either because two different people speak in each of the separated parts, or because there is a previous presentation of the interview or the debate that constitutes the second part of the audio passage. In these tasks switch immediately from one type of questions to the other while in the exam even though you have not answered the previous ones. Again you will listen to the audio file a second time.
7. Finally, for the open questions and following the guidelines of the mark scheme, no whole answers are needed to get the mark, that is no conjugated verb in necessary and just a keyword or keywords are enough. For example, if the question is ¿Cómo se comunican más frecuentemente los jóvenes hoy en día? just answering Por las redes sociales is enough, and no need to write Los adolescentes usan normalmente las redes sociales para comunicarse as it is literally said in the audio. Do not waste your time and energy during the exam for writing whole and correct sentences since less is good enough.
Being a teacher, what resources can I use to train my students for the listening comprehension paper of Spanish B?
This is one of the main difficulties teachers are facing since not many books working the Spanish B subject of the IBDP have updated editions, so they do not provided listening comprehension activities. One of the very few exceptions is Diverso Español B, a method specially designed for Spanish B students that works the topics proposed by IB at the appropriate level of language, although probably the activities are not exactly in the same format as those in the listening comprehension paper analysed previously. Even though, using the activities provided in the book along the two years preparation yes will help students to develop strategies for a better listening experience.
The fact that many of the topics of Spanish B are shared with the curriculum of British A-levels opens the option of using some of the activities of past papers of this curriculum for preparing the IBDP students. Edexcel and AQA papers, in contrast to Cambridge International Examinations (CIE), include a listening comprehension paper, either in AS or A2 subjects.
AQA A-levels Spanish papers propose: a) multiple answer questions with three possible options, b) open questions, and c) selection of the true statements from a pool of sentences questions.
Edexcel A-levels Spanish papers from 2017 to 2019 include: a) multiple answer questions with four possible options instead of three, as well as b) open questions. In case of older past papers from 2009 to 2016 they contain: a) multiple answer questions also with four possible options, b) open questions, and c) selection of the true statements from a pool of sentences questions.
With small variations, like the number of possible answers in multiple answer questions or the type of text, speech instead of interview for example, these exercises are similar to those in the new designed Spanish B listening comprehension paper. Also, before using them, make sure the information in the questions appears in same order as in the audio file and, in case it does not, just change and adapt the order of the questions before practicing.
As the last option DELE B1, the official certificate of Spanish according to the Common European Framework for Languages (CEFR), can be a useful source of oral texts on topics covered by Spanish B subject. In that case materials designed for the exam preparation should be searched and adapted, existing many publishing groups that have developed this kind of products.
Last tip for including listening comprehension practice during the Spanish lessons
Many times we as teachers are pushed to get the better results from our group of candidates. This makes us sometimes to forget that the lessons are a safe place for our students to learn and develop strategies, in this case to listen Spanish better that is understand more oral Spanish. If we forget this, we will transform our listening practices during lessons on another evaluation praxis that will put more pressure on our students, who will just realised how difficult it is to improve the listening skill of a foreign language and finally collapse. So please, let’s focus on helping our pupils to develop strategies through preparing them before the listening practice and providing them tools to improve their results. Also reflection activities after the practice are needed to share the difficulties found and to think about how these can be bypassed next time.
Diverso Español B: https://ele.sgel.es/ficha_material.asp?id=2453
AQA A level Spanish: https://www.aqa.org.uk/subjects/languages/as-and-a-level/spanish-7692
Edexcel A level Spanish: https://qualifications.pearson.com/en/qualifications/edexcel-a-levels/spanish-2016.html