CAE or the Certificate in Advanced English is a general English qualification provided by Cambridge Assessment English. Designed to test English usage in real-life situations, this qualification is often used to prove English proficiency for university admission and immigration purposes. The test consists of four sections: Reading and Use of English, Writing, Listening, Speaking.

CAE Listening Overview

The CAE Listening test is approximately 40 minutes long and evaluates the candidate’s listening abilities in a variety of real-life scenarios.  The test may be taken either by computer or on paper and involves listening to a recording and answering questions based on what was heard. The listening test can be very challenging, so it is important to prepare for it by improving your listening skills and practicing answering the type of questions that you will face.  Fortunately, unlike other English tests, the recordings are played twice, but you still need to listen carefully in order to correctly respond to the questions. The CAE listening test is divided into four parts.


Part 1

In Part 1 of CAE Listening, you will hear three short recordings of conversations.  For each conversation, you will have to answer two multiple-choice questions, making for a total of six questions for this section. You can expect to be asked about the gist, or the main point, of the conversation. Here, it is important to listen carefully in order to understand what the main topic really is, as the available choices may confuse you. You may be asked about specific details in the conversation.  Reading the questions and answers is vital as you will discover what information you should look out for.

You may also be asked about a person’s attitude or whether the two people agree or disagree. This may not be explicitly stated but expressed indirectly in the conversation.  In the first part of the CAE Listening, you will have to demonstrate your ability to understand the meaning of common English expressions and phrases.  You may be asked about the emotions that a person has towards something. You may also have to show your understanding of the steps by which a process or function takes place based on what was said.

A great way to prepare for this test is to listen to as many English conversations as you can, for example on TV or radio.


Part 2

This section of the CAE Listening involves listening to a speech of around 3 minutes and finding the correct word or phrase to complete a sentence. You will have to fill in the gaps in 8 sentences.  As in the other sections, it is important to read ahead so that you know what kind of information to look out for.

You can also improve your chances of success by crossing out the answers which are unlikely to be applicable.  You can do this by identifying the overall theme of the monologue that you will hear, which you can do by going over the headline and sentences that you must complete.  Once you shorten the list of likely answers, it will be easier for you to find the correct one.


Part 3

In Part 3 of CAE Listening, you will have to listen to a longer interview or discussion, usually among 3 or more people. This can be up to 4 minutes in length.  This section can be difficult for candidates as it’s the longest part of the CAE, but usefully the questions are asked in the same order that the conversation takes place. You will then have to answer six multiple-choice questions that will test your ability to understand the gist and details of the conversation along with the feelings and opinions of the participants.

Many of the questions will focus on your ability to use words with similar meanings or to use different phrases to express the same meaning. In CAE Listening, You will be expected to demonstrate your understanding of the different speakers’ opinions and feelings. It is important to develop your vocabulary so that you understand the meaning of words that describe attitudes, emotions, and degree of certainty. You must also be familiar with the expressions that English speakers typically use to voice their opinions.


Part 4

This section of the test is often the toughest.  You will hear five short monologues and will have to answer ten questions.  These questions are divided into two parts.  You will be given lists, which you will have to match with what the speakers are saying.  For example, you may be given a list of reasons that people left their jobs.  You will have to match the speaker with the reason given.

In this part of the CAE Listening Test, it is particularly important to read ahead so that you know what type of information to watch out for.  Furthermore, the answers given will not be identical to what is being said but will express the idea in different ways.  As you will only be able to listen to the recording twice, you must be prepared so that you know what to expect.

After part 4 is completed, you have 5 minutes to write down your answers on the answer sheet.  Make sure that you input the correct answers to the questions as it is easy to start writing down the answers in the wrong order.  Also if you don’t know the answer, make a guess as you will not be penalized for giving the wrong answer.

As the recording is played twice, some candidates prefer to devote their time to answering two parts during the first playing and the other two during the second playing.  This is up to your preference, although Cambridge University has done a study on this and noted that this method has the same efficiency as answering all the parts the first time and checking your answers during the second.

A common pitfall that you should watch out for in CAE Listening is misdirection.  You will be presented with very similar answers that may appear to be correct, but on careful reading, it will become apparent that in many answers, there is a small error.  In order to be successful in this exam, you must be familiar with the exact meaning of the words and expressions you encounter.


I hope that this article on the CAE Listening test was helpful. Make sure to also check out the Available Programs for International Students!