YLE Prep: Listening

Cambridge English: Young Learners English

The Cambridge Assessment English: Young Learners exams are broken up into three sections: Listening, Reading & Writing, and Speaking. This article will cover some tips on how to prepare your students for various tasks in the the Listening sections for each level of the YLEs.

You can check out samples of the exams at the Starters, Movers, and Flyers levels here, here, and here, respectively.

Block Out the Filler

The audio for some of these tasks is written as a dialog, and thus emulates natural speech. That means there are some words used that aren’t important to the answers. Here’s a bit of dialog for a picture with the names of people above and below, for which students need to draw lines from a name to the correct person in the image:

“That’s a cool bike!”

“Yes, that’s Kate’s new bike.”

“Is Kate the girl in the blue sweater?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

There are 20 words in this exchange, but students only need to know 3 pieces of information: bike, Kate, and blue sweater (and maybe girl as a fourth bit of info). If students only catch these three bits of information, the can draw a line from the word “Kate” to the girl in the picture with a blue sweater near a bike. The rest of the words can be ignored.

To practice, give your students six to ten simple pictures that they should already know (like fruits or colors or furniture). If you already have flashcards, simply use those. Then speak for about ten seconds, using exactly two of the words represented by those pictures. The other words you use don’t matter; they can be gibberish, or more advanced terms the students wouldn’t know, or just other vocab terms not represented by the cards. Students should hold the images you identified above their head any time between as soon as you say it to shortly after you finish your ten-second speech. This will help students grow more comfortable with the idea that they don’t need to think about every single word that’s said.

Tasks like these depend as much on focusing attention on the right things as they are on vocab knowledge.

Identify before Completing

Students have a limited about of time in the Listening section, and completing the answers takes time. Some of the more thorough students (future perfectionists) might spend so much time doing one answer right that it cuts into the next prompt. Even those who are quicker filling out the answer might be run into trouble if they realize they made a mistake upon the second hearing and need to erase their first answer.

For the case of the previous example of drawing lines, maybe encourage students to place one finger on the name and the other finger on the image, then continue listening in case they get new information that changes their mind. Once the spoken prompt finishes, that’s when they should draw the line.

But the task that most needs this sort of attention is the coloring task. Typically the last task of the Listening section, this page looks like a coloring book. The audio prompts students to fill in certain parts of the image with specified colors (and maybe one prompt to draw something new). Coloring itself isn’t a terribly challenging task for most students, but some like to carefully fill in every bit of the image, both staying within the lines and leaving no white contained within. (But then there are also students who just do a quick scribble, and as long as the color its location are clear, that’s perfectly acceptable.) Encourage a scribble upon the first listening — or even a single line drawn strongly enough that the color is obvious. Students need to only identify the first time through. When they listen the second time, they should verify their answer, then the students who want to can continue coloring for completion.

I appreciate making the image pretty, but students aren’t graded on pretty, only on accurate identification.

Cross-Out the Negatives

The audio sometimes uses “no” and “not”, which can trip up students. Earlier, we talked about catching just a few key words. “No” and “not” need to be among those keywords they listen for.

This would most likely be an issue in the multiple-choice task (typically the second-to-last task in the Listening section). On their papers, students should see a few questions, each followed by three different but similar images with checkboxes. As students listen to the dialog, they’ll need to place a check or X for one of the three images. Sometimes the audio will mention an incorrect image preceded or followed by a negation. (As in “Are the children playing football?” “No, not today. They’re playing tennis.”) While the correct answer is the picture of tennis, many students will select the picture with football because they hear that first.

Tell students to listen for these negatives, then when they hear them, draw a large X over the image (the image itself, not the checkbox that accompanies it), or just scribble over it to make it clear that’s not the correct option. Identifying an incorrect answer is sometimes an important step to identifying the correct answer.

Also, when students listen the second time through, they should look at their answer, then listen for any negatives mentioned around the same time that image is mentioned in the audio.


Many students don’t feel motivated enough to check their answers upon the second hearing, simply assuming that their first answer was correct. When practicing, read from a script instead of playing a recording. But change one of the prompts the second time. You don’t want to confuse your students, of course, so tell them ahead of time that one (and only one) of the answers will be different the second time though. The final answer they turn in should match the second version, while the first will be counted wrong. This will get students in the habit of listening just as carefully the second time as they did the first time.

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