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Listening Comprehension Exercises – Skimming and Scanning, By michelle
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Learning to listen is important! Here are some hints and tips to help you succeed when you face listening comprehension exercises, ie an exercise with questions on an audio to be answered in a limited amount of time! Time yourself in every step and keep a record of your marks, so you notice your progress.

First step (Step 1): Reading & Underlining
Read the (title, the instructions and the) questions carefully. The more you read them, the better and deeper you understand, gradually. Understanding is a process. Help your brain. Read before the Listening is played but also in the intervals. You may realize suddenly what something is.

Underline key words in your questions as you read, so at a glance you remember what it is all about. This also helps you to move on: while you are listening to answer one question, you can keep in mind the key words of the next just by glancing at the question to remember the key words. In this way, you know when to move on. So, when you are doing this, you will underline two kinds of things: the key words for understanding that sentence and the word(s) you are likely to hear when the speakers move on.

Underline before and in your first listening. It's easier to remember one or two important words than a whole sentence. Imagine what you do when you take notes or when you take down a message on the phone. You won’t remember whole sentences, but a key word can remind you of all.

Second step (Step 2): First listening - Skimming
Relax and Listen! (You can only do this if you're USED TO hearing the language) If you are thinking of your fears and/or complexes you cannot listen well. So it is important you listen to the language every day, so your ear doesn’t block when you hear English.
To skim a text is to get the basics from it (think of skimmed milk!) - to identify the type of text, the theme, the context, the participants. We do this the first time we listen. We don't try to understand all the words. We kind of "step back" and contemplate the whole picture, to identify the basic (thematic, physical) setting and where the relevant info is. Try just to do this, visualizing if possible. Identifying the topic activates our background knowledge -- the mind is clever and while identifying a theme it activates the areas of our brain where we have stored vocabulary, information, relevant to that theme.

While skimming, try to notice which words are more stressed and clearly pronounced, and try to notice the mood speakers are in, if relevant (a bored person is not going to pronounce clearly, but then, he/she won’t be saying anything relevant, and when he/she does, you’ll notice they pronounce more clearly). Key words are very often, and especially in natural connected speech, pronounced more clearly and with more emphasis! In this first listening, key words should help you to get the general understanding of what is going on, like when you listen when there is noise or you half-listen to someone telling you an anecdote — you needn’t understand it all to understand what happened, you needn’t understand everything to get the sense of that text. Try to focus in identifying where the info is. Not what the info is, but where it is, so that in your second listening you can skip what is irrelevant. This also helps you underline or write down key words, so that in the second listening you know when to pay more attention.

During the first listening, especially if you’ve got a time limit, try to answer questions too. You will see that you are prepared to answer “skimming questions”. If you can’t answer any questions, it’s OK. Your ear has to get used to the accent, so it’s normal. You just need to practice more.

Third step (Step 3): Second listening - Scanning
In the second (and third, fourth…) listenings, you should scan for information, so that you can succeed in answering the questions. Some questions depend on your general understanding of the text, and those are the ones you have probably answered in the first listening, actually. Other questions depend on you identifying which specific information you are required to find. Those are the scanning questions. Multiple choice questions are often more of the skimming kind. Fill in the gap questions are more of the scanning type. But multiple choice exercises can contain some scanning type question, too.

When you scan for specific info, it’s important that you know where the relevant information is (if your skimming was well done, you’ll know). Actually, very often we can answer questions on a text without having understood much, and I hope you will realize this in class and at home, as you practice this technique, as you learn to listen.

  1. If you have questions to answer, look for the answers.
  2. If you are just practicing listening or there are some skimming questions, try to look for main ideas, and then detail for explaining those main points.

Fourth Step (Step 4): Proofread
You have to be quick. Read again the text with your answers, to check. Go over the questions you didn’t understand, because the text is still fresh and you may suddenly realize what the answer is! You may even find a logical answer! Then you usually get 1 minute to copy your answers in the correct space for answers. If you’re practicing at home, go over everything aloud. Tell yourself what the text was about.