Academic Listening Skills

Skills related to the text itself

As with all skills, improving your listening will take time and practice. Academic listening activities are often target-oriented, e.g. to answer questions in a mock paper. In terms of the targets, listening activities usually involve focusing on three specific listening skills:

  1. Listening for gist — when the question asks for the overall idea of an audio text
  • The listener usually does not need to focus on the finer details. Unknown words, unless as the key words of the message, can be mostly ignored.
  • While the question may test on superficial factual knowledge, it may also test on global understanding, e.g. the core message of the text or the stance of a speaker, which requires ability to summarise on the content listened.
  1. Listening for specific information — when the question asks for a name, a figure or a date etc.
  • The listeners need to pay attention to certain key words, without the need to think deeply about what they are listening.
  • In order to do so, the listener should read the questions clearly and focus his/ her attention on the relevant information.
  1. Listening for detailed information — when the question tests on deeper understanding
  • This listening skill is particularly useful for open comprehension questions such as those that ask why or how, as this type of listening requires the student to listen particularly carefully – and to perhaps consider deeper implications of the audio text or to make inferences based on what the speaker may or may not be saying.

Additional skills

  1. Listening and reading — an academic listener often needs to read additional information while listening. The materials may include PowerPoint slides or notes.
  2. Notetaking while listening — a good academic listener must be able to take notes while listening. To do so quickly and effectively, the use of shorthand or symbols may be needed. Some practice or training is needed.
  3. Listening to multiple speakers — one of the biggest challenges for listeners. Practice definitely helps. Besides, paying some conscious effort on distinguishing the speakers could be useful, e.g. to focus on the accents, pacing, pitches and volumes of voices of individual speakers.


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