It is clear that one of the goals of ESL students is to improve their listening comprehension skills. This goal might turn into a concern however, when they are preparing for an English proficiency test like IELTS, where achieving a certain score could be life-changing. This has led IELTS instructors and tutors to come up with multiple techniques and tips to help their students. In this blog post, I am going to share a technique that I personally developed and applied in my IELTS class, and discuss how it was viewed by my students.
I call this technique “moving backwards,” and my hope is that it will help my students to improve their listening skills while doing an IELTS listening practice test.
The IELTS listening test is comprised of four sections, with each section consisting of ten questions. The test difficulty increases incrementally from section one to four. Normally, to practice the test, students start from section one and read the questions in the given order to find the key words and get themselves familiar with the content of the section. What I did differently in my IELTS class was to REVERSE this pattern, and start the whole practice test BACKWARDS. To do so, we started from section four rather than section one. We then went through the questions backwards from the last question in the section to the first one in the section. While doing so, students used their own preferred way of interacting with the text.
For example, some students were taking notes and others underlined the keywords. Then, we listened to the recording. We applied this strategy in two tests and afterwards I asked for their feedback, which I will now share with you.
First, they all agreed that this strategy made them confused initially. To my surprise, they didn’t see reading backwards from bottom to top to be the cause of this confusion. but rather because this technique was unfamiliar!
Second, on the positive side, they said that compared to the conventional and regular pattern of reading the questions in numerical order, this new way saved them more time. They claimed they were able to cover more questions during the given time before listening to the recording.
Third, some students actually claimed that this technique made them more motivated to practice listening tests, as in their opinion, now they have a fun game to play! From their perspective, disrupting the order of the test and approaching it in a novel way was more exciting and motivating.
Fourth, most of the students said reading the questions backward was helpful because when the recording started to play, they were pretty fresh with the information of the first set of questions. In other words, this backward technique worked well with their short-term memory, which is pretty important for succeeding at the test.
However, there were some complaints about this technique too. The main drawback that was put forward, as I pointed out earlier, was about the confusion. Some of the students were unable to adjust themselves with this backward move and ended up losing their focus and concentration. Moreover, some students were worried that if they start using this technique, it might negatively affect their performance in the real test, as this shift has the potential to disrupt their study pattern and routine. I personally cannot make any comments on the latter at this time as we didn’t get a chance to do multiple listening-practice tests this way! But, I am looking forward to finding out more as I continue to analyze this new technique.