OET Listening: Dealing with multiple-choice questions in part B

Swoosh English Listening: Dealing with the multiple-choice questions in part B image banner

In sections B and C of the OET listening exam, you will have to answer a number of multiple-choice questions. Doing so successfully can often prove challenging for a variety of reasons and I personally have seen a number of students struggle in completing these tasks. Yet, if you cannot answer these sorts of questions well, you will lose a large amount of marks when it comes to the exam. In this article, therefore, I shall provide a number of tips in order to help to improve your performance in this area. I shall focus specifically on OET listening part B, as the strategies vary between the two sections, but you should find some useful advice that you can apply to part C also.

How To Find Some Useful Advice of Listening

1. Read all of the questions carefully before listening:

I’ll start with the most obvious first because, despite it’s clearly sensible logic, a lot of students, in my experience, fail to do this. Let’s take an example of the sort of question you could face in the OET:

You hear a school nurse briefing staff about a new policy.

The information she wants them to communicate to students relates to

Ⓐchecking food ingredients

Ⓑsharing food during breaks

Ⓒcarrying medical equipment

So, you’ve read the question, but have you read it carefully? If so, you should be able to tell me: 1. who is going to be speaking; 2. whom they’re going to be speaking to; 3. how many people are likely to be involved in the interaction (will it be one person speaking or more?) and, finally, 4. the purpose of the interaction. So, what are the answers? (See below to check)

A school nurse 2. Staff 3. Just 1 person as she is addressing a group who will not all be able to respond to her briefing as she’s talking 4. She is providing information about a new policy which she wants the staff to communicate to students

Did you answer the questions successfully? Being able to do so will help you to prepare for what you are about to hear so that you are ready to focus on the information you need. This is very important as you will only hear this information once, so you must be as prepared as possible.

2. Decide what sort of listening skill you need to perform:

This now relates to meta-skills, your ability to recognise what sorts of skills the exam questions are testing. In part B, you will face OET listening questions which test for both gist and detail/listener course of action. A gist question is asking you about the overall listening text, for example, its purpose or general focus; a detail/ listener course of action question is asking you to detect a specific aspect of the text (note, however, that doing this successfully will involve more than just hearing a specific word or phrase, more on this later). Look at the question A again. What skill do you think is being tested for here?

It seems pretty clear that the answer is that it’s testing for detail/listener course of action, you need to listen out for the specific detail which the nurse wants her staff to communicate to students. Now you have detected the skill required, you can really start to focus on the details in the listening text waiting for the specific details you need to be mentioned. A gist question, on the other hand, would look something like this:

You hear an ophthalmologist during a consultation with a patient?

Which statement best sums up the ophthalmologist’s diagnosis?

ⒶThe patient is suffering from a historic condition.

ⒷThe patient has an irreversibly degenerative condition.

Ⓒ The patient has had their condition diagnosed at a manageable stage.

In this case, you’re being asked to “sum up” the information provided by the ophthalmologist. As a result, you will need to listen to all of the interaction, picking up contextual clues where appropriate (for example, references to time, general statements of positivity or negativity which relate to the condition) in order to answer the question correctly.

Join one of our OET course packages (starting at just $49)in order to get high quality practice and feedback from one of our OET UK teachers by clicking here:

For doctors: https://staging3.swooshenglish.com/oet-packages-doctors
For nurses: https://staging3.swooshenglish.com/oet-packages-nurses

3. Be prepared to listen for the message

As with all the listening sections of the OET listening part b, you will have to be prepared for paraphrasing. However, with the multiple-choice sections, the effect can be even more extreme. Unlike in section A, it’s possible that none of the words from the multiple-choice options will be used in the actual recording, so you will have to listen carefully in order to make the correct selection. If the answer to question B above were C, for example, then we might hear the doctor say something like “It is still possible to treat your symptoms”, which would give us the information to choose C despite none of the words from the option actually being used. This is because in both sections B and C of the listening, we are being tested on our ability to listen for the message of the recording rather than just the specific words.

4. Don’t get distracted

What do you call the incorrect options from a multiple-choice question? Answer: distractors. They are called this because their job is to distract you from getting the correct answer. The distractors may contain specific words which you hear in the text but they will not reflect the intention of the speakers. Imagine in reference to question B above that you hear “the condition is degenerative if untreated”. If based on this you decide to choose option B as being correct, you would lose the mark as the “if untreated” part of the recording strongly implies that the degeneration is not irreversible.


1. Read the following question carefully and answer the four points referred to in tip 1.[Text Wrapping Break]You hear a paediatrician briefing her colleagues about a patient.

When does the paediatrician say the patient can go home?

Ⓐwhen he can consume fluids independently

Ⓑwhen he has the appropriate medication

Ⓒwhen she has received some test results

Read the above question again. Is it a likely to be a question focussing on gist or detail/listener course of action?

Listen to the recording and choose the correct answer A,B or C. Try to note down exactly what you heard which helped you get the answer.

Listen again to make sure that you haven’t chosen any of the distractors. What information do you hear which may have distracted you?


1. A pediatrician; colleagues; 1 speaker; to inform colleagues when the patient can go home

2. Detail/listener course of action

3. A

4. Possible answers include references to medication and test results

Join one of our OET course packages (starting at just $49)in order to get high quality practice and feedback from one of our OET UK teachers by clicking here:

For doctors: https://staging3.swooshenglish.com/oet-packages-doctors
For nurses: https://staging3.swooshenglish.com/oet-packages-nurses

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