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I always tell my students that Listening Part 3 is kind of like a marathon. Do you know what I mean? It’s long (in fact it’s the longest listening task) and it takes strength and endurance to get through it. In this blog we’re going to get some tips from a professional marathon runner to help you improve your performance in this part of the test.

So, what is a marathon?

Well, it’s a 42 km race. And, as you’ll know if you’re a runner, it takes a lot of physical and mental preparation and strength to run such a long distance. To get some insight into what it takes, I spoke to one my closest friends, Lisa, who is a runner of ultramarathons (i.e. a marathon that’s about 100km). I wanted to pick her brain and find out how she’s managed to run an ultramarathon every year for the past 11 years. What has she learnt from her experiences? And how could those lessons help you in Listening Part 3?

Here are her seven top tips for running a marathon, and my take on how they could apply to you.


1. Prepare in advance

According to Lisa, the first thing is to practise EVERYTHING before the marathon – train in the shoes and clothes you’re going to wear, practice running with the food that you’re going to take with you so that on the day of the marathon you use nothing new. Everything has been tried and tested as you don’t want any surprises.

Test takeaway:

When it comes to the exam, it’s obviously essential that you prepare in advance, so you know exactly what is going to come up in the exam and how you’re going to deal with it. The last thing you want is to misunderstand the instructions, and fail because of a silly mistake that you can put down to a lack of preparation.


2. Map the course

Lisa also says, if possible, she always looks at the course of the marathon beforehand. If there’s going to be a huge hill at 10km and then a downhill at 11km, then you know about it can push through. However, if there’s a huge hill at 10km and then another massive one at 11km, then you can walk a bit of the way so as to save a bit of energy.

Test takeaway:

A big part of that preparation is ‘mapping the course’ so that means to carefully go over the task format and instructions and you map out a clear strategy for how you’ll tackle it in the exam.


**Watch the video for help mapping the exam!**



3. Get ready mentally

Lisa believes a large part of running a marathon is psychological. You’ve got to realise that you’re going to be running for a long time, and that it’s going to be hard. Here it helps to do your research and take advice from the professionals. She read a book that said at the halfway mark you will be exhausted and think how on earth will I do another 45 km?! During the race she knew she would feel that way and that everyone felt the same, so it’s a normal thing to experience. In other words, she didn’t allow it to become a mental black that kept her from continuing and ultimately finishing the race.

Test takeaway:

Your success in Listening Part 3 depends on how well you mentally prepare for it. You need to accept that it’s going be long and difficult so you don’t feel surprised or shocked by that. Don’t feel that if you’re struggling, you’re doing badly. Everyone finds it hard, that’s a normal reaction to taking a Cambridge C1 test!


4. Be strategic

Lisa’s next point concerns strategy, which is essential in any competitive sport. Her running coach told her if you stop at every single water table along the way then you lose about an hour of time overall. So, instead he suggested stopping at every second one. A simple strategic decision like this can make a huge difference in the outcome of the race, and it’s the same in the listening test.

Test takeaway:

As you might know, the Cambridge instructions in the listening test are long and detailed as they explain everything slowly, step by step. This is helpful for people who aren’t prepared for the test, but (following point 1), you will be, so use this to your advantage! instead of listening to the instruction, you can start reading ahead. As soon as they say, now turn to Part 3, start reading the questions. It’ll give you a few extra minutes which can make a huge difference in your overall performance.



5. Build your endurance

To build your endurance means to get better at something the more often you do it, in running just like in test taking. When running, Lisa advises against doing too much too soon, as you might injure yourself or lose motivation by your lack of success. Instead, start by running 5km, then 10km, and 15 kms first. Build up to your goal. 

Test takeaway:

It’s the same for Listening. Build your listening skills systematically. Try to listen to a wide range of audio materials – videos on YouTube, podcasts, TikToks, films, TV series, news reports, and of course, do lots of exam-style practice activities. Don’t jump straight into the exam task and expect to get it right first time.

**Watch the video to practise these skills!**



6. Practise self-care

Lisa emphasises the importance of practising self-care. This is to be kind to yourself, to not demand perfection as this puts you under too much stress. Before a big race, or a big test, try to get a good night’s rest so you wake up with a clear mind and a lot of energy.

Test takeaway:

Remember, in the exam you don’t need to get 100% – in fact, you only need 60% to pass. So, have that as your goal, rather than the perfect score.



7. Do ‘long runs’

And finally, Lisa urges any would-be marathon runner to do ‘long runs’, or run distances that replicate what you’ll be doing on marathon day. She says it’s vital for you to have the real experience of running long distances to see how your body and mind react to it. 

Test takeaway:

In the case of the exam, I absolutely agree with her advice. You should definitely do full practice tests before the exam so that you get a feel of how long it takes, when you start to lose concentration, where you could struggle the most. Even people who are VERY good at listening, fail the listening test, because they underestimate the task, and don’t do full run-throughs beforehand.


**Watch the video for ‘long run’ practice!**


And now, it’s over to you.


What kind of sports or exercise do you do? Are there any tips or strategies from those activities that can help you in Listening Part 3?

Write your answers in the comment section below! 🙂