ESL Listening Study Guide for the ACCUPLACER Test

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General Information

The ACCUPLACER ESL Listening test is designed to ensure that all ESL students are able to listen and understand English in a variety of settings. These settings may include a lecture hall and the corresponding language, grocery stores, and libraries. When listening to the different sections, be sure to focus more on overall meaning than getting caught up in the particulars of a single word or phrase. Like most ACCUPLACER tests, this section comprises 20 questions, each of them monitoring how well you understand English—both in contemporary settings and more formal settings. The scenarios do not merely involve listening to a single person’s speech but require you to pay close attention to conversations between two or more people.

Lecture Halls

When listening to an audio clip set in a lecture hall or other formal situation, be prepared to hear some words you may not recognize; because formal situations (and teaching situations, in particular) often involve disparate education levels, even a native English speaker might have some trouble comprehending some of the words or phrases used. If this is the case, do not panic. Listen closely to what is being said, and pick out any words or sentences that you can readily understand, before inferring what the subject of the discussion may be, based on what you do understand. If you are still unsure, choose the answer that you feel best summarizes the discussion—do not simply leave the question unfilled.

Grocery Stores

Grocery store conversations, and other informal situations, are far more relaxed in speech and may even involve some unconventional English. While listening, focus on the general idea of the discussion. Additionally, you should use the setting provided to assist in deriving the meaning of the overall conversation. A family inside a grocery store will not likely be discussing power tools, for instance, but will probably focus on food, mealtimes, or family plans. Bear this in mind while listening and adjust your understanding of the situation accordingly.


Situations set in libraries and similar areas typically combine the two situations listed above. A library is a more formal setting, but is generally occupied by people interacting with one another in a laid-back fashion. This is a unique pairing and may require you to listen more intently to the monologue or conversation being played. Like the grocery store, the exact setting of the conversation may play a large role in understanding the conversation overall, so you should pay close attention to the setting and the discussion. In a library, there may also be some technical words that are difficult to understand. These will likely not impact the meaning of the interaction and should not be a source of stress or pain for you. Continue to listen, and if you are unsure, choose the answer you feel best fits the situation and setting.

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