I work for a company that produces ELT materials. We write various kinds of reading and listening passages, followed by comprehension questions.

Our staff writers use the "What is NOT true" question quite often. While I find this a valid form for reading questions, I have concerns about this style for listening questions. For instance, if there's a READING passage about the Roman Empire, and the question is, "What is something Julius Caesar did NOT do," the student can scan back through the text and eliminate the options.

But for LISTENING tests, I suspect it can be quite difficult for students to remember what they DIDN'T hear. Unfortunately, our company doesn't do any follow-up to identify any kind of validity/reliability issues.

Are there any teaching/testing professionals out there who can give any thoughts or feedback on this issue? I suspect that we should not be using "NOT true" questions in listening tests, but I can't find any source that backs this up.

  • The last time I took a listening test (as an adult) I had the impression that it was more a memory test than a comprehension test, especially for those who already have the required level. Using negative questions might make this bias towards memory even worse. I'll see if I can find anything about this in the literature.
    – Tsundoku
    Jul 10, 2020 at 9:01
  • Those questions sound like SAT-type questions; and created by people who are not language teachers. The pedagogy here is all wrong. The students are not being asked to listen to English as a learner but as a native speaker. I can assure you that in my experience these types of material in AmE are usually rather poor since the creators of the materials are often language-learning naive.
    – Lambie
    Jun 20, 2021 at 15:50

1 Answer 1


I agree that the "NOT" questions are not appropriate for listening tests.

You can reference popular English tests such as the IELTS test. In their listening tests, from my experience, there're very few (if not zero) such question.

  • 1
    Please be aware that the question said, "can't find any source that backs this up". You can significantly improve your answer by providing a source. Vaguely referring to the IELTS tests is insufficient.
    – Tsundoku
    Jun 19, 2021 at 20:27

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