Almost all GCSE music students find the listening exam the hardest part. Why is this? As John Finney points out in his article Sitting by Lake Geneva, much musical understanding is ‘free from the tyranny of language’ – in other words, it is a non-verbal form of cognition. Composing and performing do not need words in order for students to be good at them. However, the listening paper does need words, and an awful lot of them. This is what makes the listening paper hard, and why it needs some special attention.