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IELTS Listening

IELTS Listening  

On this page you'll find all the information that you need to pass your listening test, including :

  • The format of the IELTS Listening Test
  • Different IELTS question types
  • 20 tips to improve your IELTS Listening band score

This will help you in your IELTS exam because:

  • Being familiar with the format will boost your confidence
  • You will know what types of questions to expect
  • You'll avoid many of the common mistakes IELTS candidates make

IELTS test candidates (Academic & General Training) do the same IELTS Listening Test.

  • Duration of the listening test is 40 minutes
  • The audio recording lasts 30 minutes
  • The test has 4 parts

Part 1: Two people talking (a typical everyday conversation, e.g., two friends arranging to meet).

Part 2: One person talking (a talk or speech in a social situation, e.g., explaining membership at a local gym).

Part 3: Multiple people talking (maximum 4) in a training or educational situation (e.g., a training workshop/seminar).

Part 4: One person giving a talk/presentation in an academic setting (e.g., a university professor).

Each part has 10 questions.


Paper-based IELTS listening test vs computer-based Listening IELTS test

  • In the paper version of the listening test, you write the correct answers on the question paper while listening.
  • At the end of the audio recording, you can transfer the answers to the official answer sheet.
  • You will have 10 minutes to do this.
  • In the computerised test, you enter the answers directly into the computer while you listen.
  • You do not get an extra 10 minutes at the end because you have already entered your answers.
  • But you do get 2 minutes at the end of the audio recording to check and change your answers if necessary.

Purpose of the IELTS Listening Test

The test evaluates your listening comprehension and ability to understand pronunciation, main ideas, details, facts, opinions and attitudes of the people you hear speaking.

You will hear the audio recording one time. The speakers have different accents: American, Australian, British, Canadian, and New Zealand.

Pay attention to your spelling and grammar when you write your answers. You can lose marks for incorrect spelling and grammar.

Each section of IELTS listening questions has a specific maximum word count. Be clear about how many words are required in each section.

For example, when you see the instruction "Write no more than two words and/or a number". This means that you can write:

  • 1 word,
  • 2 words,
  • 1 word + 1 number,
  • 2 words + 1 number,
  • or 1 number.

Check if the instructions state "a number" or "numbers".

Important: when you count the number of words in your answer, be clear that contracted words (isn't, won't, etc.) are not tested. Hyphenated words like "trouble-shooting" and "cost-effective" are treated as one word, not two words.

You have an opportunity to read through the questions for each section before you hear the audio recording.

Important: there is an important change in the format of the IELTS listening test in 2020. In Part 1, there is now NO example answer provided.

If you are using old IELTS practice materials to prepare, be aware that you will not see the Part 1 answer example in the real test.

When you hear the audio recording, be ready to begin answering Question 2 immediately.

Top Tips for IELTS Listening

Here is a list of the top IELTS listening tips that will help you get a high score in IELTS listening.


  • You only hear the audio recording one time.
  • Practice listening skills before your IELTS test.
  • To develop your listening skills and vocabulary, you can listen more than once while practising. Try to improve your understanding by listening for more detail.
  • In the test, you need to multitask. You have to read, listen and write at the same time. Practice listening using authentic IELTS practice materials.
  • Become familiar with transferring your listening answers from the question paper to the IELTS answer sheet.
  • Each correct answer is worth one mark. You don't lose marks for a wrong answer (guess if you're not 100% sure – you might be lucky!). But you can lose marks if you have the right answer but the spelling or grammar is incorrect. So be careful! It's better to write something in each answer box on the answer sheet than leave it blank.
  • You can use lower case or upper case letters (capitals) to write your answers.
  • Check the instructions about the maximum number of words/numbers you should write for each answer. Be aware that each question type might have different requirements; for example, "No more than two words and/or a number".
  • Check if you need to write a number (singular) or numbers (plural).
  • Remember how words and numbers in IELTS are calculated:

1.Dates like "1998" count as one number

2.Large numbers like "1,200,500" count as one word

3.Hyphenated words like "full-time" count as one word

4.Non-hyphenated compound nouns like "science fiction" count as two words

  • Your answers must be grammatically correct.

(1) In "sentence completion" questions, if the sentence is:

"I'll meet you …….."

Then the correct answer might be "at the cafe".

This includes the preposition (at) and article (the) if the maximum number of words allowed is three.

(2) If the question is a "note completion" or "form completion" question type.

The question instructions state you should use "one word".

On the question paper, the answer prompt is "Location: …...".

So the correct answer would be "cafe".

  • If your spelling is incorrect, your answer will be marked as wrong. Correct spelling is essential to maximise your score in IELTS  test.
  1. Don't worry about how to spell a word while you listen to the audio recording. You don't have much time. So focus on listening and following the correct instructions and order of each part.
  2. You can check your spelling at the end while you transfer the answers from the question paper to the answer sheet. Use some of the 10 minutes to check your grammar and spelling is correct for each answer.
  • Be careful when writing letters or words.

In multiple-choice type questions, the instructions prompt you to write a 'letter' as the answer.

Example: the options are (A) spring, (B) summer or (C) winter.

You think the correct answer is 'summer'.

But make sure you write 'B' and NOT summer on the answer sheet.

If you write the word 'summer' it will be incorrect because the instructions tell you to write the 'letter' of the correct answer.

  • Become familiar with the different question types. These include:
    • matching
    • completing notes / a summary / a sentence / a form / a flow-chart / or a table
    • multiple choice
    • labelling a diagram, map, or plan
    • short answer questions
  • While listening, don't worry about trying to fully understand everything. Focus on the instructions and identifying the correct answer.
  • The answers come in order as you listen, but they may come quickly. So be ready to note down your answers. In Part 4, it's common for there to be a gap between answers. Stay alert!
  • Pay attention to answers which might be plural. Many students find it difficult to distinguish the plural 's' at the end of words.
  • Avoid tricky false answers.

In IELTS, sometimes you think you hear the answer, but then it changes! Be careful!


You hear the following conversation:

(Tom) "Is it okay to meet tomorrow at 7 pm?"

(Sarah) "Yes, 7 pm works fine for me"… "Oh, wait, I just remembered that I have to work late tomorrow, could we make it eight instead?"

If the question asks you "What time are they going to meet?" You might think the correct answer is 7 pm initially, but the correct answer is actually 8 pm.

This is an example of being able to listen for detail in a conversation.

Always be alert for situations like this, where a potential answer is offered but then changed or an alternative is suggested.

  • You need to focus 100% while listening. But if you miss an answer, then don't panic! Move on to the following question and keep up with the audio recording. Deal with any missed answers during the 10 minutes at the end of the test.
  • Don't get distracted! 30 minutes might seem like a long time to concentrate and listen for answers. But the time will be over faster than you think, so FOCUS!

Practice doing full 30-minute listening tests as part of your IELTS preparation. You'll quickly learn how to maintain focus while listening!

There are a lot of official online IELTS Listening Practice tests that you can do online:

Here are some tutorials to help you with your IELTS Listening preparation