IELTS Listening Exams can be really confusing. Many students only listen out for specific keywords and are often caught out when they understand the question incorrectly.
The main trick to do well in your IELTS Listening Exam is to not only hear your examiners’ questions, but to really listen to them.
What happens on the test?
The IELTS listening test is designed to assess how well you can:
– Understand both main ideas and detailed information
– Recognize the opinions and attitudes of a speaker
– Follow the development of an idea or argument
- The listening test is the same for IELTS Academic and IELTS General Training and they are scored in the same way.
- You will listen to four different recordings and then answer 10 written questions for each (40 in total)
- You will only hear each recording once.
- You have 40 minutes to complete all four sections – 30 minutes to listen to the recordings and write down your answers on the question paper and then 10 minutes to record your final answers on the answer sheet.
Some helpful information
– The recordings and questions get more difficult as the test progresses:
– Section 1 is two speakers having an everyday conversation. They might be making plans for the weekend or discussing where to get dinner that evening.
– Section 2 is a monologue (one person talking) about an everyday situation. It may be a speech or a talk about making plans for something.
– Section 3 is an academic conversation between up to 4 people.
– Section 4 is a monologue on an academic topic.
– The recordings will include a range of native English speaker accents, probably British and Australian accents, so it’s a good idea to get familiar with these. In this recording we can hear an examiner for the speaking section, but with a Scotish accent.
You can find additional specifics about the format of the Listening Test on the IELTS Website.
Sound overwhelming? Don’t stress. We’re going to breakdown the main skills needed to score well on this section exam and also outline some tips for you.
Improving Your Core Listening Skills
Understanding How Native English Speakers Speak:
Let’s face it – learning to understand “native” speech is usually the most challenging part of learning a language. There two main reasons why this is, and understanding them is the first step in being able to understand native speech!
English pronunciation is complex. The English language has over 20 different vowel sounds and they can difficult to tell apart, especially when combined with fast speech. Two words may differ by a single sound but have a very different meaning (minimal pairs). Training the ear to distinguish between the different sounds is an important foundational skill. You can find lots of minimal pairs listening exercises online. English Club has a good one.
Native speakers sound like a block of sound!
Native speakers have a series of speech patterns that produce language that sounds very different from that of a language learner. If you learn what these patterns are, it will be easier to understand them.
- Pattern 1: Contractions. Using contractions is the normal method of speech
Example: “I am” becomes “I’m,” ”did not” becomes “didn’t” etc.
- Pattern 2: Weak Forms. Structural words in sentences are often pronounced as their “weak form”
Example: “to” and “you” on their own are pronounced with a long u: sounds. As a part of sentences though, they are usually pronounced in their weak form with short uh sounds.
For more on weak forms and their pronunciation, check out the video below.
- Pattern 3: Phonetic Links. Any word that starts with a vowel gets linked to a previous word which makes it hard to hear each word distinctly.
Example: “She is interested in it” all runs together and sounds like one word “shezinterestedinit”
Develop this Key Skill to Pass
Writing and Listening Simultaneously
Many people struggle with taking notes while listening because they try to write down everything the speaker is saying and this just isn’t possible. What should you do instead?
- Focus on what the speaker is saying not how they say it.
- Don’t try to take notes in complete sentences – just jot down the key points and abbreviate, abbreviate, abbreviate! You only need to write down just enough to help jog your memory later.
- Develop the habit of being able to distinguish between essential and non-essential information. If two people are talking about making plans for a dinner date, the most important information is the date/time they finally agree upon. Dates/times they considered become irrelevant.
- Try to anticipate what the speaker is going to say. Speakers, particularly in academic settings, will often give you clue words or outline what they are going to talk about before they talk about it, giving you the ability to start your own outline to then fill in.
- Practice, practice, practice! As with anything, improving note-taking skills requires practice!
Where can I find IELTS listening exercises?
There are a number of different resources out there that you can use to help improve your listening skills and prepare for the IELTS. Some samples:
- VOA Learning English – A wide variety of news, science, and general interest audio clips and videos, along with written transcripts (perfect for practicing the 5 steps above!). Transcripts include definitions of key vocabulary words. News stories are grouped by English level. The site also offers one minute lessons on common English idioms.
- English Test Store – ETS offers numerous listening comprehension exercises that are similar to those that you’ll find on the IELTS.
- Exam English – Exam English provides a variety of test prep resources including practice exams and exercises. You’ll find IELTS specific exercises, but the listening exercises for other exams are good for practice too and provide options to start at a lower level and progress as your skills improve.
- Lyrics Gaps – This is a fun one. This site turns music videos into game-like listening exercises. The music video plays side-by-side with a gap fill. Videos are grouped by levels of difficulty and the site also provides options for how difficult the gap fill is (ie, does it provide drop down options or not).
- Audible – I have been addicted to their audiobooks since starting. I find them high quality, informative, and because they are interesting I listen right to the end -unlike practice tests which can send me to sleep! Use this link to get a free 30 day trial.
Five Step Method for Improving your Listening Skills For IELTS
5 Step method to better listening skills:
Improving your listening skills requires active (not passive) listening practice – where you are focused on understanding what you are listening to.
One of the best ways to do this is to find audio examples that also have a text transcript so that you can check your comprehension after you’ve listened to the audio one or two times.
I’ve been using the following method to improve my Spanish listening comprehension with a podcast called “News in Slow Spanish” which I love.
You can use the same method with any sample audio (podcasts, audio news stories, audiobooks, etc.) Shorter stories or news clips are usually better to start with because active listening is exhausting! Also, you’re going to want to listen to the audio clip multiple times in order to improve your comprehension.
Step 1: Listen to the audio clip (no reading)
See how much you can understand the general gist and start to pick out key words
Step 2: Repeat and repeat again (still no reading!)
Listen to the clip again. Based on what you understood the first time, is there now more that you can pick out?
Continue to listen to the clip several times through to see if you can comprehend just a little bit more each time.
Only move to Step 3 when you’re not comprehending anything more from the audio. Your goal should be to understand as much as possible just from the audio!
Step 3: Read the text
Check your understanding and identify any new vocabulary. See if you can guess the meaning of any new words based on the context before looking them up.
Step 4: Listen with the text
Listen to how phrases and groups of words are pronounced.
Step 5: Listen a few more times without the text
At this point, you should be able to understand the majority of the clip. More repetition will help train your ears and make it easier to understand the different words and phrases when you hear them again in the future. These steps were adapted from Benny’s great blog: FluentIn3Months
Quick IELTS Listening Tips
How to predict answers in the IELTS Listening Exam.
You will have the opportunity to read the exam questions before listening to the audio recording. Take advantage of this! The questions can help you determine what type of answer you’re looking for. For example, if you have the following question:
“He would like to meet in ____________.”
The preposition “in” clues you into the type of answer you should be looking for. The answer in this case has to be either a period of time (2 days), a month (April), a year (2018), or a season (Winter).
Different prepositions will dictate different answers.
|at||Time, Part of Day, Place||9pm, dawn, the restaurant|
|in||Period of Time, Month, Year, Season||2 days/hour/minutes, April, 2018, Winter|
|on||Day, Date||Monday, January 15th (or 15th of January)|
|no preposition||Person other||Emily now, at once, tomorrow, next year, this afternoon, person|
Eight IELTS Listening Quick Tips
1) Attempt all questions – there are no penalties for incorrect answers. Be careful to not waste time on a question that you don’t know though – guess and move on.
2) Watch out for plurals in answers. If the question requires a plural answer, a singular answer will be marked incorrect.
3) The questions are designed so that the answers appear in the order they are heard in the audio. They may come quickly or there may be large gaps between them.
4) Be prepared to hear a potential answer that is not the actual answer. This is common when two people are making plans – they may first agree on meeting at a certain time, but then one remembers that they have a conflict so they decide on a new time.
5) Be careful when transferring your answers to the answer sheet and pay attention to the word limit for your answers!
6) Multiple choice answers will ask for a letter (a, b, c, d). Be careful to write the letter and not the corresponding answer.
7) If you are asked to complete a sentence using no more than two words, and the correct answer is “leather coat,” then “a coat made of leather” will be marked as incorrect. Same goes for numbers.
– Hyphenated words (like “part-time”) are considered to be one word.
– A date (1990) is considered one number.
8) The saying that “listening is a skill” cannot be proven more-true than when you take the IELTS exam. It is important that you practice for the IELTS listening part of the exam, because as with any perfecting any skill, practice makes perfect.
Additional Resources for IELTS Preparation
IELTSPodcast not only has the largest collection of audio tutorials online, we also have great guides ranging from IELTS General Task Letter Writing Samples, to IELTS Vocabulary guides, available here.
Amongst our most popular guides you can find Band 9 sample essays here, along with a complete explanation. Another useful resource would be the collection of versatile sentences for your task two essay. If you have problems starting your essay, this guide was written exactly for this problem.
Academic IELTS Resources:
If you truly want to improve and progress faster through IELTS, especially regarding the writing I’d strongly consider having a look at this essay correction service. Also, if you need to pass, try this online course.
Sample IELTS Vocab Ebook
Download the Podcast about IELTS listening Tips
IELTS Listening Exam tips and tricks: You heard, but did you listen?
During your IELTS Listening Exam your examiners need to make sure that you listened and understood to everything that was said. They do that by seeing how appropriate and accurate your responses to their questions are.
But there are specific points during your IELTS Listening Exam where it’s easy to get caught out if you’re not paying attention.
On today’s IELTS Podcast we give out a few tips on how to perform better on your IELTS Listening Exam. We talk about:
- How to write and listen simultaneously – a vital skill.
- How to predict answers in the IELTS Listening Exam.
- Understanding the proper native use of collocations.
- Recognising the points of your IELTS Listening Exam where should you be paying more attention to your examiner speak.
How IELTS listening score is calculated
The listening part of the IELTS exam is used to test your English comprehension skills. The examiner is looking to see whether you can listen to a piece of information and be able to successfully answer questions. The listening scores are marked out of 40 and are calculated based on the number of answers you give correctly, also note that points will not be taken away for incorrect answers.
Once you have completed the listening test you will be graded according to the following bandwidth ranging from a score of 4 to 9:
How can I improve my listening skills?
Listening is one of the four parts of your IELTS exam and requires you to exhibit your comprehension skills. As the saying goes, listening truly is a skill and you need to ensure yours is up to par in order to pass this section of the IELTS. The best way to improve your listening skills is to practice. We know this may sound quite obvious, but in truth it is that simple. The IELTS exam is designed to test your active listening skills, which means the best thing you can do is listen to a conversation or someone making a speech and formulate and answer questions about what you have heard. As You are listening, you will be looking to improve your focus levels, painting a visual image for the words you are hearing, and formulating possible questions and answers in your mind.
Can I use capital letters to answer the listening part of IELTS?
Yes, you may use CAPITAL letters to write out your answers for your IELTS listening test. In fact, we recommend you use caps to answer your questions as it makes it easier for the marker to read your answer. The listening part of the IELTS requires simple one-word or two-word answers; this means using all caps helps your answer pop out and stand out.
Let us look at an example: if your answer is SHOPPING CENTRE then writing it in caps makes your answer easily stand out.
The decision to use capital letters is of course up to you and you will not be marked down for either CAPITAL or small caps.