These tips are divided into IELTS listening exam-specific skills/tips and then general English language listening skills.
A lot of students over-focus on the IELTS exam skills and forget that language skills will always come before exam skills.
Five-step method for improving your listening skills for IELTS
Different prepositions will dictate different answers.
Here are some examples:
Possible answer: Time, Part of Day, Place
Examples: 9 pm, dawn, the restaurant
Possible answer: Period of Time, Month, Year, Season
Examples: 2 days/hour/minutes, April, 2018, Winter
Possible answer: Day, Date
Examples: Monday, January 15th (or 15th of January)
Preposition: no preposition
Possible answer: Person other
Examples: Emily now, at once, tomorrow, next year, this afternoon, person
The IELTS listening test is designed to assess how well you can:
- 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 include a range of accents, probably British and Australian, so try to get familiar with these. In this recording we can hear an examiner for the speaking section, but with a Scottish accent.
You can find more info about the listening test on the IELTS website.
Sound overwhelming? Don’t stress. We’re going to break down the main skills needed to score well on this section exam and outline some tips for you.
For the reading and listening, take practice tests to see where you're losing points.
Practice tests are great because they will show what areas of English are giving you trouble and where to focus your attention in order to improve.
Focus on your weak spots at first before branching out in a new direction!
Writing while listening is hard if you aim to capture everything.
The key here is that it's not always possible throughout the entire exam so don't let this tactic take up too much time.
This will require you to develop your concentration skills and limit distractions even more so than before because you are now using both of these skills simultaneously.
Concentration skills can be improved through meditation and practice.
We also mention this tip in the IELTS Preparation guide.
Find official IELTS exams. Cambridge is the best because they are usually slightly harder than the real test. Make sure you have the answer key. Some people sell it separately.
The Cambridge practice tests are also written by the same professionals who write the official exams.
Sit down with an exam paper and look at the answers first, and then look at the questions.
Work out how the questions are asked, what they ask and how.
This strategy for the IELTS listening test makes it far easier to find answers when you do the real test.
Our IELTS Reading online preparation course is for people who want to score high on the reading test the first time. It has video lessons on how to answer each specific question style. LINK
This is just one of the courses that we offer to help you improve and prepare.
The IELTS listening exam tests English comprehension skills. The examiner looks to see whether you can listen to a piece of information and successfully answer questions.
The listening scores are out of 40 and are calculated based on the number of correct answers. Points are not 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.
Improving your listening skills requires active (not passive) listening practice. Focusing on understanding what you are listening to is important when you practice listening.
The best method to develop this skill is by combining listening and reading. Find audio examples with a text transcript to check your comprehension after listening.
See how much you can understand the general gist and start to pick out keywords.
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 to see if you can comprehend 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 from the audio!
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.
Listen to the pronunciation of phrases and groups of words.
At this point, you should be able to understand the majority of the clip. Repetition makes it easier to understand the words and phrases when you hear them again.
As Ben W says: REPETITION IS THE MOTHER OF ALL LEARNING.
These steps were adapted from Benny's great blog: FluentIn3Months.
Where can I find IELTS listening exercises?
Below are different resources to help you prepare for the IELTS Listening exam.
The IELTS listening test requires you to exhibit your comprehension skills. Listening is a skill and the best way to improve your listening, is immersion in the language.
The IELTS exam tests your active listening skills, i.e your ability to extract meaning from conversations or speeches. You also need to improve your focus levels in order to improve your listening skills.
An ability to visualise the words you heard is another skill worth developing. The ability to hold information and construct answers in your mind are two other skills.
On IELTSPodcast, Ben often tells his listeners to grab a pen and take notes, this is another form of active listening.
Another first step for improving your listening score is by building a stronger vocabulary.
When using flashcards make sure that the word is on the front and how to pronounce it is on the back. If you are a visual learner, try making your own flashcards instead of using ones that have already been made. You can upload our vocabulary lists into Quizlet and start practising today. LINK
Constantly build your passive vocabulary by reading and listening.
Then move these words into your active vocabulary by regularly using them when speaking or writing , so as to develop fluency faster!
When you have a little more time, add context to the new words that you come across - it will help with understanding them for next time too!
Another strategy to improve your listening score is by reading more. Reading improves vocabulary and also helps you understand sentence structures better.
Personally, I find addictive turn pager novels boost my reading time. Native speakers will read books with a higher vocabulary too, so it is worth the effort.
Listening to the news in English
It may seem like an obvious step given that you are listening for your IELTS test but this can be very useful and helpful. The news is always being broadcast in English and often includes topic-specific vocabulary or phrases. The BBC has a wide range of band score-improving podcasts available here.
Understanding a native English speaker can be a challenge (especially with all the northern accents!).
Recordings and podcasts can definitely help but English pronunciation is complex.
There are over 20 different vowel sounds and they can difficult to tell apart.
It gets harder with fast speech.
Two words may differ by a single sound but have a very different meaning (minimal pairs). The words van and fan are minimal pairs.
Training your ear to distinguish between the sounds is an important foundational skill.
You can find lots of minimal pairs listening exercises online. English Club has a good one.
Native speakers have speech patterns that sound unique to learners. It's different from textbook or written English.
If you learn what these patterns are, it will be easier to understand them.
Using contractions is the normal method of speech.
Example: “I am” becomes “I’m,” ”did not” becomes “didn’t” etc.
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.
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”.
In this IELTS podcast, we give out a few IELTS listening tips on how to perform better on your IELTS listening exam.
We talk about:
Now take the IELTS listening sample test online from the British Council, click here.
Here are some tutorials to help you with your IELTS listening preparation