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.
The following IELTS listening tips and tricks will help you to be successful in your test as well as improve your real-world listening.
Five-step method for improving your listening skills for IELTS
14 Listening tips for your IELTS exam
- 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.
- Watch out for plurals in answers. If the question requires a plural answer, a singular answer is incorrect.
- Answers appear in the order they are heard in the audio. They come quickly or with large gaps between them.
- Prepare to hear a potential answer that is not the actual answer. This is common when two people are making plans. They first agree on meeting at a certain time, but then one remembers that they cannot so they decide on a new time.
- Take care when you transfer your answers and pay attention to the word limit for your answers on your answer sheet!
- Multiple-choice answers will ask for a letter (a, b, c, d). Write the letter and not the corresponding answer.
- When asked to complete a sentence using no more than two words, and the correct answer is “leather coat,” then “a coat made of leather” is incorrect. Same goes for numbers.
- Hyphenated words (like “part-time”) are considered as one word.
- A date (1990) is considered one number.
- Focus on what the speaker is saying not how they say it.
- Don’t take notes in complete sentences – jot down the key points and abbreviate. You only need to write down enough to help your memory later.
- Get the habit of distinguishing between essential and non-essential information. If two people are talking about making plans for a dinner date, the important information is the date/time they finally agree upon. Other dates/times they considered become irrelevant.
- Try to guess what the speaker is going to say. Speakers, will often drop clue words or outline what they will to talk about beforehand. This gives you the ability to start your own outline to then fill in.
- Listen to the audio while reading the audio script. This will help you get a sense of how questions are spaced out, as well as learning some useful common expressions that are frequently used in listening tests. We often give this tip to students wondering how to improve listening in IELTS.
IELTS Listening tips to predict answers in the listening exam
- You have the opportunity to read the questions before listening to the 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).
Here’s one of our favourite IELTS listening tips: 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
What happens on the listening test?
The IELTS listening test is designed to assess how well you can:
- Understand both main ideas and detailed information
- Recognise the opinions and attitudes of a speaker
- Follow the development of an idea or argument
IELTS Listening test structure
- 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 for all four sections. 30 minutes to listen to the recordings and write your answers on the question paper. Then 10 minutes to transfer these to the answer sheet.
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.
Keep track of your results and improvement
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!
IELTS Writing and listening simultaneously (a key skill!)
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.
Reverse engineer the reading and listening tests
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.
This is just one of the courses that we offer to help you improve and prepare.
How is the IELTS Listening score calculated?
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.
Five-step method for improving your listening skills for IELTS
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.
Step 1: Listen to the audio clip (no reading)
See how much you can understand the general gist and start to pick out keywords.
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 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!
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 the pronunciation of phrases and groups of words.
Step 5: Listen a few more times without the text
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?
Listening Resources (authentic native English speaker material)
Below are different resources to help you prepare for the IELTS Listening exam.
- RANDAL ESL Listening lab – Take a look at this website that can help you improve your listening for the IELTS exam.
- 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. The site also offers one-minute lessons on common English idioms. It also groups News Stories by difficulty.
- English Test Store –ETS offers listening comprehension exercises like those in IELTS.
- Exam English – Exam English provides test prep resources including practice tests and exercises. You’ll find IELTS-specific exercises. Try the listening exercises for other exams. 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.
- Audible – I have been addicted to their audiobooks since starting. I find them high quality and informative. Because they are interesting I listen right to the end -unlike practice tests which can send me to sleep!
- The British Council has a selection of recordings for students.
- Six Minutes English by the BBC is another fantastic free resource. Here they share everyday English, often in a real-life situation. There is a free pdf vocabulary resource available too.
How to improve your listening skills
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 IELTS Podcast, Ben often tells his listeners to grab a pen and take notes, this is another form of active listening. Here are a few other tips and tricks to improve your listening for IELTS
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!
Are you listening effectively? Reading answers or potential answers is an important IELTS skill because you will be listening, for example, for synonyms of multiple choice answers. 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.
IELTS listening tips for band 9
How to understand native English speakers
Although there are a lot of tips for IELTS listening, this is something that many students are unaware of.
- 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 be difficult to tell apart.
- It gets harder with fast speech.
- Two words may differ by a single sound but have very different meanings (minimal pairs). The words van and fan are minimal pairs.
- Training your ear to distinguish between sounds is an important foundational skill.
- You can find lots of minimal pairs listening exercises online. English Club has a good one.
Why do native speakers sound like a block of sound?
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.
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”.
VIDEO: Please Don’t Be Tricked in the IELTS Listening Exam
Audio Tutorial – How to Improve for the IELTS Listening Exam
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:
- 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.
IELTS Listening test audio and answer sheet downloads
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
- Word Muscle: boost your spelling and listening skills
- How to score band 9 in IELTS Listening
- How to improve your English listening
- IELTS Listening Questions
- IELTS Listening: multiple-choice questions
- Matching questions in IELTS listening
- Top IELTS listening tips
- Overview of the computer-based listening test
- Section one of the listening test
Audio tutorial: How to improve your listening
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How can I get 8.5 in IELTS listening?
With practice and a focus on improving vocabulary. Take time to read listening test scripts to recognize the interaction patterns, memorise commonly used phrases and be aware of how the answers are spaced out.
How can we avoid mistakes in IELTS listening?
Stay focused, listen for plural endings and word types (is it going to be a noun, verb, or adjective?) Check spellings carefully and with multiple choice remember you are listening for a synonym of the question keyword.
How can I get 9 in IELTS listening?
You get a band 9 simply by getting almost every question correct. This is very challenging and even fluent speakers can get confused. Practice and learn as much vocabulary as you can to have the best chance of success.
Why is IELTS listening so hard?
Remember that listening and reading tests will try to trick you, especially with multiple choice questions, unlike the writing and speaking exams. Like anything, it gets easier with practice. Focus more on part 3 and 4 to improve.