IELTS listening tips

9 listening tips for your IELTS exam

The best way to prepare for the listening test is to practice as often as you can but here we have some IELTS listening tips that can help you prepare for your IELTS exam.

  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 is incorrect.
  3. Answers appear in the order they are heard in the audio. They come quickly or with large gaps between them.
  4. 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.
  5. Take care when you transfer your answers and pay attention to the word limit for your answers on your answer sheet!
  6. Multiple choice answers will ask for a letter (a, b, c, d). Write the letter and not the corresponding answer.
  7. 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.
  8. Hyphenated words (like “part-time”) are considered as one word.
  9. A date (1990) is considered one number.

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).

Different prepositons will dictate different answers.

Here are some examples:

Preposition Possible Answers Examples
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

What happens on the listening test?

The IELTS listening test is designed to assess how well you can:

  1. Understand both main ideas and detailed information
  2. Recognise the opinions and attitudes of a speaker
  3. Follow the development of an idea or argument

Listening test structure

Some helpful information for the listening test

- 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 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 outline some tips for you.

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:


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 IELTSPodcast, Ben often tells his listeners to grab a pen and take notes, this is another form of active listening.

How to understand native English speakers:

Understanding a native English speaker can be a challenge (especially with scousers!).
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).
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 sound like a block of sound!

Native speakers have speech patterns that sounds 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”

IELTS writing and listening simultaneously (a key skill!)

Writing while listening is hard if you aim to capture everything.

What should you do instead?

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 through 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 through 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.


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.

  • Leverage Edu - Take a look at this list of movies 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! Use this link to get a free 30 day trial.

Download the podcast about IELTS listening tips

IELTS listening tips and exam 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 IELTS listening tips on how to perform better on your IELTS listening exam. We talk about:

Audio tutorial

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