IELTS listening: multiple-choice questions, short answer questions

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In this tutorial, you will:

  • learn how to tackle ‘multiple-choice’ and ‘short answer’ questions more effectively
  • find out how to avoid some common pitfalls with these types of question
  • become more familiar with different sections of the IELTS listening test

Most or all of the questions in section one of the listening test are usually ‘completion’ questions, which involve filling in the gaps to complete a form or table. If there is a second type of question in section one, it may be multiple choice. Often, the recording is divided into two parts, with the second part a continuation of the same conversation.

With multiple-choice questions, you usually need to choose A, B or C

In this example, a woman who recently moved to the area is asking a neighbour for information about some local restaurants.

Section 1

Questions 7 - 10

Choose the correct letter, A, B or C.

(7) How did the woman’s neighbour find out about The Green Papaya?

A He won a free meal in a competition at work.

B A colleague at work recommended it to him.

C He read about it in a local newspaper.

Two tips 

  1. As with all parts of the listening test, it’s important to look through the task carefully before the recording starts. Improve your ability to focus on the information you need to listen for by underlining the key words in the question. 
  2. In your head, paraphrase the key words in the possible answers to help prepare you for the conversation you’re going to hear. So you are looking at different ways of saying the same information. 

Here are some examples:

Answer ‘A’ mentions ‘a free meal’. Another way of saying this might be ‘a voucher which entitles you to dinner for two’. Don’t confuse with the expression: There’s no such thing as a free lunch.

Answer ‘B’ states ‘a colleague recommended it’. You might hear ‘a friend from the office suggested trying it’.

Answer ‘C’ says ‘He read about it (the restaurant) in a local newspaper’ so you might expect to hear something about ‘reading restaurant reviews’. Also phrases such as “browsing”, or “flicking” through the local paper. 

Expanding your IELTS vocabulary will have a positive impact on your ability to paraphrase.

Be aware that you will probably hear something about all three possible answers when you listen to the recording. The two wrong answers are sometimes known as ‘distractors’, because they ‘distract’ your attention from the correct answer. 

It’s important not to make your decision about the correct answer too early. Feel free to draw ticks and crosses on the question paper while you are listening – but keep listening until the end of the recording before you come to a final decision.

This is the extract of the recording that goes with question 7:

Woman: So how did you discover that The Green Papaya was the place to go?

Man: Well, I love eating out and trying new places – and I often read restaurant reviews…

Woman: Right…

Man: But finding The Green Papaya was a bit of an accident.

Woman: Really? What do you mean?

Man: Well, we have this system at work. Every month, the person who comes up with the best idea for increasing sales is rewarded with dinner for two at a local restaurant. 

Woman: And you won..!

Man: Well, actually I came second. It was pretty close, but Richard ended up winning. Anyway, he told me all about his fantastic experience at The Green Papaya – and I decided I had to give it a try!

Even though the man mentions reading restaurant reviews, and the competition at work, eventually we discover that the correct answer is ‘B’.

Multiple-choice questions often appear in sections two and three of the test, as well as in section one. Multiple-choice questions are challenging as they may require test-takers to demonstrate a wide variety of listening skills. 

You may need to listen for the gist (or general idea), specific information or detail. You can practise all of these listening subskills – and receive helpful feedback – by signing up for our online course.

Usually, you need to choose A, B or C. However, sometimes you will be given a longer list of options and told to choose more than one. As with all the listening tasks, it is very important to read the instructions carefully.

Another less common type of task which sometimes appears in section two and three involves answering questions with short answers. These are usually relatively straightforward as they involve extracting key facts.

For example, you might see a question which looks like this:

Section 2

Questions 11 - 16

Answer the questions below.

Write no more than one word and/or a number for each answer.

What two things do participants need to bring with them?

  • 11 ____________
  • 12 ____________

Here is the introduction to the recording:

You will hear one of the organisers of a local outdoor event talking to a group of people who are going to participate in the event the following day.

It’s not clear what kind of event it is – but it is going to take place outdoors. You could predict that the participants might to bring food, water – or umbrellas!

This is the first part of the recording:

Hello everybody and thanks very much for coming to the briefing today. The purpose of this session is to try and make sure that things run as smoothly as possible. We will have 200 people attending the event tomorrow so I’m sure that you can appreciate that this all takes quite a lot of organisation.

  1. Now as you’re all aware, things will get underway at 11am tomorrow morning. Please make sure that you arrive by 10.45am at the latest. All the food will be provided so you don’t need to worry about that side of things. However, the forecast is for hot sunny weather, so please don’t forget to bring plenty of water, so that you don’t get dehydrated – and sunscreen, of course.

So, the answers to questions 11 and 12 are ‘water’ and ‘suncreen’ – in either order. Just be sure to follow the instructions and check your spelling. If you write ‘plenty of water’, your answer will be marked as incorrect as you are required to use just one word.

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