Top Ten Tips for Listening Test

  • Make sure you improve your general listening skills before you take the IELTS test and don’t use practice tests as a way to improve your score. Many students do this and think it is enough.  Doing practice tests will not help you to improve you score significantly although they will help you to become familiar with the test.  Listen to everything you can.  The internet is a good source of listening material.
  • Learn how to spell! The IELTS test requires correct spelling of all words, not just the ones that are spelled for you, so make sure you know how to spell some common words in English.  Also make sure that words that should be capitalised ie proper nouns and names for example, are written with an initial capital letter.
  • Before each part of the test you will hear someone say: ‘You will hear a conversation between…’ or ‘you will hear a lecture on…’  It is very important to listen to this information because it gives the topic for what you are about to hear and makes understanding the rest much easier.  It is not written on your question paper, so listen carefully.
  • During the test, use your time well. Read the questions quickly and try to decide which type of word goes in the spaces eg is it a noun, verb or adjective? Write ‘N’ for noun and ‘A’ for adjective and ‘V’ for verb in each space.  This will help you focus and listen for the word you need.
  • At the end of each section you have 30 seconds to check your answers. Use this time wisely to go back and check your answers by checking for word forms, plurals (did you forget an ‘s’ on plural words?) and spelling.
  • You know that Section 3 is almost always about education. Quite often you will hear students and a tutor talking about an assignment.  Make sure you know all the vocabulary you can about studying at university.  This will help you to understand section 3 and gain some extra marks.
  • In section 4 there is a lecture on a general topic and there are quite often multiple choice questions to go with this. There is a lot of reading to do in this section so try to get through as much as possible in the time you have.
  • All the choices in the multiple choice questions will be heard, which makes them difficult. If you don’t know, you can guess but come back to that question at the end of the test as you may be able to give a better or educated guess at the end of the test.
  • At the end of the test you have 10 minutes to transfer your answers onto an answer sheet. As you do so check your answers are correct and that you are writing your answers into the correct numbered space.  That is to say that the answer for question 9 goes onto the answer sheet in space number 9.  In practice tests many students get this wrong so don’t throw away marks through a careless mistake.
  • Don’t leave any blank answers! In both listening and reading you should write something in the answers box.  If you don’t know, then make a guess.  You never know: you may just be right!

Do and Don’t

Listen carefully to the introduction to each section. This will give you useful information about the situation and the speakers.
Use the time at the beginning of each section (and in the middle of Sections 1 – 3) to look through the questions and think about the topic.
Read the instructions for each task carefully. Remember to check the maximum number of words allowed.
Write all your answers as you listen – remember you won’t hear the recording a second time.
Check that what you write makes sense in the context.
Answer all the questions even if you don’t feel sure about an answer – you may have understood more than you think.
Wait until the end of the test to transfer your answers. You have ten minutes for this which is plenty of time.
Write clearly when you transfer your answers. If an answer isn’t clear on your answer sheet, you will lose the mark.
Check your spelling (and grammar where necessary).
XDon’t worry if you have to cross out or change an answer.
XDon’t panic if you miss one question. Look ahead and concentrate on the next one.
XDon’t try to rephrase what you hear. Write down the words you hear which fit the question.
XDon’t write more than the maximum number of words or letters allowed for each answer.
XDon’t copy any words that were printed on the Question Paper when you transfer your answers to the Answer Sheet.

Tips for Exam Day

Before the exam

  • Make sure you are familiar with the instructions for the different question types so you can quickly glance at the questions and know what to do.
  • Think about the type of situations you might come across living or studying in an English speaking country, such as someone asking for directions or talks on topics of general interest.
  • Listen to as wide a range of material as possible – English language television and radio, listening sites on the Internet and films and music are all great sources.
  • Do as many practice tests as you can to get used to the speed of delivery and the task types.

During the exam

Before listening

  • Make sure you use the 30 seconds given at the beginning of each section to read the questions before listening.
  • Make sure you look at all the questions in each section.
  • Make sure you read the instructions
  • Make sure you know what form your answer should take e.g. a word, a letter, a tick, a phrase, a circle around the correct letter etc
  • Make sure you use the time given to analyse the questions.
  • Decide what you are listening for. Are you listening for specific information, for the main idea or for the speaker’s attitude?
  • Use the outline given of the topic, who is talking and the situation to predict possible answers.
  • When you look at the questions, think about synonyms. You may not hear the exact words that are in the answer choices.

While listening

  • Listen carefully to the instructions.
  • Listen out for key words and common signpost words like – “on the other hand’, “in contrast’ etc
  • Remember the questions usually follow the same sequence as the conversation or talk but the information may be expressed differently from the questions.
  • Write down something even if you haven’t got the answer before moving on to the next question.
  • Make sure you continue to listen while you are writing as you only hear the tape once.
  • Don’t get stuck on a question you can’t answer. Just move on.
  • Remember there may be sections of irrelevant information. Just keep listening for the information you need.
  • Write notes in the question booklet as you listen. This may help you go back to a difficult question later.

After listening

  • Make sure you transfer your answers correctly.
  • Make sure you use the time given to check your answers.
  • If you can’t remember an answer, guess.

In – depth Listening Test Guidelines

In general

The Listening Test is probably the one people get most scared of. To help yourself overcome that fear, start watching TV programs in English. It is better than radio or audio books, because you also see images that help you understand the words you heat.

Listening – a skill, not a gilt!

From my experience, in many cases listening is the least developed skill. So if you feel especially weak in that area – pay attention to the following tips, that will help you improve your Listening ability. Remember – nobody is bom with it, it’s just a skill and you learn it. If you think your listening needs no improvements – skip the “Teach yourself the words” part, move forward to the next tips.

Teach yourself the words

The only way to improve your Listening ability is to train your “ears” to separate and understand the words you hear in the flow of a sentence Often what you hear is a Blablablablabla”, which you can’t to break into words, and for that reason it makes no sense to you. When training, take a recording of the news, lecture, television program movie or an actual IELTS Listening test and work with it. I suggest using MP3 player. You can easily record English from the radio or any other sourc e to it. It is also easy to repeat (re-play) sentences you didn’t understand. MP3 player is small and light, so you can use it in any spare moment that you have – riding a bus or a tram, walking the dog, taking a walk yourself etc.

First, listen, remember what you heard and stop the recording after each phrase. Even if you didn’t understand the phrase, play it in your head a couple of times, like a broken record – “Tonight we have a special guest”, “Tonight we have a special guest”, “Tonight we have a special guest”.

Then say it out loud. If you understood that phrase at first, this exercise will improve your pronunciation. If you didn’t understand the phrase for the first time, this repetition will give you more time to hear it better, break it into words and make sense out of them. And if it is still difficult, you can always rewind and hear the phrase again.

There is a big difference between seeing a word printed on paper while reading and heaiing it. If you saw a word, it doesn’t mean you will recognize it when you hear it. So every word you have seen, you must hear at least once.

Instructions will keep you safe

Every task in the IELTS Listening test has its instructions. It may sound stupid, but you really need to read them carefully. Why? Because they will tell you exactly what to do with the information: how many words you can use to answer, is there a table you must fill, is there a list to choose words from, how many items you must name, etc. And if the answer must be in 3 words – write EXACTLY 3 WORDS, because writing four or two words will get you 0 score

To make my point crystal clear, let’s take the following scenario for example:

The speaker on a tape says:

“Well, if you are dieting, try to avoid fruits with lots of fructose like watermelon, mango, peaches or grapes.”

The question in the booklet is:

“Name 2 fruits a person on a diet should not eaf.

The answer may be “watermelon, mango” or “mango, peaches” or any combination of two items, but never three or four!!! Anyone who writes “just in case” – watermelon, mango, peaches, grapes – receives 0 score for that question.

Note: when counting words – “a” or “the” counts as a word.

Divide and concur!

The recording divides questions into groups, so every timp you are instructed to answer a group of 4-5 questions. There are 20-30 seconds of silence before each group.

First thing you should do when the tape starts playing is understand which group of questions you need to answer.

For example the tape says: “Look at the questions one to four”. It means that you have about 20 seconds to look at those questions. Go over the questions, read them and underline keywords. Keywords are the words that contain the main idea of the question. They will help you guess what you will hear – numbers, opening hours, names, locations, etc.

Draw a line under the question four, so you won’t look further before it’s time.

Then you will hear a piece of passage and answer the questions one to four as you listen. It means that you should be able to write one answer and listen to another.

After that, the tape will say the numbers of the questions in the next group Repeat the same process, including drawing the line. This dividing technique is very efficient because every time you concentrate on limited number of questions, so it makes you more focused and in control.


Don’t get confused by all the different voices you are going to hear. The recording uses several different voices – of younger and older people, men and women. You may also hear different accents – Australian, British, American, Japanese, etc. The background noises also vary. It can be of airport, cafe-shop, street, University lecture hall, you name it. Be ready for it and don’t let it distract you – because that is exactly what they want. Ignore the noises and listen for the answers.

Listen for specifics

When you are listening, look for descriptions and details, such as dates, places, telephone numbers, opening hours, years (1995), transportation (car, bike, train)

If you hear them, but don’t know where to place them yet – write them on the margins of the Listening booklet. Later you will have some time to check your answers. Going over the questions that you couldn’t answer during the Listening passage, you might see that what you’ve written on the margins fits.

Answer as you listen

The reason you have to “answer as you listen” is that you immediately forget the sentences after you have heard them – because of stress, foreign language, constant flow of information, etc. After hearing the third sentence you won’t be able to repeat the first. It means that when any part of the Listening is over – you won’t be able to remember any of the answers. So write them as you hear them, leave nothing for later


Keep moling forward

A worst case scenario is you “loosing the sequence of answers” – so you miss une answer and then you miss another one and so on. To prevent that from happening, always look one or two questions ahead. It sounds confusing but after a little practice it becomes very natural and helps a lot. Even if you have missed the answer to a question – admit it and move to the next one, otherwise you will loose it too.

Know your clues

The answer is usually pronounced louder and clearer, it is easier to hear and understand. If you can’t hear something clear (because the speaker swallows words or whispers), then probably the answer is not there With some practice you will be able to tell the ilifference

A good clue to an answer is when you hear a repetition of a word, a word being spelled out (G A R F U N K E L) or a number dictated.

Spelling tasks

As simple as it sounds, the spelling task is not so easy. You should practice a little to be prepared for it. Just ask someone to spell the names of cities from the following list for you. If you study alone, you could record yourself spell those names and numbers, and then play it. The same goes for the list of telephone numbers I include here It is a good practice and will only add to your confidence Note: in numbers “00” sometimes is read as “double o” instead of “zero-zero”.

Typical Listening tasks

Remember my promise – no surprises in IELTS? The following table shows you every type of task you may see in the Listening test booklet. Different task types come with different instructions, so if you see and remember them now, it will save you time later.

Of course, you won’t get every type I show here in your test and the table looks a bit boring. Anyway, my advice is to get to know them now.

Task TypeWhat do you doInstructions in the booklet
Picking PicturesFrom 3-4 pictures choose a picture that best describes what you hear on tapeCircle the appropriate letter
Multiple choiceQuestionsThere is a question and a number of answers (three, four or five), your job is to pick the right one (sometimes more than just one).Circle the appropriate letter /Circle the correct answer
Short-answerQuestionsAnswer in 3 words, as the instructions sayComplete the notes/table. Use NO MORE THAN 3 WORDS for each answer
Sentence CompletionComplete a sentence according to what you hearComplete the notes/table. Use NO MORE THAN 3 WORDS for each answer
Form CompletionA form is given and you need to fill in blank fieldsComplete the form. Write NO MORE THAN 3 WORDS for each answer
Chart/TableA table with some blank cells is givenComplete the notes/table
Gap-fillThere are several sentences with missing words, you should pick the correct word and fill it in the gap. Choose from the list (if there is one), or from what you have heard.Complete tire notes below by writing NO MORE THAN 3 WORDS in the spaces provided
Diagram LabelingWrite description in l to 3 words for different parts of a drawing according to what you hearComplete/label the diagram by writing NO MORE THAN 3 WORDS in the boxes/spaces provided

Pattern of  Listening Test

Procedure of the test

  • The listening module is the first test you do on the test day.
  • The tape is only played once.
  • You are given a question paper and an answer sheet. While you listen you write your answers on the question paper.
  • When the tape stops you are given 10 minutes to transfer your answers to the answer sheet.
  • The test takes about 30 minutes.

Structure of the test

The first two sections are concerned with social needs.

Section 1

In this section you will hear an informal or semi-informal conversation between two people. For example, you might hear a discussion about what’s on television; or you might hear someone making a complaint about their rented flat or a faulty product, or someone asking for information or making a booking.

Section 2

In this section you will hear a monologue in a similar context to section 1. For example you could hear someone talking about the restaurants in a town or describing the rules or regulations in a hostel or the procedure you need to follow in order to make a complaint.

The last two sections are concerned with situations related to educational or training contexts.

Section 3

In this section you will hear a conversation with up to four speakers. It will be more formal than Section 1. The speakers could be students discussing a lecture or planning something for class or talking to someone in authority at a college or university.

Section 4

In this section you will hear a monologue in the form of a lecture or talk. It will also be more formal.

All the topics will be of general interest and not biased towards students of particular disciplines.

Test instructions

At the beginning of each section the speaker will give a brief introduction to the situation. For example,

You are now going to listen to a conversation in a language school. Paulo is registering for a course and talking to a lady at the student services counter.

You will then be given instructions:

Read questions 1 to 6. As you listen to the tape, write the correct answer in the spaces provided.

You are then told to look at the questions:

First you have some time to look at the questions 1 to 6.

The tape will be silent for about 30 seconds. Then the speaker will repeat which questions you have to answer:

Now listen and answer questions 1 to 6.

Question types

The types of tasks are:

  1. Multiple Choice
  2. Short-answer questions
  3. Sentence completion
  4. Notes/table/summary flow-chart/diagram completion
  5. Labelling a diagram which has numbered parts
  6. Classification

There are 40 questions in total and about 10 questions in each section and at least two types of questions in each section. Both the texts and the tasks increase in difficulty as the test progresses.


You are given a mark for each of the 40 questions and your result is converted into a score which corresponds to one of the bands from 1-9 which you will see on your result sheet. You can be awarded a whole or a half band in the listening section.

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