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IELTS Listening Tips

These 25 IELTS Listening Tips provide you with essential strategies to help you get the score you need in the exam and show you how to improve IELTS listening.

  1. Predict the topic – it helps you to listen if you know what kind of conversation is taking place so you can picture it in your head. So look through each section in the time you are given and make sure you have an idea of who is speaking to who and what the context is.

  2. Predict the questions – you should also try and have an idea of what kind of information you are listening out for. For example, in section one you often have to listen for names, numbers and addresses. Have a look at the questions in the time you are given and work out what needs to go in the space. A name? Number? An address? You are more likely to catch it then when the answer arises.

  3. Use a minute to look through each section – you are given 30 seconds at the end of each section to check your answers. You are then told to turn over and look at the next section for 30 seconds. Although some IELTS listening tips will tell you to check what you have written, there is little you can check for the previous section as you can’t hear the listening again. So instead, turn straight to the next section. You will then have one minute (instead of 30 seconds) to look through the next section. This is time better spent.

  4. Careful with question order – often you have a table to complete, and sometimes a diagram or chart. The questions will not necessarily go from left to right, so check the progression carefully otherwise you will get lost and confused.

  5. Look at two questions at once – there are two reasons for doing this. Firstly, some questions may have the answers close together in one sentence so you could miss one if you only look at one question at a time. Also, it is possible that you will miss an answer – if you are just looking at one, you may not know that you missed it. If you are also looking at the next, you’ll see that it has moved on.

  6. Move on if you miss an answer – if you do realise you have missed an answer, quickly forget about it and concentrate on the next ones. There is nothing you can do, and you can also guess when you transfer your answers to the answer sheet at the end. The same applies if you realise you missed two or three answers. Don’t panic and just move on as there is nothing you can do. A few questions missed may not necessarily affect your band score.

  7. Watch others if you’re completely lost – if you completely lose where you are, then watch when the other candidates turn over their exam papers. You’ll know then that you are back in the right place.

  8. Look out for paraphrasing – remember that what you hear will most likely not be exactly the same as is written on the exam paper as that would be too easy. The question and the question stems use such things as synonyms so you must listen carefully for these.

  9. Ignore words you don’t know – don’t worry or panic if you hear a word that you do not know. It may not be necessary to know it anyway, or you can take a guess.

  10. Underline key words – when you look through the questions first, particularly in the more difficult parts 3 and 4, underline key words (such as names, places and dates) in the question stems to help you hear the answer. Remember though, as explained above, synonyms are often used.

  11. Take care with spelling and grammar – your answer will be marked wrong if it is spelt incorrectly or the grammar does not fit. So when you transfer your answers at the end, double check these. The sentence on the exam paper may help you with the grammar – does it fit grammatically? Should it be a verb, noun, adjective?

  12. Use British or American spelling – this is what is says on the official IELTS website: ”IELTS recognises both British and American English in terms of spelling, grammar and choice of words”. So you can use either in your answers.

  13. Don’t worry about what you write on the exam sheet – in practice tests, it is common to see students rubbing or crossing things out on the exam paper. Remember that nobody sees or marks what you write here. Don’t waste time getting the spelling correct or anything else. If you do this you’ll get lost – you need to be listening. So just write down what you hear then move on. When you transfer the answers at the end to the answer sheet, you can make sure you have the correct spelling.

  14. Read the instructions – an IELTS listening tip that is an important tip for any part of the test is to always read the instructions carefully. They will tell you how many words to use. If it asks for no more than two words and you use three, it will be wrong. And you must only put in the words asked for. For example, if there is a gap of “at …… pm” and you write “at 5pm” on the answer sheet, it will be wrong. You should only write what is missing i.e. “5”.

  15. Use upper or lower case letters – a question often asked is whether you can use upper case letters. This is what it says on the official British Council Website: “You may write your answers in lower case or capital letters”. So you can write all your answers in capital letters if you like. This statement from the British Council suggests, therefore, that you will not be penalised if you write ‘paris’ for example, instead of ‘Paris’ because it says you can use lower case letters. However, it is recommended that you try and use capitalisation correctly to be on the safe side. If you are not sure if the first letter needs capitalisation, then capitalise the whole word.

  16. Get used to the British accent – a good IELTS listening tip is to be prepared to hear all accents as you may hear Australian, American, Canadian, New Zealand and a mix of European countries. However, although there are a mix of accents in the test, the majority tend to be British (unlike TOEFL which tends to be American). So make sure you are used to the British accent.

  17. Practice the pronunciation of letter and numbers – often words are spelt out in the test by a speaker and numbers are read out, so make sure you can recognise how different letters sound in different accents, not just words.

  18. Careful with what you write down – speakers in the test will often give an answer but then correct themselves. So the first answer that looks right may actually be wrong. You can check out a lesson on this here.

  19. Don’t leave answers blank – you will not get penalised for writing the wrong answer (as opposed to nothing if you are not sure what it is) so guess if that is possible.

  20. Transfer your answers to the answer sheet carefully – if you put correct answers in the wrong place on the answer sheet it will be wrong, so make sure you put the answer in the correct place. It is easy to do this if you leave an answer blank on the exam sheet. You may then fill that one in with the wrong answer when you transfer them across. So put in a guess for any you do not know and leave no blanks.

  21. Check your answers - make sure you recheck your spelling and grammar too when you transfer your answers at the end.

  22. Listen very carefully - listen very very carefully throughout the test. Zone in and focus. Don’t be distracted by anything around you, and don’t panic if you think you having missed any answers or that you are getting them wrong. All this will do is distract you from listening.

  23. Practice listening – of all the IELTS listening tips, this is one of the most important. Make sure you practice listening as much as you can! You can practice with sample IELTS listening tests but you should also expose yourself to as much English as you can. Target it at the level you are currently at. There is no point in listening to BBC World if you don’t understand any of it. Find resources on the internet that suit your level and gradually increase difficulty. And don’t worry if they are not exams or specifically for IELTS, any kind of listening helps. Try to make listening fun and listen to things you like. You can move on to more difficult things as you improve.

  24. Listen to lectures – remember that the last part is a lecture, so practice listening to lectures and taking notes. Lectures often follow certain patterns, such as an introduction to tell you the topic and main points, and they have sign-posts to tell you if they are comparing e.g. "although", or moving onto a new main points e.g. “Now I’ll discuss….”. So listening to lectures will help you with this section. You can find lectures online if you do a search. TED lectures may be useful as they provide a transcription so you can check your notes. .

  25. Learn to listen and write together – practicing your listening skills is important, but remember in the test you have to write and listen. So you should practice this too. One way to do this is with practice tests but you can also try listening to audios and taking notes at the same time. This will improve your ability to do both skills at the same time.

You can also check out the Top 10 IELTS Listening Tips in this video:

Try some of these IELTS Listening Tips and you will see how to improve IELTS listening.

However, as the tips explain, you must pratice to improve your listening skills as much as you can.

Try out some sample listening tests to practice and see how you do.

You'll also find some IELTS Listening Tips from people who have successfully taken the test if you have a look in the IELTS Listening Forum.


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