IELTS Listening

Most test takers consider the Listening section of the IELTS to be the easiest of the four skills. This might be because they believe that they listen to English often enough in their everyday lives that it is just another example of what they already know. As well, listening is a passive language skill, meaning that you do not have to actively construct sentences in your head and then deliver them to an audience. Instead, you have to take the English in and understand it, which most test takers can do in everyday situations.

Do not be fooled by your language ability when it comes to the listening section. This skill needs to be practiced and the Listening section of the IELTS needs to be prepared for just as much as the others. There is no room for guessing here. You are not listening for overall meaning, or to pick up just enough of what is said to get by. This listening test measures your ability to pick out details from extended samples of spoken English, whether in a conversation on daily topics, or specific information on university subjects.

The following tips and strategies may help you prepare for the Listening section of the IELTS test.

  • Be prepared:

Know what you are going to face in terms of instructions, types of listening samples, and question types. Know all the instructions beforehand. Do not spend valuable time reading these—know them by heart. The only exception to this is to look out for word limits for certain answers (e.g., use no more than three words for your answer).

  • Time is on your side:

Use the full time given for looking ahead. Include the time in which the recording is preparing the section or playing an example (as in Part I). Be sure to pay attention to the number of questions that will be covered in the next segment. In other words, when you are told to begin, go straight to Part I and start looking at what is coming. Before the main recording even begins, you should have gone through all of Part I’s questions. At the end of the section, you will be given time to go over your answers. Use this time to look ahead at Part II, and so on. Only Part IV will not have a break in the middle and you will have to be prepared for all the questions at once.

  • Structure:

The test has four parts with 10 questions for each recording. Parts I–III are broken up into two smaller parts each. Only Part IV doesn’t have a break in the recording. Be prepared and always stay ahead of the recording.

  • Look ahead:

When you have answered the last question in a section, start looking ahead at the next section. You do not need to listen to the end of the recording (everything between question sets is irrelevant; you simply need to be ready for the next cue).

  • Linear flow:

Information comes in the order of the questions. For example, the answer to question 4 will be heard before the answer to question 5, 12 before 13, etc. If you missed an answer, forget it and get ready for the next.

  • Who said what?:

Know what is about to happen before it actually happens in terms of the style of speech.

In part I you will hear two people speaking about common, real-world topics, such as travel itinerary, bus schedule, gym membership fees, etc.

In part II you will hear one speaker provide information about common, real-world topics, such as a concert time and venue schedule, features of a popular product, or an explanation of the layout of an outdoor museum, etc.

In part III you will hear two or three people discussing an academic topic. It may be a teacher and students, an advisor and a student, two students, etc., discussing a project, giving information about a lab, an orientation to a library, etc.

In part IV you will hear one person delivering a lecture about an academic topic.

Always be aware of who is speaking during a dialogue or conversation. Listen for the cues to shift speaker, and listen for the single speaker to shift focus within his or her speech.

  • How to prepare:

If you live in an English-speaking country, then simply go out and interact with the locals. Until you pass the test, minimize the amount of time you spend with speakers of your native language. Listen to the local radio stations, listen to people speaking in cafes (but don’t be rude about it). If you do not live in an English-speaking country, get online and listen to podcasts, movies, audiobooks, TV shows, and so on. Listen to some English every day. Take notes of things you hear and summarize them, or rewrite them. Write down words you don’t know. You might not know how to spell them, so check your dictionary until you find the word (English words are spelled in a very confusing way, but a K sound can only come from a C, a K, a CK, a CH, or a Q. So if you hear someone say they love KEESH, write it like you heard it. Then, look in the dictionary until you find QUICHE and realize it is a baked dish.


A misspelled word, even if off by one letter, one missed capital, or one hyphen will result in no point given. Spelling only counts on the answer sheet, though, not the test booklet. Concentrate on spelling and legibility as you copy your answers.

  • Guess:

Guessing won’t hurt you. Especially on multiple choice questions make the best guess you can, but be careful: look out for tricky words (don’t be fooled by negatives, first answers that are then changed, contractions, etc.)

  • Answer sheet:

You will be given 10 minutes to transfer your answers. This is a lot of time. Relax, work slowly and carefully to make sure your spelling is correct. If you finish before the 10 minutes are up, you cannot look ahead at the Reading section. Relax, take your time.

  • End of test:

If you have 2–3 minutes left, close your eyes, relax, clear your head and get ready for the Reading section.

  • Hone your skills:

Practice your paraphrasing skills. Expand your vocabulary to include synonyms. Most of the questions, especially in parts III and IV will make use of synonyms. What you hear will not be the same as what you read; it will, however, have the same meaning.

  • Question types:

Know what to expect and how to approach each question type:

  • Fill in the blanks: You will have to listen for particular details. These may be within a sentence, a table, a map, a diagram, etc. While looking ahead at what is coming, underline cues—know what to listen for. Cues are the words that prepare you for the detail that is coming. (Car model: ________ –listen for car, model, type, brand, etc.)

Understand who should be saying which detail (in the case of a dialogue). This means that each detail should come from an appropriate source. A tourist calling for information will get that information from the travel agent. Make sure you understand who each speaker is and his/her function.

Know the specific type of information to listen for. (e.g., date, name, number, cost, etc.).

  • Tables: Look at column and row headings. Pay attention to the order of the questions—are they ordered horizontally or vertically?

Make sure you understand the missing information (details) and listen for that.

  • Multiple choice: Underline key word(s) in the question (e.g., person, place, action, time, etc.). Underline all question words (who, how, when, etc.) then listen for this information.
  • Diagrams: Identify the starting point and gauge the direction the monologue will take. If there are directions (north, east, etc.) know which way north is (look for a legend on the map).
  • DO write in your test booklet: If you can write short notes and expand later, do that. Create a notes list for yourself before the test, especially abbreviations (standard = std., Wednesday = Weds., etc.) and use these to save time during the listening. Make your spelling errors in the test book. Just be careful when you transfer them to the answer sheet that they are spelled correctly.
  • Relax, breathe!: There is never a need to panic. Remember that you don’t need a perfect score. That being said, if this is your strongest section, then be extra careful, get the highest score possible, and leave yourself “breathing room” in the other three sections. The Listening section usually comes first, when you are freshest. Take full advantage of this fact and set the standard for the rest of the test.