How to achieve the best results in the IELTS listening paper
The IELTS test assesses your English language ability in all 4 skills – listening, reading, writing and speaking. There are 2 types of IELTS test – IELTS Academic and IELTS General training. Typically students wishing to study at a UK university at undergraduate or post-graduate level will require IELTS Academic and so most language schools in the UK offer this training.
Simon Cummings, with around 20 years of experience as an IELTS teacher and 15 years as an IELTS examiner, gives his advice about how you can maximise your results in the listening section of the test!
Pre-Test IELTS Listening Test Practice
Many candidates spend a lot of time practising for the IELTS listening test by doing old tests from test books. This is obviously a good idea as it helps make the test more familiar. However, repeated practice of just one test type will not improve your general listening skills very much and you need to take time with other listening sources as well.
- Try using a graded reader: listen to it in small chunks and write what you hear, checking back for spelling and grammatical accuracy.
- Use the internet to listen to BBC news items making notes on what you hear. Listen again (with or without subtitles) to check your information.
- TED talks are another very good source of detailed practice for the IELTS listening test.
For section one you need to be sure you know the English alphabet and how each letter is pronounced in spelling words such as people’s names and place names. Also, you will hear information given in numerical form. This information is simple but can be given quite rapidly so do some practice with phone numbers, prices, time and dates, percentages, fractions etc.
Section two of the IELTS listening test contains general information given as a monologue. To practice in advance you need to listen to instructions, tour guides and the like. Sometimes this involves a map so practice with language of directions (north, south, next to, behind, opposite etc).
Section three is an academic discussion, often between students and a tutor. This might involve language of decision making, giving reasons and opinions especially in the area of choosing courses, study topics and reviewing assignments.
Section four of the IELTS listening exam takes the form of a lecture. It will be about a subject you probably know nothing about. However, the answers will not be obscure words so do not worry about your lack of knowledge of the topic. Following the lecture stage by stage is the key. Your IELTS exam preparation can be with TED talks, longer (5+ minutes) news items or documentaries, these are perfect practice.
Use the Time Given
Unlike in the reading and writing parts of the test, you are not in control of the timing of the listening test. Therefore, it is vital that you use the time you are given before and after each section of the test to read the questions and check your answers.
- Make predictions about possible answers and type of word or words (noun, verb, adjective or numbers etc) the answer might contain before each listening section.
- After each section go back over your answers to check you have not made any simple mistakes. However, if you are very confident about your answers, you might want to use that checking time to go to the next section to prepare for that instead.
- Highlight/circle/underline the keywords in the questions/diagrams etc.
- Make sure you follow the order of the questions in tables (top to bottom or left to right?) and diagrams (clockwise, anticlockwise or dotted around?) and understand what information is required and/or what the diagram/process is showing.
Follow the Information
Keywords, headings, titles etc are your signposts to the listening and help guide you through the questions. Listen for the speaker’s signposts/keywords: First I’m going to talk about…, Next…, Now we can move on to…, etc.
With multiple choice questions, there will be three possible answers. Eliminating the wrong answers as you listen greatly improves your chances of selecting the correct one.
If you miss an answer do not keep waiting and waiting for it but be sure to be aware of the following keyword so you do not miss the next answer as well. This is important because losing the thread can result in losing several marks in a row.
If completing sentences, be sure that the grammar is correct – if it seems wrong, you may have selected the wrong answer. Make a note and use the ten minutes at the end to think again.
If notes are required, the grammar does not have to be exactly right because note forms are not always written in sentences.
Check for basic grammar errors – subject/verb agreement, plural s and tense (past or present or future).
Spelling is very important and you will probably lose a mark even if you make a small spelling mistake. Try your best with the spelling as you listen and then use the ten minutes transfer time at the end to think about it again.
Answer Every Question
Even if you are not sure of an answer, have a go because marks are not taken off for a wrong answer.
Obviously, with multiple choice items, guessing can be quick and easy but still look at the answer options and decide which answers you think are probably incorrect and then guess from the others.
Tips for the other IELTS papers
If you want tips on the reading, writing and speaking parts of the examination, look at our other blog posts from Simon.
Simon Cummings is Assistant Academic Director at The English Language Centre, an English school in Brighton, Sussex, on the south-coast of England. ELC offers intensive 4-week IELTS exam preparation courses that help students prepare for Academic IELTS. Simon has helped students learn English for more than 25 years and has around 20 years' experience succesfully helping students prepare for IELTS. He was an IELTS examiner for 15 years and regularly teaches on the IELTS Examination Preparation Course at ELC.