What Should I Listen To Improve IELTS Listening?

ielts listening free practice materials

Here’s the short answer to what should I listen to to improve IELTS listening:

  • Past IELTS papers to understand the question type and format.
  • IELTS listening strategies on Youtube to see which ones work for you.
  • Everyday conversations from series and soaps, this will help with part 1 of the test featuring general conversations.
  • TED lectures to practise listening to monologues, this will help with part 2 of the listening test.
  • Education related conversations on the news, this will help with part 3.
  • Formal lectures on TED/Youtube, this will help with part 4.
  • Anything you enjoy that features native speakers as you will find it easier to motivate yourself to listen regularly!

Don’t just hear, listen. Don’t just listen, write. Don’t just write, check.

Tim James, former IELTS examiner

Here’s the detailed answer to what should I listen to to improve IELTS listening:

For many people, IELTS is an essential first step in moving to the country of their dreams, getting into the university of their choice, or progressing along the career ladder.

Unfortunately getting the required band score is not as easy as it might first seem. The IELTS listening test is often a major barrier and people are often struggle with it even though there is quite a lot of IELTS listening free practice material out there.

After personally training thousands of candidates, both in class rooms and over the internet, there are two main points that you need to address if you wish to get the listening band score you need.

Here they are:

First you need to know how to do the IELTS listening test. By that I mean really know how to do the test. There are 4 different sections to the test each requiring different types of listening skills. What is more there are around 6 different types of IELTS listening questions you might be required to answer. For example, there are multiple choice questions, short answer questions, matching questions, labelling, table/chart completion, summary completion and sentence completion question types.

Now, if you go straight into the exam not knowing how to do each of these question types then the danger is that you become overwhelmed and confused. Remember, you only get to hear the recordings once and you will have to listen carefully as well as read the question rubric and work out how you are actually going to do the question, or in other words the technique you are going to use. If you have no technique to fall back on then you are asking for trouble.

Fortunately, there are some free tests from the British council and co-owners IDP that you can use. You may also want to check out my listening strategies for different question types here:  listening strategies. They work really well so long as you practice them first.

So, that is the first area that needs tackling.

The second area is that of your actual level of English listening ability. If you wish to improve your band score, as well as improving technique, you should also be improving your general skill and ability.

Let me ask you this. How often do you actually practice your English listening skill? Once a week? Twice a week? And How long do you practice for? Is it 10-15 minutes of listening to English songs? Is it watching movies whilst you are relaxing?

The problem is the IELTS listening test is approximately 30 minutes of English only, intense listening. That means you are listening only to English with no pictures, or subtitles at native level speed and only once. This is what you therefore have to practice for.

10 minutes of passive listening to the news or a tv program is not intense enough, it will not improve your listening skill. You need to be doing intense proactive practice. You can start in short bursts but you must build up to half an hour in length.

Fortunately, you don’t need to just listen to past IELTS exam papers over and over again to improve your listening, you can listen to anything, but you must be listening for details, or for understanding, in order for it to be worthwhile.

S0, if you are wondering what should I listen to improve ielts listening band score then here are some of my favourite places to go:

BBC Learning English : Lessons are structured around news topics often suitable for IELTS students and come with pdfs.

BBC 6 Minute English: Again the BBC are great here with compilations of vocabulary lists surrounding interesting topics.

Audible: Make use of their 30 day trial and listen to your favourite genre of books. You need to download an app to get the books on your phone but it is easy to get started.

TED talks:  Probably my favourite place for listening practice especially for students who are also studying academic subjects at the same time. This is because you can select the lectures that interest you and you can work on your high level vocabulary here. There are subtitles as well which come in handy at times.

Breaking News English: an excellent array of lessons which come with synonym and phrase matching exercises which are excellent and improving your ability to write naturally in the way that native speakers do. Listening exercises can also be slowed down to more manageable speeds if you need.

Ignite: Short 15 minute lectures which is another option for listening to native speakers at full speed.

Voice of America: News stories which come along with a scrip for understanding and grammar tips also. The pace of the recording is not too demanding either, good, if you aren’t quite able to listen to the faster paced TED talks, or BBS news articles.

Listen a minuteA nice simple site, targeted mainly at intermediate learners with an A-Z of topics covered, each listen has an accompanying pdf too.

Stitcher Podcasts : More of a real world feel to this one. Podcasts cover current affairs and stories relevant to today.

Esl Lab More of an American English feel to this one which is good for practicing different accents and a good variety of lesson on offer.

So, in summary practise your exam technique, know what to be aware of in the exam and secondly, improve your general level of English using IELTS listening free practice material similar to the above ones.

If you know any other good ones that I have missed then please let me know in the comments section below!