How To Do The IELTS Listening Test

IELTS coach

Hey there! This is former IELTS examiner Tim James here, and I am going to cover how to do the IELTS listening test. Here's what you need to do:

Listen to the recording and all instructions carefully. Underline keywords in the questions and try to predict what the answers might be. Listen to the recording and write down the answers at the same time watching out for synonyms and distractors. Transfer your answers to the answer sheet at the end.

Obviously, there is a lot more to it than that. So, on this page I am going to teach you the exact same strategies, techniques, tips, and practice and preparation techniques that have proven to work for thousands of my former students.

You can jump straight to different sections of the page on the links below:

IELTS Listening test format

IELTS listening question types

IELTS listening skills

IELTS listening strategies

IELTS listening tips

IELTS listening practice questions

IELTS listening useful links

IELTS Listening Format

The IELTS Listening format consists of 4 sections of 10 questions each and takes approximately 30 minutes, there is an additional 10 minutes for you to transfer your answers on to the answer sheet provided.

Section 1 - A conversation in an everyday social context between two people, such as a telephone conversation between a travel agent and a customer booking a holiday. How To Do IELTS Listening Part 1 

Section 2 - A monologue on a topic relating to general social needs, for example, someone giving a speech about recycling in the community. How To Do IELTS Listening Part 2

Section 3 - A conversation in an academic context between two or more people. This could be a university student discussing their essay with a tutor. How To Do IELTS Listening Part 3

 Section 4 - A lecture or talk (monologue)  on a topic of general academic interest. It could be a University professor giving a lecture about a particular science topic. How To Do IELTS Listening Part 4

IELTS Listening Question Types

What Types Of Questions Are In The IELTS Listening Test?

You will find a variety of different types of questions in the test. You can see examples of all of these in the free samples listed in the next section, however the main question types are:

1. Multiple choice - Choose an answer A,B or C.

2. Matching - Match a list of items from the speaker to a list of options on the answer paper.

3. Plan/map/diagram labeling - add names/labels to parts of a visual.

4. Form/note/table/flow chart/summary completion - Fill in gaps in the script of the recording. Usually they will be the main ideas/points. This question type may also come in the form of a flow chart, notes, table or form.

5. Sentence completion - read sentences that give an overview of important information from either all of the listening text or from just one small part of it. Your task is to enter information in to a gap in sentences, using information that you have heard.

6. Short-answer questions - independently write a short answer based on information you have heard from the recording.

IELTS Listening Skills

What Listening Skills Are Being Tested?

There are 5 different listening skills that are being tested. Knowing what these skill as and how they are used in the exam can help you practice more efficiently.

Predicting: Using your knowledge of a topic and the situation to guess what speakers are talking about.

Identifying key words: You need to be able to identify the most important words in a sentence to understand its meaning. This is often done by listening for tone of voice and the intonation that a speaker uses.

Listening for specific information: Often we listen for one or more important pieces of information, such as a place name in a weather forecast or a number in a television advert. Being able to ignore unimportant information and focus on that specific information is an important skill.

The ability to listen to and identify synonyms and paraphrases for what you are looking for is also important. For example, a question might ask how many days will it rain for and the speaker might use the phrase ‘wet weather’ rather than rain.

Listening intensively: This skill is used when everything the speaker says is important. This could be when instructions are being explained such as when a salesman is explaining to you how to use the new I-pad you have just bought.

Identifying attitudes of speakers: This means working out what the speaker is actually thinking or feeling even though they might not say something directly.

For example, if someone says ‘isn’t that a bit expensive?’ they aren’t asking that question, they are really saying that they think that thing is expensive. Tone of voice and intonation play a role here.

There are 6 different question types, each one requiring a different listening skill. Each section can have a mixture of these task types.

This means that if you identify the question type you will know what listening skill they are testing and be better prepared to answer.

IELTS Listening Strategies

IELTS Listening Tips and Tricks

Tip #1: Consistently listen to English everyday

Listen up guys, and listen up good! In your pocket or somewhere within arms reach of you right now is a device called a smartphone. On that smartphone you can listen to English at anytime and at anyplace. To prepare for your IELTS test you need to be listening to English everyday for 20 plus minutes at a time.

There is no excuse not to do this! On the commute to the office/school/college/university, or on the way back home you can easily listen to any English of your choosing. It does not have to be a podcast about learning English, it can just be a general news show, a Netflix series, Youtube channel you like, anything you want but you got to get used to listening to native speakers speaking English at a normal speed, remember you only hear the recording once on test day so you better be ready.

Tip #2: Listen to different accents 

When you listen to English make sure you listen to a range of different accents. The best way to do this is to select TED talks, Youtube channels, news programmes from different countries and so on. You absolutely must be comfortable listening to an Australian accent, a New Zealand accent, A North American accent, or a UK accent. Here are a few good places to start:

Australian podcasts and accents here.

USA accent via CNN Learning English channel

New Zealand accent news podcasts

Canadian news podcasts

Tip #3: Actively listen

Don’t day dream whilst you are listening to all of these different sources. You could for example, listen for new words. You could listen and write down the words you hear that you are not sure about, then you can go away and look up the meaning.

Make sure you are spelling correct whilst transferring, being close is not good enough, you need 100% on your spelling. Make sure you are used to spelling words correctly or you will not get the marks! I repeat you will not get the mark even if you wrote down the correct word, but you spelt it wrongly you will not get a mark.

Tip #4: Be ready to focus

On test day, you will be listening for over 30 minutes to a language that is not your first language, this is difficult to do.

During the test you will need to think about the grammar you are using. This will help you select the correct answers and write words in the correct form. You will also need to be focusing on vocabulary, vocabulary is a huge part of the listening test, so that means if you want to improve your IELTS listening score then you need to improve your vocabulary, check out my guide for learning vocabulary here.

Next, you will also be reading a lot during the listening test so you better get used to reading the instructions quickly and efficiently taking note of things like exactly how many words you can write.

Tip #5: Brush up on your strategies

The question types that you are going to be completing on test day are always of the same type. There are 6 different types and you will need to have a strategy for each different question type, or at least be used to doing the different question types. You must be able to do things automatically on test day because that means you can just focus on listening to the recording rather than focusing on how to answer the questions. Here are my strategies.

Tip #6: Don’t do lots of practice!

If I keep playing football I won’t get better at football! I will just get very tired. What you need to do is to practice the skills that you are using to become better at football. So, what you need to do is to be clever with your practice.

One way to do this would be to take a practice test under strict test conditions. You can mark it yourself but make a note of what question types you are struggling with. Once you know what question types you are not good at, then you can go away and work out what strategy you need for that question type then apply those techniques when you practice. You should be able to improve your score much more easily this way rather than doing lots of practice tests which include question types that you are already good at - that is not a great way to spend your valuable practice time!  

Tip #7: Don’t translate during practice

I hope this sounds obvious but whenever you are learning a new word then please learn the meaning, antonyms, synonyms, definition and example sentences in English, translating to your own language might seem like a short cut but there are a couple of big problems with that.

Firstly, each language does not have the same number of words with the same meaning, sometimes worlds are similar but they are often not exactly the same so if you translate you often do not get the correct meaning.

Secondly, if you are just translating then you are not learning anything about the word the way you would if you recorded down the meaning, antonyms, synonyms, definition and example sentences in English. In affect, you are simply stopping yourself from learning the words effectively and this will not improve any part of your test score.

Tip #8: You are not going to get every question correct

Realise that unless you are a native speaker you are not going to get a band 9 and to be honest some native speakers would not score a band 9 in IELTS listening. It is tough to get the higher band scores. I have been learning English all of my life and there are still words are do not know! I would still score a band 9 so for you to get a band 8 means you would have to be nearly as good as me and that is really hard to do for a non-native speaker.

Far more realistic is a band 7, so what that means is that everyone is going to make mistakes in the listening test, so chill out about it! Some people realise they have missed a question or know they have put the wrong answer and they stress out about it and this then distracts them from the next questions, basically, they lose their focus and in the end it damages their band score. So, do yourself a favour and understand that you will make mistakes and relax about it. 

Tip #9: Listen, read and write

Yep, you are going to be multi-tasking during the test so arrive early, be well-rested, sleep well the night before, eat well and stay hydrated, and you might want to have a coffee beforehand as some studies do say that it can help you focus.

Tip #10: Predict answers

Take a look at the questions and start making predictions about what the answers could be. This will help you recognise the answer when it does come up. Will you be listening for a person’s name, a time, a verb, a year?

Often it is very easy to tell and so you should use this to your advantage. At the same time you should also be keeping an eye on the next question just so you know what is coming up and so you recognise the topic of the question when you hear it. 

Tip #11: Changing Answers

A favourite trick of the IELTS listening test is to give you once answer and then to immediately change it afterwards. So many students fall into this trap. They hear an answer that fits the questions perfectly and they start to write down that answer, while doing this they take their attention away from the recording which has now continued on to change the answer.

For example, a recording may say that ‘the train arrives at 8 pm, but today it will be ten minutes late. You can see how easy a mistake it is to make so make sure you don’t do it too. Watch out for words like ‘but, however, although, even though’ as these will often indicate a change in answer.

Tip #12: Full mock test with feedback

Finally, you might also want to do a full mock test for all parts of the test and get it marked by real IELTS examiners. This will mean that you will find out if you are ready to take the test yet, what your band score is now, and also what specific mistakes you are making that are preventing you getting a higher score. Knowing these means you can fix them and so can really help you increase your band score. I recommend these guys.

IELTS Listening Band Scores

Some listening tests are more difficult than others, because of this the IELTS examiners alter the grade band boundaries for each different test. However, the following band scores reflect the average and give a good indication of your band score.

IELTS Listening Band Scores:

16-22 = Band 5

23-29 = Band 6

30-34 = Band 7

35-39 = Band 8

40/40 = Band 9

IELTS Listening Practice Questions