The Listening section is the first task you’ll encounter on the IELTS test. The good news is there’s no difference between this task on the Academic and General tests. Both versions are the same.
Now, you may think this means the Listening section is easier than IELTS Reading or Writing, but this isn’t necessarily the case. You’ll still need to be well prepared to have success, as the Listening test moves at a fast pace and requires full concentration. To achieve a high score, a strong grasp of the English language and time management skills are a must.
Fortunately, there are a number of things you can do to set yourself up for success. Here are some must-know tips to help you ace the IELTS Listening section.
Know the Sections (and Practice!)
The IELTS Listening test has four sections, which break down as follows:
- Two speakers
- Usually a telephone conversation featuring everyday conversation.
- Possible scenarios include renting an apartment, booking a table at a restaurant, planning a bus trip, etc.
- Questions focus on key information, such as names, dates, and places.
- One speaker
- Typically a monologue focused on an everyday social situation.
- Questions include diagram labeling, multiple choice, table completion, flow chart.
- Three or four speakers
- The topic is an academic discussion featuring students (examples include students speaking with a professor or a tutor discussing an assignment with their students).
- Questions include multiple choice and fill-in-the-blanks.
- One speaker
- Monologue on an academic subject.
- No break in the middle.
- Questions include fill-in-the-blank, table completion.
The test is designed to progress in difficulty with each section, so section 1 is the easiest and section 4 is the hardest. To get familiar with each of the sections, we highly recommend taking practice tests for each. IELTS Buddy has some great resources for this.
There are NO Repeats, so Pay Attention
If you’ve ever done listening exercises, you’re probably used to audio recordings being repeated several times to make sure you heard everything clearly.
IELTS doesn’t play by these rules.
Each section’s recording plays just once. For this reason, your active listening skills will need to work overtime to make sure you don’t miss important information. Practice tests are a great opportunity to put these skills to the test, as you can listen to a recording without the pressure of a test environment. Get to the point where you can complete a full Listening test while only playing the recordings once.
Read the Questions Carefully
This may sound obvious, but you need to pay attention to what exactly is being asked of you in each question. Some question types have instructions limiting the number of words, such as “Write NO MORE THAN TWO WORDS for each answer.” If you don’t follow the instructions, your answer will be marked wrong.
Write Your Answers on the Question Sheet First
The four recordings play over a 30 minute period. During this time, you should be writing answers down as you go. Since you’ll be doing all of this very quickly, you should write your answers on the question sheet to save time.
Of course, you won’t score points for your answers if you leave them on the question sheet. Fortunately, you have an extra 10 minutes at the end of the Listening test to copy your answers over to the Answer sheet. Since you don’t have to worry about doing this until after the recordings are done playing, you should spend the time in between each recording to answer any questions you missed and look ahead to the next section’s questions.
Spelling Counts… But Don’t Worry About it Until the End
Make sure you’re spelling your answers correctly, as it will not be marked correct if a word is misspelled. However, don’t fall into the trap of worrying about spelling while you’re listening to recordings.
In fact, don’t worry about typos in general during this time.
You only get to hear the recordings once, so there’s simply not enough time to worry about your spelling. Instead, you can worry about spelling when you transfer your answers over to the answer sheet during the 10 minute transfer time at the end of the test.
Be Ready for Different Accents
The speakers in the IELTS Listening recordings will have native English accents. However, since IELTS is an international test and doesn’t change between countries, you may hear a variety of English accents.
These may include:
- North America (Canada, Northern USA, Southern USA)
- UK (Northern England, Southern England, Scotland, Wales)
- Southern Hemisphere (Australia, New Zealand, South Africa)
Unfortunately, even native speakers can have a hard time understanding different English accents! Get familiar with each accent listed above so that you can recognize the difference in vowel sounds and other linguistic quirks.
You’re not likely to encounter very thick, hard to understand accents, but it’s still a good idea to get used to what they sound like. This way, you can avoid any surprises during the real test.
We hope these tips were helpful and that you now have a good understanding of how the IELTS Listening test works!
For more IELTS help, check out our list of the 5 Best IELTS Preparation Books for International Students, as well as our study tips for the next test section – IELTS Reading.