Listening is the first parts of IELTS. It lasts for 30 minutes and consists of four sections with 10 questions each. Each section is different in its topic, the number of speakers and overall difficulty. This page will walk you through the basics of IELTS Listening, various types of tasks and tips on how to improve your score.
If your are familiar with the structure — start practising with IELTS Listening sample tests.
IELTS Listening Structure
Section 1 is a conversation between two people who make an arrangement. It can be something like a travel agency phone conversation, a talk between a shop assistant and a customer, a chat between a landlord and a tenant and so forth. This part tests your ability to catch and understand factual information.
Section 2 is a monologue. A person is giving a talk that can be about an activity, event or arrangement. As there is only one person speaking, you won’t have to adapt to several accents or paces. Again, the test-taker’s skill to comprehend factual information is tested.
Section 3 is a talk between several speakers on an academic-related topic, such as preparing a term-paper, presentation, diploma and so on. You will listen to these people discussing the issue and sharing their opinions on the matter. This section tests your ability to distinguish relevant information and understand speaker’s attitude about the issues discussed.
Section 4 is usually a lecture-type narrative by one person. It is an academic, term-packed speech on a topic that tests your ability to understand scientific terms and guess the meaning of those you possibly do not understand. The most difficult of the four, this section gauges your ability to understand the focus of the speech, speaker’s opinion on the ideas presented and factual information.
IELTS Listening Basics
Listening sections 1, 2 and 3 are divided in two parts, meaning that you will be answering 5 or 6 questions before the recording is paused. In Section 4 you will have to go through all ten questions without a pause.
At the beginning of Section 1 you hear the talk relating to the first example question that has already been done for you. After that the recording will be played again, this time you will have to answer the questions yourself. This will give you some time to get used to speakers’ pronunciation and understand the general idea of recording. This is the only time you get to hear the recording twice.
Between each group of questions you are given 20-40 seconds to look at the questions. Use this time to underline keywords in questions.
Answers to the questions in listening come one after another meaning that the first question will have its answer in the beginning of the recording, the answer to question two will come after it and so on. Follow this pattern to avoid unnecessary search.
Each answer gives you 1 point for a total of 40 points. Below is the score table for IELTS Listening:
- At times the speaker can hint at the right answer by using a slightly different intonation. Although it may be misguiding, it is still advised to put the answer down for further use should you not hear a more apt answer for the question. See an example below:
Note how the speaker pronounces the last word differently. It clearly stands out from the rest of her saying. Although this doesn’t happen all the time, knowing this little secret might help you score some extra answers.
- It is very common for speakers to correct themselves. This presents an additional challenge to the test-takers, as you are usually given two or even three pieces of information, all of which fit the answer requirement. You can use the context or speaker’s intonation to understand which answer is the right one.
Note how the speaker gives three different numbers. The last number is the answer, which is hinted at by their intonation.
- If you fail to catch the exact answer or miss it completely it is a good idea to try and make an educated guess. That means crossing out the less likely options to focus on the more likely ones. After than you use your judgement. Remember, no answer given is a guaranteed loss of a point whereas guessing always has a chance of succeeding. In IELTS, you are not penalised for giving the wrong answer.
- Before transferring the answer to your exam sheet, double-check your spelling. Don’t forget about capitalisation
- Because IELTS Listening is going to be the first part of the exam for you, it might take your brain to adapt itself to the task, meaning that it wont be 100% effective at the beginning. Have a look at mind flexing techniques article to learn how to overcome this disadvantage.
- If you find it difficult to make out what is said in a recording, consider consulting the script for unknown words. This only refers to your practice listening as you won’t have the tapescript during the actual exam, naturally. If the problem persists, practice more. Expose yourself to more recorded English speech.
- Do not hesitate to write in your exam paper, make marks, underline words or do anything else that can potentially help you achieve a better score.
IELTS Listening questions types
All of the following examples are taken from IELTS official web page
1. Matching information from the recording with data in your question paper and then choosing the right letter in the answer sheet. In this example, you may use any letter more than once. If this is the case, it says so in the task
2. Multiple choice can be either choosing one of three correct answers or completing the sentence with one of three given endings. Sometimes the list of answers is bigger and you have to pick more than one of them. Listen/read the instructions carefully.
3. Short-answer questions require you to respond to factual questions on the text. You have to write the answer with the word limit rules similar to the previous question type.
4. Plan/map/diagram completion involves diagram label completion. This diagram is based on the information provided in the text. It can be an illustration of a mechanism, a process, a building and so on. You have to write the words in the gaps that the diagram has. The gaps are enumerated for your convenience. The word limit requirement is similar to the previous tasks
5. Table/flowchart/form completion involves filling the gaps in these documents. The order of information in the document and the recording is the same.
6. Sentence completion is a task that has a sentence with a gap in it. You have to fill the gap choosing word (or words) from the recording. The task states the word limit. Usually it’s up to three words and/or a number, meaning that you can use up to three words plus a digit. It doesn’t mean that your answer has to be no shorter than three words, the answer can be one word only. It means that you shouldn’t exceed the word limit provided. Articles and prepositions are counted as words too. Hyphenated words(Afro-American, good-looking) are counted as one.