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The basics
Study abroad : Applying to University

Top tips for IELTS Listening

We’ve got top tips for IELTS Listening test from an ex-IELTS teacher and examiner. Find ideas, advice, and insights you don’t normally find in test resources.

Laptop. Close up of headphones or headset on desk and plain background banner.


Approximately forty minutes to listen, answer forty questions and complete an answer sheet – that's a lot to do in such a short time. The IELTS Listening test can cause some students a lot of stress. This article aims to give you top tips and advice on how to do your best in this part of the IELTS test. 


This article will not talk about the types of IELTS tests available, nor will it focus on how to prepare for IELTS Reading, Writing and Speaking. There are plenty of articles on that already. My years in teaching, examining and IELTS test materials writing have given me insights that I’d like to share with you. 


General overview

The table below gives you an overview of the IELTS Listening test and what you can expect. 


What will I hear?


Number of questions


Dialogue – two people




Monologue – one person




Dialogues – two/three people




Monologue – e.g. a lecture




For each part of the listening test, you will find a range of between one and three different question types. So, for example, the ten questions in Part 2 may ask you to complete notes using one word and / or a number (one question type), choose two letters (a different question type) and match the correct letter (another question type).


You should get to know the test format and practice all the question types to be well-prepared on test day. For some question types, you will need to write words or numbers. For others you’ll need to choose from a list of options that each have a letter. You only need to write the letter(s) in your answer sheet.   


Write words and / or numbers

Write letter(s) e.g. A, B, C





Summary completion

Short answer questions

Sentence completion

Labelling a diagram/plan or map




Top tips

Now that we’ve looked at the test format, here are some general tips and advice for the Listening test as a whole:

  • You are given time at the beginning of each section to read the questions. Use this time to highlight the key words in the questions. (Just like this.)
  • Try and predict (think about) what the answer could be. 
  • Highlight the key words in each of the options.
  • Think of synonyms or paraphrase (see below) for the key words
  • As you listen, cross out (X) the options that are wrong/incorrect. 
  • Listen to a variety of accents from around the world: UK, Canada, US, Australia, and New Zealand. Listen to radio stations in these countries. This will help you in the test as the recordings will have a range of different accents
  • Make sure you know the English alphabet. This will help when a name or a word is spelt out in the recording for you to write
  • You can write numbers as words (eighty-three) or in numbers (83). It is far quicker and easier to write the number than the words. 


Key tip: Paraphrasing and synonyms 

Paraphrasing – This is expressing the meaning of something in different words. It's a key academic writing skill that will help you in the IELTS test.


Synonyms – these are words or phrases that mean the same or nearly the same thing as the original word. For example, synonyms for the word ‘important’ would be – vital, critical, essential, and significant. 


Why is it important that you know about paraphrasing and synonyms for the IELTS Listening test? Well, if you have the word ‘important’ in the question, you will NOT hear the word ‘important’ in the recording. Or, if you did hear the word ‘important’ in the recording, it would NOT be the answer to the question. 


Matching vocabulary in the question with vocabulary in the recording will NOT work. This is called a ‘distractor’. Students with lower band scores will match the same vocabulary, but stronger students will use synonyms or paraphrase in the text to find the correct answer. 



Top tips for question types

NO MORE THAN ONE WORD AND / OR A NUMBER – When you see this instruction in the reading test, this means your answer could be: 

  • one word + a number, for example, thirty-eight weeks / 38 weeks; 25th May / May 25 / 25 May
  • a number, for example, $499.98 


NO MORE THAN TWO WORDS – When you see this instruction in the reading test, this means your answer could be: 

  • one word
  • two words


Short-answer questions – The questions and answers follow the order of the text. Make sure you write the words correctly. The word(s) will be the same as you hear it. Do not change the word you hear. If you make a spelling mistake or any other mistake, you will not get the point even though you have identified the correct word. 


Choose TWO letters, A-E – The questions follow the same order as the information you hear. However, the options will NOT be mentioned in the order that they appear on the question paper. The letters you choose can be written in any order on your answer sheet. For example, B / D or D / B.


Sentence completion – The questions are in the same order as the information you hear. 


Useful checklist

Here’s a useful checklist to use at the end of your IELTS Listening test.


Have you:

  • written the correct number of words?
  • checked to see if you need a singular or plural noun?
  • used the correct grammar? 
  • checked your spelling?
  • transferred your answers correctly?


I hope you’ve found these tips useful. You can find further top tips for the Academic WritingReading and Speaking tests. We've also got some information on how to book your IELTS test when you're ready. 

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