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Study abroad : Applying to University

How to prepare for the IELTS listening test?

The IELTS listening test requires concentration, focus and a lot of practice. We’ve got some ideas on how you can prepare.

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The IELTS listening test is all about evaluating your comprehension of spoken English and conversation. Naturally, most students are aiming for a good IELTS listening band score of above 6.0. To achieve the score needed for university entry it is critical to prepare and practice effectively for the IELTS listening test. We have some IELTS tips on how to get into the best shape for securing an excellent IELTS listening score.


How is the IELTS listening test structured?


Before starting any journey, you need a map. Understanding the IELTS listening test structure, as part of the IELTS test, is important for your preparation. What you need to remember is:


  • The IELTS listening test is 40 minutes in duration, just like the IELTS reading test.  
  • You will need to answer 40 questions worth one mark each
  • The test has four sections
  • You will get an opportunity to read through each section before answering
  • Each section gets progressively more challenging
  • Answers are written on the answer form provided
  • You are not penalised for incorrect answers
  • British and American spelling is accepted


A top tip is to write your answers in pencil rather than pen on the answer sheet. In addition, it’s always a good idea to never leave an answer blank even if you aren’t sure that you’re correct.


Discover more about English language test scores.


What are the four sections of the IELTS listening test?


You would have noticed that there are four parts to the IELTS listening test. Each involves listening carefully to a conversation or information discussed by one person. The IELTS listening test sections are structured in the following way:


  • Section one – A conversation between two people that usually involves planning or organisation of some sort. You need to look out for numbers, dates, times and places.
  • Section two – One speaker covering a focused topic such as a guide to a place, company, building or country. You need to identify facts.
  • Section three – This involves three to four speakers and usually involves an academic topic.
  • Section four – One speaker giving an academic lecture.


Remember that answers may come quickly during a section, so you’ll need to write them down fast. However, in other sections, there may be gaps between the answers. So, staying focused becomes very important.


Find out what English language requirements are for some of the top university courses.



What types of questions are in the IELTS listening test?


Over the 40 minutes of the IELTS listening test, you will answer 40 questions consisting of a mix of different question types. Look carefully at the word count limit for each question, as this gives you a clear indication of the answer. The question types include:


  • Sentence completion
  • Summary completion
  • Multiple choice
  • Matching
  • Map and diagram labelling
  • Form completion
  • Note completion
  • Table completion
  • Short answer questions


While listening, you’ll be transferring your answers to the question paper and then later to the answer sheet. If you are taking the IELTS computer-delivered test you will only get two minutes to review your answers. The time differs from the 10 minutes provided during the written test.


Find out where you could take an English course to get your IELTS scores where you want them to be.


Prepare for possible questions


With a better idea of the types of questions you’ll be answering and the structure of the IELTS listening test, you can adopt a strategy for preparing for the types of conversations and topics you’ll listen to. Context is essential when it comes to what you’ll look for. 


Section one is social conversation and interaction. So, you can prepare for less formal language, paraphrasing and the retrieving of factual information. Listening to everyday conversations in English is a great way to get up to speed. Some of the topics covered include booking a hotel, organising a tour, making an application, or joining an event.


In section two, you’ll be looking for facts provided by one person speaking on a specific topic or everyday situation. The topic could be related to animals, sport, volunteering, cities and even history. Section three is slightly trickier as there could be three to four voices you will hear. As well as listening for facts, you will have to identify opinions and argumentation. The discussion usually revolves around an academic assignment or test, so it’s a good idea to develop your vocabulary related to academic study.


Section four provides your biggest challenge. The section is an academic speech or talk by one person that relies on your ability to pinpoint facts, ideas, opinions and attitudes. A good IELTS tip is to read through the questions before listening to the audio to identify the facts when listening. For example, a date, a name or a specific word. Take some of the time you may have used to review the previous section to do so.


Are you looking to improve your English language skills? Check out these institutions offering pathway programmes.


Practice your IELTS answer writing


The IELTS listening test is about multitasking. You will have to be both quick and accurate when reading the questions, listening, and writing your answers. Do not try to answer too quickly. You may miss critical information. Remember to read the instructions for questions to know if a number, word or listed option is needed. Take as many practice tests as you can. The tests are free and can make a big difference.


Some useful tips for practising your IELTS listening answers include:


  • Identifying word types such as nouns, verbs, adverbs, and adjectives
  • Pay attention to word indicators that identify facts or opinions. For example, the words 'but', 'however', 'then' and 'finally'.
  • Check for word limits.
  • Verify the type of question asked to see if you should include prepositions or just a word.
  • Identify plurals.
  • Highlight and note down keywords
  • Identify and recognise synonyms.
  • Check question logic
  • Check your spelling and grammar.
  • Answers all the questions.
  • Decide on whether you want to use upper-case or lower-case for your answers.


Developing your notetaking is another way to prepare for answering the IELTS listening test. You'll fine-tune your ability to highlight and identify information. You can also get some extra tips on how to improve your English writing.



Stay focused 


The IELTS Listening test is all about concentration. The more your train your brain to focus and become attuned to English language speaking, especially with British or American accents, the better. During the test, you will hear the audio once, so practising your ability to focus will pay dividends.


Using practice tests to do so is a great idea. Some tips include:


  • Listening to just the audio to see how much you understand and note down keywords
  • Listen to the clip a few more times without reading any of the questions
  • Read the associated questions
  • Listen to the audio with the text to verify what is said
  • Attempt to answer in a timed scenario


You can repeat this process many times to perfect your skills. You can also practice your active listening skills by using podcasts, talks, speeches, videos and even television news.


Now that you are equipped with the skills to tackle the IELTS Listening test, it might be time to start thinking about where you want to study. Find out about the top universities in the UKhow to compare universities and the ultimate study abroad checklist.


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