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IELTS Listening: Good note-taking

IELTS Listening: Good notes

The best listeners are engaged with whatever they are listening to. This could be a lecture at school or a conversation with a friend. Have you ever spoken to a friend and then thought, ‘Oh, what did he just say?’ because you were daydreaming? You weren’t being a good listener! And this can happen in your IELTS Listening test too.

The introduction to the IELTS test goes something like this:

You will hear a number of different recordings. And you will have to answer questions on what you hear. There will be time for you to read the instructions and the questions, and you will have a chance to check your work. All the recordings will be played once only. The test is in four sections. At the end of the test you will be given a chance to transfer your answers to the answer sheet.
(Note: The transfer time is not applicable to computer-delivered IELTS.)

The challenge in the Listening section is you have to listen, read, and write during the test. What’s more, you only hear the recording once — if you miss it, it’s gone forever. It may all seem difficult but there are things you can do before and during the test to improve your performance.

Practise good note-taking

Since you only listen to the Listening audio once, your first step is to train yourself to be an attentive listener. One way to practise this is to listen to audios or watch videos and make good notes.

Take, for example, this TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson. As you watch, make notes on the following questions. The more information you have, the better.

  • What is Sir Ken ‘interested’ in?
  • What does he believe about children?
  • What does he want to talk about in his speech?
  • He tells the story of a little girl. What is she doing?
  • He tells the story of his son. What play was his son in?

You can find the answers to these five questions in the first five minutes of the video (and at the end of this blog post).

Look before you listen

Spend some time looking at the questions. There is some time set aside specifically for you to read through the instructions and the questions. You can use this time to anticipate the kind of information you are listening for.

So, what sort of information can you expect to hear? Is it a name, a topic, an idea, a belief? What words do you expect to hear? For example, when you are listening for what he ‘believes’ in, you might hear ‘I think…’ or ‘I’m sure that..’, or ‘It seems to me that…’ or ‘It’s my belief that…’. As well as listening for different phrases, it is important to listen for synonyms too.

Start practising!

You can improve your ability as an engaged listener by listening to talks, listening to music and watching movies – you’ll be getting better by doing the things you like! Start by taking notes of talks that interest you (check out this list). Remember that becoming a good note-taker is just one way you can improve your listening score. Take a look at 2 other things you can do to improve here.


  • Q: What is Sir Ken ‘interested’ in?
    A: ‘I have an interest in education.’
  • Q: What does he believe about children?
    A: ‘They have extraordinary capacities for innovation…. All kids have tremendous talent.’
  • Q: And what does he want to talk about in his speech?
    A: ‘I want to talk about education. And I want to talk about creativity.’
  • Q: He tells the story of a little girl. What is she doing?
    A: ‘The girls said ‘I’m drawing a picture of God.’
  • Q: He tells the story of his son. What play was his son in?
    A: ‘He was in the nativity play.’


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