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IELTS Listening: Making the impossible possible

The problem

‘We have to listen and read and write all at the same time — that’s impossible!’

This is a common comment from students preparing for the IELTS Listening test. It is not easy to do all of these things at the same time — especially as you only hear the audio once — but it is not impossible.

The most important thing you can do is prepare effectively — learn the basics of the listening test and build your knowledge from there. IELTS Listening tests give you time, often 30 seconds or so, to read the questions in advance of listening and this is your golden preparation opportunity. You need to use that preparation time effectively.

The solution

There are some key things you can do to prepare in this time:

  • Identify the keywords in each question
    Keywords are words that hold the meaning. These will give you an idea of what to listen out for.
  • Think of keyword synonyms
    Once you’ve found the keywords, think of synonyms – these are different words that mean the same thing. You will often hear keyword synonyms in the Listening test.
  • Identify the type of answer you need
    Is it a name, number, or adjective? Try to think of possible answers to the questions. (You might think this is impossible, but give it a go — you might be surprised when you guess correctly.)


Below is one section of an IELTS Listening practice tests. Try the three preparation tips now.

Road to IELTS Listening practice test 1
You probably think this is impossible to do in 30 seconds. And at first you might be right. But with lots of practice, you will get quicker, more effective and you will see improvement.

This technique is helpful as you are mentally preparing yourself for the listening audio — your mind becomes more receptive when the recording starts. Understanding the different task types and learning how to answer the questions is a huge part of doing well in the IELTS. You can find more strategies and tips for the IELTS Listening test here.


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