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IELTS Listening: Three things to get right

IELTS Listening: Three things to get right

Most people find the Listening test more stressful than the Reading test. That’s because when you are reading, you have the texts in front of you and you can refer to them more than once. When you are listening, if you miss an answer, it’s gone — and because you only hear the recording once, you can never get it back. So you need to work out some strategies in advance. Here are three tips you will find useful:

1. Make notes before you listen

Imagine that you are listening for the answer to Question 3, and you suddenly hear the answer to Question 6. This means you have been focusing so hard on one question that you have missed not only that one, but two more!

The key to doing well in the Listening test is to make it a two-stage process. First read the questions so you know what you’re listening for, then listen and make notes. If you know what the question is asking you to find, it’ll be much easier to recognise it when it comes up in the audio. This is especially important for computer-based IELTS. You won’t be able to take extra notes and transfer all your answers, so listening preparation is key.

In the paper-based IELTS test, you can make notes on the question paper as you listen. Don’t worry if your notes are untidy; the important thing is not to get left behind. It is useful to practise good note-taking using lots of different material, like TED Talks. At the end, you have ten minutes to transfer your answers to the answer sheet (at which time you do need to be neat and tidy).

2. Be accurate

In the Listening test, you need to be very precise when answering the questions. For example, let’s say the question paper asks you to complete the phrase ‘in the…’ and the answer is ‘morning’. When you write the information on the answer sheet, only ‘morning’ will be marked correct. If you write ‘the morning’ or ‘in the morning’ you will not be given a point (despite the fact that you know the answer). This rule also applies to spelling. Spelling is extremely important — all your spelling must be accurate otherwise you run the risk of losing a mark.

3. If in doubt, guess

If you’re not sure of the answer, it’s important to guess. There are two reasons for this:

  • You do not lose points for having the wrong answer, so there is no risk.
  • Leaving spaces can get you into trouble as you might write a correct answer in the wrong place later.

Finally, make sure that Test Day is not the first time you do an IELTS Listening test. Try to do at least four or five practice tests in advance to get used to the preparation and test time, reading and listening to the questions, and writing accurate answers.

The best way to improve your IELTS Listening score is by getting to know the question types and doing lots of practice tests. Find practice tests online as well as getting access to materials, tips and tutorials from IELTS experts.


  1. gabriel says:

    how to determine whether the word is plural or singular..
    i’ve done tons of ielts listening practice and kept making the same mistake
    could you give me some tips in order to overcome this ?
    thank you Sir..

    • There are a few things you can think about to determine if a word is singular or plural. An easy place to start is listening out for an ‘s’ at the end of words. Some, though not all, plurals end with an ‘s’. Another clue is looking at the context. Do the words in the question or surrounding sentences talk about multiples of items? Finally, build your vocabulary. The more words you know, the more you will be able to recognise. Take a look at this blog post that suggests ways to improve your vocabulary.

      • She says:

        I’ve had a lot of practice on the listening texts. I always do well in the first two parts but weakly in the last two parts. Listening to a conversation between two or more people who are speaking so fast is not easy. More so making notes while listening.
        How do I do well in the last two parts of the listening text

        • Hi there!
          There are a few things you can do to improve your listening skills:
          1) Practice makes perfect. It is important to expose yourself to as many different conversations as possible, if that is what you’re struggling with. Take a look at some of the resources in this blog post. What might help is listening to conversations slowed down, reading transcripts, then slowly increasing the speed and relying less on transcripts and subtitles.
          2) This blog post shares some tips on how to improve your note-taking skills in the Listening test.
          Hope that helps!

  2. Swetha says:

    Hello Sir,

    I have been going through these queries and I myself also have one. In Listening or Reading, are punctuation marks necessary? Say for example, to give a word to finish sentence completion, should I put a full-stop after writing the word?

    Ex: He is reading _______
    Can the answer be ‘books’ or ‘books.’ ?? Please give your opinion.
    Similar query for Reading part too. Also, are brackets allowed in any of these categories while giving 2 or more than 2 word answers?

    • Hello there!
      Because there is usually a limit of the number of words you can use in your answer (“No more than three words”) you should focus on the content rather than the surrounding punctuation. One word answers in the listening test shouldn’t need punctuation but assess each question as you come across it. For the Reading test, if you write more than two words, even if they are in brackets, you will be penalised.
      I hope that helps!

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