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IELTS Listening: How important is spelling?

IELTS Listening: How important is spelling?


IELTS Listening: Spelling out names

How important is it to spell words correctly in the IELTS Listening test? The British Council’s LearnEnglish site answers this question clearly and succinctly: ‘Everything must be spelled correctly.’ That means that if you spell a word wrongly in the test, you will lose a point. So, what are the pitfalls? In this blog post we’re going to look at just one scenario.

The problem

In the IELTS Listening test, you may have the answer spelled out for you. For example, one of the speakers might spell their name, and you have to copy it down. (It might be a dialogue like this: “And your name please, for the delivery form?” “It’s McDougal.” “McDougal? Can you spell that for me please?” “Sure. M-C-D-O-U-G-A-L.” “OK, thank you Ms McDougal…”) 

This can present a number of challenges if you are not used to listening to words being spelt out in English:

  1. Some English letters sound similar to each other: m and n, for example, are very similar so you have to listen carefully.
  2. Some English letters sound like different letters in other languages. For instance, j in English sounds like g in French.
  3. Two English letters may simply sound the same in your language. A Spanish speaker might find it difficult to tell the difference between b and v.

The solution

You can overcome these problems by practising. Start with this video, which will take you through all the letters of the alphabet as they are pronounced in English, and which will give you plenty of practice.

  1. Watch the first 45 seconds of the video. Stop it. Repeat the letters. Check that you are pronouncing them correctly. You can do this by playing each letter, then repeating it, then listening. Alternatively, read the whole alphabet into the audio recorder on your phone. Then alternately play the video and your recording to make sure they sound the same.
  2. Start the video again (at approximately 1 minute) and switch off your monitor. With a pen and paper, write the words you hear. You may find the words (eg apple) fairly simple. Remember that you are focusing on the way the letters are pronounced rather than trying to recognise the words.
  3. Switch your monitor back on, watch from 00:47, and check your spelling.

Now you have had a go at listening to the spelling of simple words, it’s time to move on to something more suitable for the IELTS Listening test. This time you will be listening to names, and you will be hearing them pronounced at normal, native-speaker speed — just like in the test itself. Go to this site, and simply follow the instructions. The speaker spells out 20 names for you to practise with.

A final note on spelling

Spelling your answers correctly is essential in the IELTS Listening test and the IELTS Reading test. But it’s also important in the Writing test. In this blogpost, British Council Manager Peter Hare gives his advice on how to improve your spelling, starting like this: “The problem is that spelling in English is notoriously difficult. The only effective way of improving your spelling is to learn words one by one…” Click in and have a read!

Free IELTS band score calculator

Of course, spelling is just one aspect of the IELTS Listening test. In order to prepare for the test efficiently, you need to go through the experience of the test itself so you can pinpoint your weak areas. You also need to be able to compare your current band score with your target band score.

Do you know the approximate band score you would get if you took the IELTS Listening test today? Follow the steps below to find out.

  1. Click here. Then click on Try Academic or Try General Training to open Road to IELTS. On the front screen, choose Listening, and then Test practice. Print out Practice test 1, and when you are ready, click to start the audio. Complete the test.
  2. When you have finished, download Answer key 1 and mark your test. You will have a mark out of 40.
  3. Click on Resource Bank at the top of the screen. In the Listening and Reading Score Calculator input your score. The calculator will convert this to an estimated IELTS band score.

Going through this process will help you understand how much practice you need in order to achieve your target band score.


  1. Elisabeth Volmary says:

    Hi Andrew!

    I was wondering if the correct capialisation of a word is also important?
    When it comes to words like “club lounge”, these are sometimes spelled with capital letters in the answer sheet. Do I get still get a point if I write down my words without capitalisation?

    • Hi Elisabeth. We may need more context for where the phrase ‘club lounge’ comes from (e.g. Is it provided in the Listening Question Paper in title-case i.e Club Lounge, or is it just referred to generically), but normally you will be fine writing either in all-caps or just small letters. Hope it helps!

      • Elisabeth Volmary says:

        Hi Andrew,
        I am unable to find the test I was referring to, but I can give you some more examples:

        In the reading test 7, number 11, “Scholarship” is capitalized, even though it is not at the beginning of the answer text, nor capitalised in the reading text itself.
        Also for number 12 of the same test, “Commonwealth games” has a lower case “game” , but a upper case for “Comonwealth”, whereas in the text it is both capitalized.

        Further, in reading test 9, number 17, “ice shelves” is written with lower case letters, even though it is at the start of a sentence.

        Another example I found is in the listening test 1, number 31, where “negative” is spelled in lower case letters, while in the same table “Positive” is spelled with an upper case letter.

        Finding many more discrepancies, I was wondering whether capitalisation will be a criteria that decides upon the point one can get or loses.
        If so, would you recommend me to write everything in capital letters?

        Kind regards

  2. jigon says:

    what if your answer is correct but just written in different way to actual answer e.g. Half past 7 or 7:30 although half past 7 was mentioned in speaking

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