12 Important IELTS Listening Test Strategies you must know

June 17, 2018 ...

Don’t have time to read? Then give it a listen.


If you are appearing for the IELTS exam soon, you will find this very useful. The following article contains 12 important tips that will help you ace your IELTS Listening section. The 12 strategies have been divided into two sections, Preparation and Exam-taking, to help you implement them effectively.

Time Format

The IELTS Listening section duration is about 30 minutes.

You will get approximately 30 minutes to listen to the tape and answer the questions.

10 minutes to transfer the answer to the answer sheet. One will hear the tape only once.

There are 40 questions in total.

The listening test will become more difficult as you progress through the test. So, one should work enough on the rules & strategies regarding the stipulated section of listening so that he/she can get a good score in the listening sub-test.

IELTS Listening Exam Structure

This test consists of 4 sections:

  1. The 1st audio is usually a conversation between two speakers. For example, a conversation about visiting a new place, or someone inquiring about accommodation or about travel arrangements.
  2. The 2nd audio is usually a monologue (one person talking) about an everyday situation. This could be one person giving information on something such as a museum tour, information about news broadcasts, or tourist sites.
  3. The 3rd audio is usually a discussion (between 3-4 people) based on education and training situations. This may be a discussion between 2 students and a tutor about an assignment or classwork, or among a group of students talking about career opportunities.
  4. The 4th, which is the final audio, is usually a university-style lecture or general academic interest. It is a monologue on an academic topic.

The 12 Strategies to ace IELTS Listening Test:

Many students struggle with the IELTS listening test. During my tenure as an IELTS instructor, I have seen students not being attentive enough when the audio is being played. Some of them fail to understand words or get frightened of the unknown words for which they lose track of the recording and start making mistakes. If the track of one word is lost, this may lead to several incorrect answers as the audio is played only once.

I myself missed two or three important words in section 4 for which I couldn’t answer one question from section 4. Don’t worry! Missing out on some of the words or not being able to answer two or three questions is quite normal.

Those who can keep their calm even after that and provided they listen to the audio attentively, s/he can easily secure 36/37 points. But there are some strategies that, if practiced and followed, can help one secure 38/39 points. The following strategies of IELTS Listening will address the tactics and provide you with the key strategies you need to improve your Listening scores.

Preparation Stage

1. Improving the listening skills

To improve your IELTS listening skills you can use practice tests but it will not be enough! They will help you to become familiar with the test, but won’t much improve your listening skills. It is much more effective to do various listening exercises like listening to radio reports, TV shows, documentary programs, etc.

I suggest my students watch the TV show F.R.I.E.N.D.S, HIMYM (How I met our mother), Luther, Vikings, etc. These will not only upgrade your listening skills but will also improve your reading skills as you read the subtitles and try to understand.

2. Read the instructions carefully

You always need to read the instructions carefully. They will tell you how many words to use. If it asks for no more than two words and you use three, it will be wrong. And you must only put in the words asked for.

During Exam

ielts listening test 30 minutes to do it all

3. Utilize the time and predict the topic

Time will be given to read through the questions before one starts listening. You will be given 30 seconds at the end of each section to check your answers. You will be then told to turn over and look at the next section for 30 seconds. Although some IELTS listening tips will tell you to check what you have written, there isn’t much you can check in the previous section as you can’t hear the listening clip again. So instead, turn straight to the next section. You will then have one minute (instead of 30 seconds) to look through the next section.

Predicting helps you to understand what you are listening to if you know what kind of conversation is taking place so you can picture it in your head. So go through each section during the extra time and make sure you have an idea of the context and the speakers involved.

4. Notice the order of the question

The questions will not be set haphazardly. So you will need to check the progression of the question carefully as you answer them in order otherwise you will get lost. One question might also be related to another question thus if you skip a question you might be confused about the next one. You might also end up losing the track of the audio.

5. Be attentive

You will only be allowed to hear the audio once. So if you didn’t hear a few words or missed an answer or two, no need to worry, simply leave them blank and focus on the actual part. You can review those questions at the end of the section.

6. Locate the Cue words

When you are going through the more difficult parts 3 and 4, underline or circle the keywords (such as names, places, and dates) in the question which will catch your sight when you go through them to look for answers.

7. Be careful about the grammar and spelling

If the word doesn’t grammatically fit with the sentence or if the spelling of the word written in the answer sheet is wrong then your answer will be incorrect. So when you transfer your answers at the end, don’t forget to check the answers again. The sentence on the exam paper may help you to understand the type of grammar that needs to be used. So, read sentences carefully while writing the answers

8. Don’t write answers too quickly

Some of the students, as soon as hear the needed information, they take it for the correct answer. But sometimes this information is repeated or corrected further in the section.

9. Try not to worry about what you write on the exam paper

Nobody sees or marks what you write on the question paper so don’t waste time getting the spelling or grammar correct while writing in the question paper. So just write down what you hear in a way that you can understand while transferring the answer and then move on. When you transfer the answers at the end of the answer sheet, you can make sure you have the correct spelling and grammar. Nobody will judge you or give marks based on what you write or cross out in the listening question paper.

10. Don’t be afraid of unknown words

Don’t panic if you hear an unfamiliar word. It may not be necessary to know it anyway as it can simply be the part of the conversation. If a difficult word is said (such as names, places, and dates), it is most likely to be dictated.  

11. Don’t leave answers blank

Your marks will not get deducted for writing the wrong answer (as opposed to nothing if you are not sure what it is). So guess the answer and write it down. If you are confused read the line or paragraph and write the answer you think would fit there.

12. Transfer your answers to the answer sheet and check it

if you put correct answers in the wrong place on the answer sheet then your marks will be deducted. If you leave an answer blank on the exam sheet, you may then fill that one in with the wrong answer when you transfer them across. So be careful while transferring the answer from the question paper. Make sure you check your spelling and grammar when you transfer your answers at the end. If you have time remaining, recheck the answers again.

In conclusion, remember that “Listening is a skill” and the IELTS listening exam will judge that skill of yours. It is important that you practice for the IELTS listening part of the exam as you will have to master the fundamental crafts of the IELTS Listening test to crack it and to get your desired score. Hopefully, these strategies will serve as the key to that and will help you to get an overall good band score in the IELTS exam.

This article’s audiobook is read by Sadia Raisa

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