IELTS Listening Tips


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You sometimes see it said that all you have do with the listening paper in IELTS is to practice: that there aren’t any particular skills to learn. I disagree – profoundly. There are not just definite skills to learn, there are also I would suggest very definite ways in which to practice. Here are a few of my best IELTS listening tips.

1. Read before you listen – predict the answer

One difficulty in the exam is that you are not just listening, but reading the question and writing the answer all at the same time. One simple tip is to read the questions before you listen so that you know what you are listening for. It is a difficult skill to master, but it can sometimes help to try and predict the type of answer you are looking for: is it a name for instance or a number?

2. Read as you listen – focus on the whole question

A huge proportion of mistakes are made not because you haven’t listened well, but because you you do not focus on the question. As you are listening focus on the precise wording of the question.

3. Look at 2 questions at once

One difficulty is that the answers to 2 questions often come quickly one after the other. Can you get both answers? Maybe, maybe not: but the only way you can is if you are ready for the next question.
I’d add that it’s no problem getting one question wrong, the real problem is if you lose track of where you are in the listening and you are still listening for question 13 when the cassette has moved onto question 15.

4. Don’t leave the writing to the end

Sometimes candidates leave the writing part to the end, thinking that they will remember what they heard. In my experience, this almost never works: there’s a lot of information, you’re under stress and, most importantly, after each listening you should be moving onto the next set of questions to read them.

5. Practice your shorthand

You do not have to write everything that you down: you have 10 minutes at the end to copy your answers onto the answer sheet. So what you need to do is to learn how to write down enough for you to recognise as you are listening so that you can write it out in full later. The one exception to this is in part 1 with numbers and names where you have to write everything out in full as you are listening – that is the challenge.

6. Numbers and names – check your spelling

In part 1, you are almost invariably required to spell names and/or write down numbers. This looks easy, but in my experience can often go wrong and the problem is that if you get any spelling wrong, you lose the mark Of course you know the alphabet, but some letters can cause problems even for advanced learners, in particular:
J & G
Y
A & E & I
My tip is to make an association that you can remember: these are mine, but I suggest you make your own:
J is for Jesus, but G is for God
How do you spell “why”? W-H-Y
A is for apple
E is for elephant
I is for ‘I”

7. Don’t write the answer too quickly

Sometimes you hear what you think is the answer, but the speaker goes on to correct themselves or give slightly different information:
“So I’ll see you on Wednesday afternoon”
“Sorry, I’m busy then. How about Thursday evening?”
“Fine, Thursday at 7 0’clock”

8. Don’t leave any blank answers

There are 2 reasons for this. Firstly, your guess may well be correct, particularly if it is a multiple choice style question. Secondly, there is a danger if you leave a blank that you write the answers in the wrong boxes on the answer sheet and that can be a disaster.

9. Listen for repeated information

This doesn’t always work, but sometimes the words that are the answer are repeated: if you need to make a guess choose the words you hear repeated, they could well the be answer.

10. Look for clues in the question

A frequent question type is completing a table; in this type of question you will often find clues to the answer by looking at the other information in the table. In particular, look at the headings of the rows and columns: if, for example, the heading says “equipment” and some of the completed boxes say “paperclips” and “cardboard” you have a good clue as to what you should be listening for.

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