Home IELTS IELTS Listening – Test, Overview, Format, Preparation Tips
IELTS Listening Test Format, Scoring Method, Prep Tips

IELTS Listening – Test, Overview, Format, Preparation Tips

by Varalika Vij

IELTS Listening – The listening test is the first test that is held on the day of your IELTS exam followed by the reading, writing and speaking test. While listening, reading and writing tests happen on the same day, the speaking test might also be held either on the same day or seven days before or after that, based on the local scheduling. It is important to note that the listening test is the same, regardless of whether you’ve opted for the Academic or General Training module. 

Before going further into the peculiarities of the listening test, let’s read a bit about IELTS in general:

The decision to take the International English Language Testing System (IELTS), especially for study abroad students is a great one! It’s a tried and tested way of measuring someone’s English proficiency for the purpose of study, employment or general migration to countries where the English language is the primary dialect of communication. These countries include Australia, Britain, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand and the USA amongst others. Needless to say, the quality of university you get to apply for highly depends on your band score in IELTS. 

The listening test is a vital part of IELTS. Since the IELTS test begins with this section, the candidates need to have a full understanding of it so that they start their IELTS test experience with a bang. Therefore, in this article, we focus on all the important details about the IELTS listening test, tips on how to prepare for it and achieve a high score and more. 

Latest: Read IELTS Writing & IELTS Syllabus Articles

IELTS Listening – Purpose of the IELTS Listening Test

The IELTS listening test determines your ability to understand spoken English. It assesses how good you are at:

  • Understanding key ideas and precise factual information
  • Identifying the tone and emotion, opinion, outlook and purpose of the speaker
  • Following the argument or issue that is being spoken about
  • Comprehending major kinds of English accents

IELTS Listening – Format of IELTS Listening Test

Your paper includes 40 questions spread over 4 sections or recordings in 30 minutes. The sections get more difficult as you progress through the test. You will have to listen to each of the recordings mentioned below. Further, you will get to write the answers to the questions, based on the audio clips heard. 

  • Recording 1: A conversation between two people about everyday social issues.
  • Recording 2: A monologue set in an everyday social setting. For example – a speech about employee benefits at an organisation. 
  • Recording 3: A conversation between up to four people set in an educational or teaching/training setting. For example – A university tutor and a student discussing an assignment.
  • Recording 4: A monologue on an academic topic. For example – A college lecture.

Please note that questions 1 – 10 pertains to recording 1, questions 11 – 20 to recording 2, questions 21 – 30 to recording 3 and questions 31 – 40 to recording 4. 

Have you appeared for IELTS exam? Check your IELTS results and book for next IELTS exam dates 

IELTS Listening – Timing of IELTS Listening Test

The entire IELTS Listening test takes 40 minutes. For the first 30 minutes approximately, the candidate listens to 4 different recordings and is free to scribble his/her answers on the question paper. After that, 10 minutes are provided to transfer the final answers to a separate answer sheet. 

IELTS Listening – Types of Questions in the IELTS Listening Test

The question types vary for each recording. You can expect:

  • Multiple choice questions and answers
  • Matching questions 
  • Plan/map/diagram labelling
  • Form/note/table/flow-chart/summary completion
  • Complete the sentence 

IELTS Listening – Scoring method in IELTS Listening Test 

Each correct answer gets one mark. There is no negative marking. Scores out of the 40 questions are converted into the IELTS 9-band scale. 

Please note

  • There is a common listening test for all the IELTS candidates. This means that the Academic and General Training candidates will take the same test with the same scoring. 
  • The scores are reported in whole and half bands. This means that your score might end with a .5 or a whole number. 

The table below shows the estimated number of marks you need to score in order to achieve a particular band score in the Listening test:

Listening Band Score Number of correct answers out of 40
2.5 4-5
3 6-7
3.5 8-10
4 11-12
4.5 13-15
5 16-17
5.5 18-22
6 23-25
6.5 26-29
7 30-31
7.5 32-34
8 35
8.5 37-38
9 39-40

Important Points to Consider during the IELTS Listening Test

  • You will only hear each passage once. Hence, your utmost concentration is key during this test. 
  • It’s imperative that you follow the instructions. For instance, if the question says – “Write no more than 10 words”, any answer with 11 words or more is automatically marked wrong. 
  • While you are attending to the 30-minute-long listening session, you may write your answers on the question paper. Then, you have just 10 minutes to transfer your answers to a separate answer sheet. So make sure that you write your final answers carefully and sensibly. 
  • While spellings are important, capitalization is not. Keep in mind that there are no penalties for wrong answers. Hence, don’t hesitate from attempting all the questions, even if you’re not sure of the answer. 

IELTS Listening Test Practice Tips

While the Listening test might not seem like a big deal for an everyday English language listener, there are many nuances to it that need due attention. Here are some of the tips to help you prepare for the test – 

Analyse the questions: You are given a designated time period to read the questions ahead of the listening. It’s important that you pay attention to the questions here. Look for key words in the question, usually nouns and verbs, underline and circle them. Make sure you know the kind of answers required. For instance, is it a name, a telephone number, an adjective? Try to foresee as much as you can before you listen. Ask yourself – what is the situation? What is the topic? Who might be speaking? What might be the answers? 

Look ahead: Keep the next questions in mind. By doing this, you can probably predict some key words that you need to listen. When the candidates focus on just one question at a time, it’s easy to miss several answers and waste precious time. 

IELTS Listening Tips

Synonyms are important: What you hear might not be exactly the same as what is written in the exam paper. Many times, the words that you hear in the audio clips played out during the listening test are repeated in synonyms in the questions asked. So be careful of different words that mean the same. For example – car and automobile might be synonymous with each other in a specific question. 

Be wary to negatives: Speaker may sometimes put the word ‘not’ in a sentence. for example – I do not want to go. Don’t choose an answer just because you listen to specific words. Consider the overall meaning carefully. Changes in the tone of voice can indicate this. 

Expect tricks: The speaker may try to confuse you. For example – the speaker may give an answer to an issue being discussed and then change their decision. 

Get used to a range of English accents: It is important to practice listening through a range of resources that might include television, films, e books, English radio, lectures, podcasts or online videos. Try listening to British, American, Canadian and Australian accents through these sources. Since IELTS is an international language test, you will hear all of these accents in the test.  Aim for a variety of sources of spoken English, particularly different accents. You may pay attention to channels and sources like the BBC, YouTube, VOA, Australian Broadcasting Company and more. 

Read the instructions carefully: While this is the most basic advice, a lot of the candidates appearing for the IELTS test overlook this and lose marks. Try to read the questions twice to make sure that you do not miss any important details.

Don’t leave any blanks: Don’t leave any gaps in your answer sheet and make sure to provide an answer for every question, even if you have to guess a particular answer. You won’t lose marks for an incorrect answer.

There is no substitute for practice: Improve your listening by finding ways to listen English daily. The more you listen, the faster your understanding will improve and the better you will be at picking out answers during the test. 

For many natives who haven’t exposed themselves to international mass media and heard different accents could find the IELTS listening test very challenging. Here is a compilation of the best videos available on IELTS listening –  

  • A non-English speaking native might be having the wrong approach to English listening. Watch the video below to understand the 3 biggest mistakes you might be making when you’re listening to English. 

  • Watch the video below to attempt a recently created mock IELTS test. You will hear a number of different recordings (just like the actual IELTS test) and will have to answer questions on what you hear. There will be time for you to read the instructions and questions. You will get a chance to check your work. All the recordings will be played once only. 

  • Watch the video below to learn how to touch a 9 band score in the IELTS listening test. The speaker in the video was able to achieve a 9 band score in IELTS Listening computer-based and paper-based exams and intends to share some tips with her audience. 

IELTS Listening – FAQ’s

Q. How many questions are there in the IELTS listening?

A. The IELTS listening test includes 40 questions spread over 4 sections or recordings. During the 30-minute-long listening session, you may write your answers on the question paper. Then, you have just 10 minutes to transfer your answers to a separate answer sheet.

Q. How can we avoid mistakes in IELTS listening?

A. Avoid careless mistakes in the IELTS listening test by following these instructions:

  • Analyse the questions 
  • Don’t leave any blanks and attempt all the questions. 
  • Pay attention to different words that might mean the same (synonyms) in the recordings and the questions. 
  • Practice listening to different accents (particularly British, American, Canadian and Australian) on various online platforms. 
  • Read the instructions carefully
  • Keep the next questions in mind. By doing this, you can probably predict some key words that you need to listen.
  • Pay attention to the changes in the speaker’s tone instead of just focusing on the words said. This way, you will be able to understand the overall meaning of what the speaker intends to say. 

Q. Can I take notes in IELTS listening?

A. Yes! One can take notes while listening in the IELTS exam. Write key information, major ideas and examples for an easier understanding of the listening material.

Q. What is IELTS pre-test?

A. The IELTS preliminary test conducted before the actual IELTS exam to test the preparation level of the candidates. The tasks are similar to those in the actual IELTS test.  However, these pre-tests are available only for the reading and writing sections of IELTS.

Q. Does spelling matter in IELTS listening?

A. Spellings have a great relevance in the listening test of IELTS when the candidates will be writing down the answers. If an answer is not spelled correctly, it will be marked wrong. IELTS accepts both the American and British English spellings. For example, both ‘colour’ and ‘color’ will be marked correct.

Q. Can I pause IELTS listening?

A. You cannot pause the recording in the IELTS listening test. You will only hear each passage once. Hence, your utmost concentration is key during this test.

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