10 Tips for IELTS Listening

1.Overview Tips

  • You will have to practice listening to both one person speaking (a monologue) and more than one person speaking at the same time. Listening to monologues is challenging because the person doesn’t often stop speaking for very long so students can feel like they are being overwhelmed. Listening to more than one person can be difficult because there may be different accents or styles of speaking and it is tricky to tune-in to what is being said. For lots of free practice activities for both monologues and more than one person talking.
  • Be careful with your spelling. Lots of easy marks are thrown away because of poor spelling. My advice is to keep a notebook of words you find difficult to spell. Even native speakers have a hard time with some English words, so the only way is to record and learn. Both US and UK spelling are allowed in the listening test.
  • You will be given a short break (normally around 30-40 seconds) before each section and in the middle of sections 1, 2 and 3. You should NOT use this time to check your answers from the previous section. You should look at the questions in the next section and try to understand the questions and predict the answers coming next. When you predict try to think about the context of the question. Can you guess the answer? For example, if there is a $ in front of the answer, you will probably be listening for an amount of money. Also, establish what type of word (adjective, noun, verb etc.) the answer will be.
  • At the end you will be given 10 minutes to transfer your answers to the answer sheet. When you are doing this make sure you are very careful with spelling and make sure your answers are correct grammatically. For example, if the question was The man wanted to ______ a ______ car. the answers are likely to be a verb and then an adjective. If your answers are not grammatically correct or spelled incorrectly, then they will be marked as wrong.
  • Be careful with capital letters. If your word is someone’s name or a place, then it must have a capital letter to be correct.
    Make sure you follow the instructions carefully especially when it comes to word limit. If the question states No more than three words you can’t write any more than this. If your answer is four words for this answer it will be incorrect.
  • A range of accents are used to reflect the international nature of English. These could be from anywhere in the English-speaking world, including the US, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand, Ireland or Australia. You could also hear one of many regional accents from the UK. You should therefore try to get used to all of these different accents. Instead of just listening to the BBC News, you could try listening to the news, or anything else for that matter, from a range of different countries. A quick search on Google is all you need to find these.
  • It is important to familiarise yourself with the different types of test questions. When you practice these tests it should be under exam conditions, but then it is important to find out why you got certain questions wrong. Focusing on your mistakes is very important. You should listen again and again until you find out why you got the question wrong, don’t just look at the answers and forget about them. If you do this you will not improve very quickly. You can also look at the transcripts and find out where you went wrong by reading.
  • I did just say that you should practice past papers, however you should also remember that this is a test of your general level of English , so you should listen to not only IELTS, but everything you can in English. In general, those who do the best on the listening test are those who have practiced listening in English the most. The best candidates listen to English a little every day
    Focus on getting the easy questions correct first before worrying about the more difficult questions. Anyone hoping to do well on the IELTS listening test should be getting 10 out of 10 on the first part of the test. Make sure you can do this consistently in the first part before worrying about the other parts, especially part four.
  • Make sure you don’t get tricked. IELTS listening tests will often try to fool you by giving you something that seems like the correct answer first and then changing this to something else later in the recording. For example, your questions might be The man would like a ______ car. At the start of the recording the person might say they want a big family car, but then change their minds and say they want a small sports car. If you wrote down the first option you would be wrong.
  • You have to get used to listening to things only once. Lots of teachers allow their students to listen to a recording three or four times. You can of course listen again and again when analysing your mistakes, but when practicing the exam you should do it under exam conditions and that means listening just once.
  • Do you have messy handwriting? Lots of people do, don’t worry. In the listening test you should write your answers in all capital letters if your writing is messy.
  • Remember to bring an eraser. You will have to write your answers in pencil, so make sure you can change any notes or answers using an eraser.
  • It’s not just a listening test; it’s an understanding, reading, writing, vocabulary and spelling test. Make sure you practice all of these skills under exam conditions.
  • Write your answers on the question paper as you do the test. I know lots of students who don’t do this and try to remember all of the answers and then use their memory to fill out the answer sheet. You are under enough pressure without making it a memory test on top of everything else. Keep it simple and note down the answers as you go.
  • Practice your short hand. Short hand is when you write a shortened version of a word. For example, you might write aprox. for approximately or Ensh. for English. This will help you save time in the exam. Often two answers will come in a very short space of time, if you are busy writing a long word instead of listening, you might miss it. Shorthand is a very personal thing, so do whatever suits you.
  • Concentration is key in the listening test. It is totally normally to lose concentration and most people find it difficult to concentrate for the complete 30 minutes. To improve your concentration you need to practice active listening. Active listening involves setting yourself small tasks when you are practicing and actually doing something when you are listening, just like you will be in the IELTS listening exam.
  • Don’t leave any blank spaces. This might seem very obvious, but you wouldn’t believe how many students do this. You are not penalized for wrong answers so you should always have a guess.
    Before each section you will be given information about the speaker and what they will be talking about. You won’t be tested on this, but it will help you answer the questions that follow by understanding the context.

2.Question Tips

  • In the first section of the IELTS listening test there is often a form filling question. Normally the answers will be one or two words long and will be factual information, such as phone numbers, dates and times.
  • These questions may seem relatively simple, but it would surprise you how many students throw away easy marks in this section.
  • Also, this is one of the areas that IELTS try to trick you by giving a number of different pieces of information when only one of them is correct. One common trick is for the person to give one piece of information and then correct it later in the recording. If they do this, always write down the second piece of corrected information.


  • Prediction is an important skill in all areas of the IELTS listening test but crucially important in the form filling section.
  • Predicting enables you to not only focus your brain on the area that you will hear, but more importantly, not focus on any other areas.
  • When predicting we should think about: Grammar: noun, verb, adjective, adverb etc.. Often it will be obvious which word form we need to use. If we use a different form of the word we will get the question wrong. Subject: phone number, address, date, business name etc.. This will help us focus on the correct part of the recording and find the correct information more easily. Function: list, question, label, instruction etc..
  • In the IELTS listening test you will have between 30-45 seconds before you hear the recording. Use this time wisely by predicting what you are going to hear.


  • In the IELTS listening test it is normal for you to read one word but hear another word with the same meaning. For example, you may read cost but hear price. This is called a synonym and the IELTS listening test has lots of them.
  • A common mistake is to read a certain word and listen for that word and not hear it. That is because the recording used a synonym. For example, you might hear someone making a hotel reservation and you have to note down their details.
  • The form might say Arrival Date, but you will hear day you arrive. Similarly, you may read Departure Date, but you might hear day you leave.
  • Make sure you think about the type of information you might hear in the form of synonyms, not just the information you read.

5.Word Limit

  • Be careful not to write too many words in this section. You will be given specific instructions and you must not go over this limit. For example, NO MORE THAN TWO WORDS means that you may write one OR two words but no more.
  • NOT MORE THAN ONE WORD AND/OR A NUMBER means that if you write more than one word your answer will be incorrect.


  • You should familiarise yourself with how numbers sound in English and remember that the speaker may have an accent from an English speaking country you might not be familiar with, such as Ireland, Scotland, New Zealand or Canada.
  • The numbers that often come up are: 13 30,14 40,15 50,16 60,17 70,18 80,19 90. These numbers are difficult for many non-native speakers and that is why IELTS like to use them. Practice listening and saying these numbers.
  • You might also get a credit card number. These number are always 16 digits long, so depending on how many numbers are already provided, you will know how many numbers to write down.
    Finally, telephone numbers have two considerations. Firstly, native speakers offer say oh instead of zero and we may also group numbers together by saying double or triple in front of it. So 0778880700 would sound like oh, double seven, triple eight, oh, seven, double oh.


  • If there is a word, such as a surname or address, that is unfamiliar to most people, the recording will spell it out. Make sure you familiarise yourself with how all the letters sound. You could also categorise them by similar sound. For example, B, D, E, T, G, P and C all have a similar final sound and may be used to try and trick you.


  • Are you aware of the normal address format in the UK and Australia? Many different countries have very different address formats to this one and can be confusing. In the exam you want to know exactly what to expect.
  • Finally, you might have to write down a post code. These always start and end with one or two letters first (normally the same as the city) and then a series of numbers in between. Make sure you write down both the letters and numbers. Example: M1 4JH.


  • Make sure you are aware of the spelling of all the days of the week, especially difficult ones like Wednesday. This is also true for months like February. Also, if you don’t put a capital letter at the beginning of these words you will be incorrect.
  • Also be aware of some synonyms such as, weekend for Saturday and Sunday or fortnight for two weeks.
  • There are also different ways of saying and writing dates, for example: The eleventh of September 2002 could be written as 11 September 2002. Again, pay attention to the word limit in the question and only write under this limit.


  • These questions may seem straightforward but there are many tricks and unfamiliarities that can come up in this section. Make sure you are prepared by following the advice in this post, but the most important thing is to practice these kinds of question again and again.