Before the IELTS Listening Test you should:
- Listen to natural English as much as possible. Yes, I know this is obvious but it really is by far the best way to improve your English listening skills. As we discussed in the previous lesson, sometimes students find the speed of the IELTS Listening test too fast to keep up with. You need to spend your time listening to natural English, not the slow, simple texts you often find in students books.
- Listen as often as possible. It’s important to listen everyday. You will improve much faster by listening everyday for 15 minutes than by listening once a week for 2 hours.
- Listen actively, not passively. Passive listening is when you just listen and nothing else. It won’t help you improve your listening skills or your focus. When you listen you should listen actively – this means you set yourself a task while listening. For example, understand the main idea of a talk and summarise it, or make notes of the key points, or make notes of new language. The point is to stay focused on and engaged with whatever you are listening to.
- Listen to things you are interested in. There are so many things you can listen to online for free – podcasts, talks, radio, movies. Find things you like and listen to them often. See the resources section (below) for ideas to get you started.
- Practice your pronunciation, especially connected speech. Many students find that the listening is too fast. This is because the speakers connect their words together. By practising connected speech yourself, you will find that listening to it becomes easier. Try it! When you listen to something, try to copy exactly what the speaker says and how they say it. Try to sound exactly the same as they do (this is impossible – but it will raise your awareness of connected speech and improve your ability to produce it).
- Increase your vocabulary range – especially synonyms (words with the same / very similar meanings). This is probably the most important listening tip. You need a large vocabulary to do well in all sections the IELTS test. In the IELTS Listening Test most of the questions contain synonyms / paraphrase of the answers in the recordings. Therefore, you need to be able to recognise when the recording has the same meaning as the questions.
- Increase your knowledge of collocations. This will help you to predict and hear answers, especially for completion tasks. For example, ‘The supermarket is on the other side ___ ___ ___.’ Can you complete that sentence with three words? The first two words in the gap have to be ‘of the’ and the last word is probably ‘town’, ‘city’, ‘road’ or maybe ‘park’ or something similar. Knowing this before listening makes the task much easier.
- Understand how to answer the different types of question in the IELTS Listening Test. You can practice with free IELTS Listening Sample Questions here.
- Do IELTS Listening practice tests. You can find a few of these online or buy any of the Cambridge IELTS books. Be careful though, you should use these to test your level, not to improve your skills. I recommend doing no more than one practice test per week.
- Don’t JUST do listening practice tests. First, this would get boring very quickly and second, there are loads of great listening resources available online. See below!
Listening Resources: Developing your Listening Skills
Remember, when preparing for IELTS you should spend at least 80% of your time developing your skills using resources that are not specific to IELTS and only 20% (or less) doing IELTS practice tests. So, here are the best online resources to help you improve your general listening skills:
- The BBC have a lot of great content. Their learning english site has two useful series – News Report and Lingohack. You can also listen to BBC radio for free using iplayer (Radio 4 is the most useful).
- TED-Ed is especially useful in terms of IELTS Listening Section 4, in which you have to listen to part of a lecture.
- Another great resource is the British Council Listen and Watch ‘Magazine’ series. There are a wide range of useful topics to listen to.
- Deep English have loads of audio content on their blog. You can listen to each lesson at three speeds (slow, normal and fast) and read the transcript as well.
- Lingorank can help you improve your listening skills as well as your vocabulary and grammar.
- You can listen to pretty much whatever you want using Stitcher.
- Finally, if you like audiobooks, give Audible a try. You have to pay for this one – but the first book is free.