IELTS Listening Test Overview
The IELTS Listening Test lasts for 30 minutes, with an extra 10 minutes at the end to transfer your answers to the answer sheet. There are four sections, each of which has 10 questions, making a total of 40 questions.
- Section 1 is a conversation between two people in an everyday context. It might be booking a holiday, renting a house, making travel arrangements, buying tickets for an event, asking for information about a job or any other similar situation.
- Section 2 is a talk by one person again in an everyday context. It might be about a place that is open to the public, plans to improve an area, a local event or something similar.
- Section 3 is a conversation in an academic context. It might be two students or a tutor and a student discussing an assignment, a project, a course or something similar.
- Section 4 is an academic lecture with one person speaking. It could be on any one of many academic subjects, but will not require specialised knowledge to understand it.
Each recording is played once only and you have some time to read the questions before you listen. The questions are in same order as the listening. The test generally gets harder as it goes on – Section 1 is the easiest and Section 4 is the most difficult. Sections 1-3 are split into two parts each but Section 4 is played in one go. Each test will include a range of accents including British, American, Australian and New Zealand.
IELTS Listening Test Scoring
The test is scored out of 40. These scores are then converted to band scores. This varies slightly from test to test, but the following is a good general guide:
- Low 20s = 5.5
- Mid 20s = 6
- High 20s = 6.5
- 30-32 = 7
- 33-34 = 7.5
- 35-36 = 8
- 37-38 = 8.5
- 39-40 = 9
Remember – the test gets harder as it goes on, so you want to get most of the answers correct in the first sections. To get band 7+ you need to get 30+ out of 40. This might break down like this:
- Section 1 – 10/10
- Section 2 – 8/10
- Section 3 – 7/10
- Section 4 – 5/10
By doing well in the earlier sections you can afford to only get half the answers correct in Section 4 and still get Band 7!
IELTS Listening Test Question Types
In each Listening Test there will be a variety of question types chosen from the following:
- Multiple Choice
- Labelling a plan, map or diagram
- Form / Sentence / Notes / Summary / Table / Flow-chart Completion
- Short Answer
How to complete the IELTS Listening Test
The most important thing to remember is that you need to focus 100% for 30 minutes. It is very easy to lose concentration for a minute and miss the answers to four or five questions, which could reduce your band score by a whole band. Practise maintaining concentration on listening (for example, a podcast, a TED talk or a movie) for 30 minutes plus.
Here is the basic process you should use to answer most listening test questions:
- Read the questions quickly and predict what you are about to listen to. What is the situation? Who will the speakers be? Where and why are they talking?
- More importantly, you should also use this time to predict language you might hear. Focus on synonyms and collocations related to language in the questions, as well as possible answers.
- As you listen, follow along with the questions with a pencil so you keep track of where the speaker / conversation is in relation to the questions.
- Don’t panic if you miss an answer – just move on to the next question
3 Common Problems with the IELTS Listening Test
- Not knowing how to complete the test: We looked at this briefly above and we cover it in detail inside the IELTS Essentials (Free IELTS Preparation Course). The key is being able to use the questions to predict the kind of language you will hear and what the answers might be. It doesn’t matter if you can’t predict everything (this is pretty much impossible), the important point is to activate language before you listen and focus on the kind of information you need to be listening out for. However, even if you know exactly what you should be doing, the test can still be very difficult if you can’t keep up with the speed or you don’t understand the language.
- Not being able to keep up with the speed: Sometimes students find the speed of the test too fast to keep up with. If this happens to you, then you need to spend more time listening to English being spoken at a natural speed. Use the resources in the next lesson to help with this. The key is to listen to things that are too difficult for you – that you cannot understand 100%. If you can, then it is too easy and you won’t develop your skills. You should be able to understand 50% to 90% of what you are listening to in order to make progress.
- Not understanding enough of the language: Simply not having a wide enough vocabulary is the final, probably most significant issue. As I said in Module 1 – a wide vocabulary really is the key to a high IELTS score. You can’t develop this overnight. It takes time and you need to be consistent, building your vocabulary little by little, day by day.