If you are aiming for IELTS Band 7 or higher, you need to prepare for the test in the right way and apply the right strategies during the test. In this post we will cover the best IELTS listening tips for both before and during the IELTS Listening Test.
IELTS Listening Tips – Before the Test
- Build your vocabulary. If you don’t know a word, you won’t be able to hear it on the recording. There is no quick fix for this – you need to increase your vocabulary over time. This is the most important tips for the whole IELTS test, not just listening. You simply can’t get a high score without a wide range of vocabulary.
- Develop your knowledge of synonyms and paraphrasing. Most of the time the recording will not use exactly the same words as the questions. This is done to make sure that you understand the meaning and are not just matching words. As you build your vocabulary, you should make sure you learn synonyms and practice different ways of saying the same thing.
- Make a habit of listening to something in English everyday. You will improve much faster if you listen everyday for just 15 minutes than if you listen once a week for 2 hours!
- Practise connected speech. When native speakers talk at a normal speed, their words will link together, changing the sounds. For example, ‘What are you going to do?’ becomes, ‘Whacha gona do?’. This causes problems for students who are used to slow speech. There are two things you can do to address this issue: First, spend time listening to natural speech (NOT slow recordings for learners!). Second, practice speaking this way yourself. When watching a movie, for example, listen carefully to the sounds a character actually makes and then repeat, trying your best to copy the sounds of each sentence, not just the individual words.
- Listen to different accents. The recording used in the IELTS test will include speakers from a range of different English speaking countries, including the USA, Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand. Make sure you have some experience of listening to all of these accents, as some variation in pronunciation can cause difficulties for some students.
- Do some IELTS Listening Practice Tests. In order to get IELTS Band 7 or higher you need to score 30+ out of 40 in each practice test you do. Don’t just do practice tests though! Firstly, this would be a very boring way to prepare for the test and, more importantly, doing practice tests won’t help you improve your ability that much. To improve, you need to spend lots of time listening to real English (podcasts, the news, TED talks, movies without subtitles).
IELTS Listening Tips – During the Test
- Predict before you listen. You always have some time to look at the questions before you listen. You should use this time to try to guess the kind of language you might hear. Again, focus on synonyms and paraphrase – how else might the words on the question paper be expressed in the recording? Predicting before you listen makes it easier to hear the answers.
- Use the questions to guide you. This is especially true for gap-fill or completion questions. What kind of word is missing? An adjective? A noun? A verb? What could the answer be? It has to make sense in the context of what you are listening to. For example, if you are listening to a description of a library, then ‘reference books’ or ‘self-study area’ might be included, whereas ‘ice-cream stall’ is unlikely.
- Focus on keywords. There are too many words on both the question paper and the recording for you to focus on everything. Which words carry the main meaning? Underline them on the question paper and listen for them (and synonyms) in the recording.
- Maintain attention. It is easy to miss one or two answers if you lose focus and start thinking about something else during the test, and this could make the difference between 6.5 and 7. From the moment the test starts to the end of Section 4, make sure you are focussed solely on the questions and the recording.
- Be aware of distractors. Sometimes a speaker will say what seems like the answer, only to change their mind and give a second (correct) answer moments later. Be aware of this and keep listening even after you think you have heard the answer. This is especially true of multiple-choice questions, when often more than one option will be mentioned on the recording.
- Listen and write at the same time. Sometimes answers will be close together in the listening test. You need to keep listening even while you are writing an answer down.
- Read the instructions carefully and do not write more words than you are allowed to. If the instructions state ‘Write no more than two words’ and you write three then your answer will be marked wrong.
- Be careful with spelling. If you spell a word incorrectly then your answer is wrong. You have 10 minutes at the end of the test to transfer your answers from the question paper to the answer sheet. As you do this, be very careful with your spelling, especially word endings (-s, -es, -ed).