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If you want to achieve a high band score in IELTS Listening, you need to learn a few listening practice skills that will help you master all of the question types in the IELTS Listening test. 

In this article, we help you prepare for IELTS Listening by guiding you through the essential listening practice skills to use.  

After giving a brief overview of the IELTS Listening test, we will focus on:

  • how to use the preparation time before the audio starts to familiarise yourself with the questions and know what you need to listen for. 
  • how to focus, avoid distractors and stay calm during the test.
  • how to review your performance and do better next time!

You will need to practise these skills yourself using real practice questions. To get access to IELTS listening practice questions, sign up to E2 Test Prep for free to begin practising today!

Listening Test Overview

The IELTS Listening test is a challenging section of the IELTS exam. Students find it difficult because it requires ‘keeping up’ with a few things all at once – you have to listen to the audio recordings, read and think about the questions, keep pace with the speakers and write down or click the answers, all at the same time!  

For an overview lesson explaining the IELTS Listening test in detail, watch this video: 

IELTS Listening takes about 30 minutes. It has four parts and each part has one audio recording and 10 questions, giving 40 questions in total. There are six possible types of questions, and although you won’t get all of the different types in one test, you should be prepared for all of them.

You are given time to read the questions before you listen to the audio. The recordings are only played once and you answer the questions while listening. Scoring for IELTS Listening is pretty simple – you get one point for each correct answer. 

The test gets harder as it goes along, so in Part 1, the vocabulary and the questions are relatively simple, and they become more complex as you go through the test.

Part 1: Conversation in an Everyday Setting (2 speakers)

In Part 1, you will hear a conversation between two people in an everyday setting. Usually, one person is asking the other person for information, maybe about booking a service or attending an event. Often the task in Part 1 is to listen for specific details such as dates, times, prices or requirements. 

Part 2: Monologue in an Everyday Setting (1 speaker)

In Part 2 of IELTS Listening, you will hear one speaker give a talk in an everyday setting. Often the speaker will be giving information, so they could be a guide in a museum, or someone describing the facilities in a community building or welcoming people to a new company.

Part 3: Conversation in an Educational Setting (2–4 speakers)

For Part 3, you will hear a conversation between two, three or four people discussing a project or assignment or something else related to an academic or training course. The conversation could be between two students, maybe with a tutor also making some comments, or it could be one student talking to a supervisor or tutor. Often in this part you’ll need to recognise the speakers’ opinions or feelings about something.

Part 4: Monologue in an Academic Setting (1 speaker)

Part 4 is the most challenging part of the IELTS Listening test. You’ll hear an academic lecture or presentation, and the speaker could be a university lecturer or perhaps a student giving a talk as part of their course. In this part, you’ll be expected to follow complex ideas and identify specific information. 

Before You Listen – Step 1 of IELTS Listening Practice

In IELTS Listening, you always get some time to read the instructions and questions before the audio starts playing, and it’s important to know how to use this time effectively. As we mentioned, there are six different types of questions, and each one requires a slightly different listening strategy, but there are some strategies that are important for all the question types. Learning and practising these will help you improve your IELTS Listening band score.

1. Check the Instructions

Always take a few seconds to check the specific instructions for the listening task. If you are already familiar with all the task types in IELTS Listening, checking the instructions will quickly orient you to the task and give you a boost of confidence that you know what you have to do. More importantly, some instructions change slightly from task to task, so you need to check them to make sure you don’t accidentally lose marks. For example, for questions where you have to write an answer, such as note, table or diagram completion, you MUST check the instructions to find out how many words and numbers you are allowed to write for each answer. In the IELTS Listening Test, these instructions will look something like this:

Questions 1–7

Complete the table below.

Write ONE WORD AND/OR A NUMBER for each answer.


Broadband Plans
Plan NameSuitable ForFeaturesCosts
Everyday1  ……………100 MbpsMake video calls2 £ …………… per month

You can see that the instructions for this particular task say ‘Write ONE WORD AND/OR A NUMBER’. Other similar tasks might say simply ‘Write ONE WORD ONLY’, which means you cannot write a number. Alternatively, you may see ‘Write NO MORE THAN TWO WORDS AND/OR A NUMBER’, which is a bit more complicated, because it means you could write:

  • one word
  • two words
  • a number
  • one word and a number
  • two words and a number

Let’s look at how the specific instructions affect the answers you write, using the questions in the example above. For Question 1, you might write the answer ‘families’, which would be acceptable because ‘families’ is one word. However, if you wrote ‘all families’ or ‘the family’, your answer would be incorrect because you have used more than one word. Likewise, in Question 2, let’s imagine the correct answer is ‘18’. You can write that in letters, ‘eighteen’ or you can use the numeral ‘18’ – IELTS accepts both. You couldn’t write something like ‘18–20’ because the instructions say you can use a number, meaning one number, but you have used two numbers. So you can see that taking a moment to check the instructions is really essential to help you avoid making unnecessary mistakes that could lower your IELTS Listening score.

2. Focus your Listening

To answer the questions successfully, you need to know what you’re listening for. Your focus will change depending on the type of question, but the general principles of how to focus your listening are similar no matter what question you are answering. 

First, you need to get an overall understanding of the task and the context or topic of the audio by using your scanning skills. Look over the task – what information can you gather about the topic? For example, note/table/summary completion tasks may have titles, headings or bullet points, and matching tasks often have category headings. What do these tell you about the topic of the audio and what you might hear? Thinking about the topic activates your brain; you might start thinking about some vocabulary related to the topic, for example. This is great for your focus. 

Second, you need to get a more detailed understanding of the task and the specific questions you have to answer.

Depending on the task, you may want to: 

  • skim read the questions and underline or highlight the keywords related to the information you need to listen for.
  • predict what kind of word(s) or information you need to write in a gap and even guess what the answer might be.
  • study an image (such as a map, diagram or flow-chart) and make sure you understand what it shows.
  • think of some synonyms for keywords and important ideas.

If you would like to learn effective methods for approaching every type of question in IELTS Listening, make sure you check out the Method lessons in the IELTS courses at E2 Test Prep.

You might think that this is a lot to do in the short time you are given to read the information before the audio starts. The good news is that the more often you do IELTS Listening Practice using these skills, the better you will get at quickly and effectively preparing yourself to listen and successfully answer the questions.

While You Listen – Step 2 of IELTS Listening Practice

At the end of the preparation time, the audio will start playing. This brings your next challenge, which involves listening to the audio, staying focused and keeping pace with the speaker(s) while answering the questions. Here are a few key strategies that can help you with this.

1. Listen for Signposting

As the audio plays, listen for signposting expressions that will help you follow the structure and sequence of the monologue or conversation. Signposting refers to ‘transitions’ in the sequence of the conversation as the speakers move from one topic or idea to the next. These can be especially helpful when you’re doing parts 2 and 4 of an IELTS Listening practice test. Typical signposting expressions are:

  • First/Firstly, …
  • To begin with …
  • Second/Secondly, …
  • Afterwards, …
  • An example of this is
  • One major advantage/issue/cause/effect/problem is …
  • Next, …
  • Let’s talk about …
  • I’d like to discuss …
  • On the other hand …
  • Following this …
  • Finally, …

What to Practise: Practise listening for signposting expressions and when you hear one, use it to mentally mark your place in the conversation – is it signalling a move onto the key information in the next question, for example?

2. Be Prepared for and Avoid Distractors

Distractors are words or ideas from the question that you will hear in the audio but that do not reflect the main intention or point of the speakers. They seem like the correct answer, but if you listen carefully, you can recognise that they are wrong. The IELTS Listening test is full of distractors, so you need to practise avoiding them.

Here’s an example of a distractor from our blog post about the five different types of distractors in IELTS Listening.

It’s from a conversation about sending a package to someone. The question is:

Type of delivery chosen:

  1. Plane
  2. Train
  3. Truck

Here’s part of the conversation:

Donald: Okay, so you have three options for freight.

Paula: Could you please explain that to me?

Donald: Sure, so you can elect to have your goods sent by plane, which is the quickest and safest but also the most expensive. Or you can choose to have them sent by train, which is safe and less expensive. And finally, you can send your things by truck, which is less safe but much cheaper.

Paula: Ah, yes, sending by truck can take far too long. I’m in a bit of a rush, so I’ll go for the fastest option, please.

So, when Paula says, ‘Ah, yes, sending by truck can take far too long …’, you might stop listening. You might think, ‘Oh the speaker mentioned sending by truck, so that must be the right answer’, and you might miss that they actually said something negative about that option – that it takes too long. And you would definitely miss the next part where the speaker says, ‘I’ll go with the fastest option.’ ‘Truck’ is a distractor, and the correct answer is ‘Plane’, which is ‘the fastest option’. 

What to Practise: Of all the IELTS Listening tips we could give you, this one is the most important. You must be prepared for distractors so that you can avoid them. Make sure you’re aware of all the different types of distractors and practise identifying them as you listen. If you hear a word or phrase from the question, keep listening! The distractors and the right answer are generally mentioned very close to each other. 

3. Keep Your Focus

You may lose your focus while listening to the audio recordings. This could happen for many reasons: maybe your mind wanders because you suddenly feel hungry, maybe distractors in the questions cause you to become confused about the correct answer, or maybe you get stuck on a sentence in the audio you didn’t understand and miss what the speakers say next. If you begin to doubt and panic, you risk losing your concentration altogether.

What to Practise: If you find your focus slipping while doing IELTS listening practice, here’s what to do. First, remember that leaving one question blank will only cost you one mark, so don’t panic! Skip the question or write your best guess of the right answer, and then forget about it. Second, use the preparation you did before the audio started playing. What key information did you highlight or underline?

Remember that IELTS listening questions are always in the same order as the audio, so look for the next key information you need to hear. In this way, you can anticipate when the next answer is likely to come, and you can refocus your attention by listening out for it. Likewise, if you start worrying because you didn’t understand a particular word or sentence, just forget about it, look for the next key information you need to listen for and concentrate on that. The ability to move on from a problem or mistake requires some discipline, so make sure you do lots of IELTS listening practice tests so you can build up this skill. You can access free practice materials at E2 Test Prep

After You Listen – Step 3 of IELTS Listening Practice

When you’ve finished listening to the audio recording, there are a couple of things you should do to prepare yourself for test day.

1. Check Your Answers

After the IELTS Listening test audio has finished, you have some time to either transfer your answers to an answer sheet (in the paper-based test) or check your answers (in the computer-based test). So when you’re preparing for the exam, you should practise running through a quick checklist so you can use this time effectively. You need to check:

  • your spelling – you won’t get a mark if you have spelt the word incorrectly.
  • your grammar – if you make a grammar mistake that affects your answer, you won’t get a mark. For example, if the word is supposed to be plural (e.g. cats) and you write a singular word (cat), it will be marked as incorrect. 
  • that you have followed the instructions, e.g. you haven’t written more than the stated number of words.
  • that you have answered every question. If you haven’t, now is the time to make your best guess.

2. Review Your Results

You might think that when you have finished listening to the audio and checking your answers, your listening practice has finished. But in fact, there is one more task you need to do to improve your listening skills and achieve your desired IELTS Listening score. You MUST review your results and make sure you understand why your right answers were right and why your wrong answers were wrong. It’s very simple – if you don’t know why you got the answer wrong, it’s likely that you will make a similar mistake in your next practice. You need to work out what your weaknesses are so that you can work on improving them in your next listening practice.

For example, did you miss answers because you didn’t recognise synonyms in the audio that matched words or phrases in the questions? This could be a sign that you need to work on expanding your vocabulary before your next listening practice. Or perhaps you heard a word from the question that was actually a distractor but you thought it was the answer. If that happens often, you need to practise making sure you keep listening after you hear words from the question to check that the speaker doesn’t change their mind or give a different answer.

Always have a goal for your practice. Using the previous examples, your goal might be, ‘I want to focus on listening for synonyms’ or ‘I want to focus on listening to everything the speakers say about the question before I choose the answer’. This is the best way to improve the specific listening skills that can make all the difference to your IELTS Listening band score on test day.

Where to Find More IELTS Practice

You now have a really good idea of how to effectively prepare for the IELTS Listening test. Now you need to put all the strategies you’ve just learnt into practice. So for more IELTS preparation, head to our IELTS Academic or IELTS General page and sign up for free. We’ve got practice questions, method lessons and live classes with expert teachers – everything you need to help you get the IELTS Listening score you need.

Author Bio:
E2 is the world’s leading test preparation provider. Our expert teachers are fully accredited English teachers, with TESOL, British Council or other relevant certification, and years of IELTS examiner or IELTS teaching experience.

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