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IELTS Listening Tasks Overview

Structure and Content

How much time do I get to complete the IELTS Listening Section?

The Listening Section of the IELTS Academic Test is divided into 4 sections, each with 10 questions so 40 questions in total. You will have about 30 minutes to complete before sections. in addition, you have about 10 extra minutes to transfer your answers from your question sheet to your answer sheet.

A map of this section looks like this:

IELTS Listening Map
This is an outline of the IELTS listening section

As the map shows, the listening test has 4 recordings that you must listen to. For each recording, you must answer 10 questions. The first two recordings deal with everyday situations:

What is the IELTS Listening Test Format?

In the first recording, you’ll hear a whole conversation between two speakers, for example, a conversation about travel arrangements, opening a bank account, or inquiring about a training course.

In the second recording, you’ll hear a monologue or just one person speaking, for example, a speech about community activities, someone giving information on something such as a guided museum tour, or information about a conference.

The last two recordings deal with education or training-related situation in section 3 there’s a conversation between two main speakers, for example, 2 university students in discussion perhaps guided by a Tutor.

The fourth recording is a monologue on an academic subject and is usually a university style lecture. This could be related to any academic topic.

You can only listen to the recordings once, that means if you want to do well on the listening task you need to be well prepared. To be well-prepared you need to be very familiar with the listening tasks so let’s take a look at these now.

No specialist subject knowledge is necessary. All the answers you need will be provided in the recordings.

Task Types

There are 6 different listening task types that you could see on your test. Each task is designed to test a different skill. You need to be able to recognize each task type immediately. This will save you a lot of time on the actual test conditions.

The different Task Types are:

  • Matching Times Two ( there are two different matching tasks);
  • Plan, Map, Diagram Labeling;
  • Sentence Completion;
  • and Short Answer Questions.

These tasks aren’t difficult but you can only listen to the recording once. To do well in this section, you must be prepared and have your thoughts organized.

Preparing for the IELTS Listening Exam

Start preparing well before the test

I’m sure you’ve seen this scene at your school or university on the day before a big exam – everyone frantically revising, learning, memorising in the hope that what they remember will be what they need in the exam. This is probably the worst preparation you can have before the IELTS test. Use the weeks or months before your exam to feed your ears with English. Don’t rely only on IELTS tests for your audio input; explore podcasts, TED talks, documentaries, even TV shows. The more you get used to listening to ‘real’ English, the easier you’ll find the Listening Test. IELTS audios are actually much slower than real-life speech, so by practising with natural-paced speaking, you’ll eventually find the IELTS audios easy to follow.

Doing IELTS practice tests


The IELTS Listening test follows a fairly standard format and it’s important that you know what to expect on test day.

Read more about each section here.


Of course, we have loads of IELTS practice material on As well as full tests, we also have IELTS practice on each question type you could get in the IELTS Listening test.

Plus, there are dozens of Cambridge tests online as well (jump on Google!) so be sure to spend some time working your way through these.

Don’t only do IELTS practice tests

It’s easy to get caught in the trap of simply taking test after test after test. But remember that you also need to work on your listening skills like predicting, avoiding distractors, catching details, identifying opinion.

The best way to do this is in our Live Classes where you get to do some IELTS practice in test conditions but also lots of vocabulary and skill-building. Plus you can ask our IELTS experts anything you like!

Get a taste of our live classes here.

Build your vocabulary


The more words you know, the better your score will be in the test. All the test-taking skills in the world cannot help you if your vocabulary is lacking. Luckily, learning new vocabulary is fun!


As with spelling, vocabulary building is not just about downloading a list of words and looking at it from time to time. Research shows that you need ‘meet’ a new word 17 times before it is incorporated into your long-term memory.

You can fast-track this with some simple strategies and/or tech:

  • Vocabulary book. Organise your book by topic. Add your new word along with the meaning, translation if necessary, pronunciation, part of speech AND create a simple, personal example sentence. For instance, if you are learning the word ‘lure’, your vocabulary entry might look like this:
  • Flashcards. Yes, physical flashcards. Write the word on one side and the meaning, on the other. Test yourself by a) looking at the word and saying the meaning or b) looking at the meaning and saying the word. Physically say the word out loud to really reinforce your memory.
  • Apps/websites. There are also loads of apps and websites to help you learn new words. Quizlet is an awesome and powerful app that gives you repeated exposure to new words in a variety of formats and games. It’s effective and super fun as well. Plus, you can search their library for all sorts of lists. Memrise is another great vocabulary app. It uses ‘mems’ or little visual clues to help you memorise new language. Like Quizlet, you get repeated exposure for improving IELTS Listening and lots of IELTS practice in a variety of fun ways.

With any of these strategies, be sure to review the words regularly. After your initial meeting, catch up again in around 30-90 minutes and then again later that day. Continue hanging out with your new word friends over the next few days and then make sure to meet again after a week, two weeks, a month and so on.

Check out some more vocab tips here.

Completing the IELTS Listening Exam

Transferring answers

IELTS let you make notes and write on the question sheet. At the end of the 30 minutes, you’ll need the extra time to transfer your answers from the question sheet to the answer sheet.

Your listening scores are calculated according to what you have written on your answer sheet. Therefore, you must make sure you have completed your answer sheet before the end of the time allocated and filled it incorrectly.

Be very careful when you transfer your answers on to the answer sheet, don’t get your questions and answers mixed up. Spelling and Grammar count and you don’t want to lose points here. So don’t be in a hurry and be careful to check and double-check. If you are in a rush and you’re writing is unclear, your answer will be marked wrong.

IELTS Listening Answer Sheet

Is there negative-marking in the IELTS Listening?

There is no negative marking, so you will just get a zero for an incorrect or incomplete answer.

Missing an Answer

Yes. It happens. You get distracted or lose focus for just a second and you miss the answer. Don’t panic; you don’t want to miss the next answer too!

Move on to the next question and when it’s time to complete your answers, go back and have a guess: an informed one, that is. Sometimes you’ll remember and know the answer, but often you won’t. In this case, use your brain to work out what is most likely to be the answer.

Sometimes you can eliminate answers that just don’t work because of the grammar, sometimes you have all the other answers and there are 3 left to choose from, but whatever the task, make sure you write something in. No answer = no mark.

Don’t multitask in multiple-choice questions

For my first top tip for IELTS Listening, let’s look at how to deal with one of the tasks many of you find difficult – multiple choice. Here’s an example. In this one, a student is talking to her tutor about a presentation she has to give. Here’s the question. I’ve underlined the keywords in the sentence stem.

21. Jill explains that she is having difficulty planning her talk because

A) she is short of information about the subject.
B) the other students know a lot about cameras.
C) she is not sure about what she should try to achieve.

Before you look at A, B and C, make a question that you are going to listen for the answer to. The question could be – Why is Jill having difficulty planning her talk? Focusing on a question in your head rather than trying to read the three options on the paper helps you to give your full attention to listening to the recording. It is harder to read the options A, B and C and listen at the same time – in fact, it’s almost impossible.

Ensure you are using correct grammar & spelling


Incorrect grammar will cost you points. So, be careful with things like plural and singular nouns. There may be clues such as an indefinite article in front of the blank space for the answer which would indicate the answer is a singular noun. Also, be careful with tenses and subject/verb agreement. If the answer is second person singular, don’t forget the ‘s’ at the end of the noun.

Take care with verb tenses. An incorrect noun form or verb tense will be considered an incorrect answer (even if your answer is right!). Capitalization of proper nouns is also important. For example, names of countries, cities or geographical locations (among other things) must be capitalized. For example, if you write “Australia” as “australia” your answer will be marked as incorrect.


Spelling in IELTS is no joke. If you spell a word wrong, your answer is marked wrong. Yes, even if you just miss one letter! So, if spelling is a problem for you, it’s time to knuckle down and give it some serious attention.

Be an active learner.

Don’t just download a list of vocabulary and pat yourself on the back. You need to create a list of your problem words. Write the words out yourself. Not just once. Write them over and over and then review regularly. Take this simple process one step further by recording yourself reading a list of problem words. Then, give yourself a spelling test every day until you get a perfect score.

Create spelling hacks

For words that you always get wrong, create a little story or ‘hack’ to help you remember the correct spelling. Here are a few of our favourites:


Common errors: acomodation, acommadation, accomodation, etc etc!

Remember this little story: When I stay in 5-star accommodation, I like to eat CCs and MnMs.

CC’s and MnM’s. Two C’s (CCs) and two M’s (MnMs): Accommodation

Accommodation = CCs and MnMs!


Common error: Responsable, reponsable

Remember: I am responsible.


Common errors: necesary neccesary neccessary

Remember: When you go to a restaurant, a shirt is necessary. A shirt has one Collar (1 X C) and two Sleeves (2 X S).

One C and two S‘s: Necessary

Ensure your handwriting is legible

Although you may feel rushed for time, handwriting is important. If the examiner cannot read what you have written, it will be marked incorrect.

Can I use all capital letters in my answers?

If you have messy handwriting or aren’t sure which words you need to capitalize, it might be safer to write your answers in all CAPITALS. For one, words written in all capitals are usually neater and easier to read. Also, you don’t have to worry about losing marks for not capitalizing a word that needs to be capitalized.

5 Tips for the IELTS Listening

Here are some important IELTS Listening Tips to remember:

1. Read the questions first

You will be given some time to read the questions before each recording is played. Read the questions very carefully as you will hear each recording only once, so you want to be familiar with the questions before you hear the recording

2. Make notes as you go and keep listening

Making notes

As you listen, write your answers in your test booklet and then transfer them at the end of the listening test. You will be given 10 minutes to do this. Be sure to check that you have transferred your answers correctly and remember to check your spelling and grammar. Also, be sure to complete your answer sheet. An incomplete answer sheet means an incomplete score.

Keep listening

Sometimes you hear the answer and think that’s it, but … there’s more! Often, what you hear first is not the correct answer. Here’s an example. Question first:

At what time does the exhibition open on Saturday?

A) 2pm
B) 4pm
C) 7pm

In the test, you hear someone talking about the opening time:

On weekends we used to open at 2pm but now that’s the weekday opening time, except for Mondays when we’re closed. So the exhibition opens at 2pm today with a special evening display at 7pm. On the weekend, we always open the doors at 4pm though.’

The correct answer (B) came right at the end in that example. So, even if you think you’ve got the right answer, keep listening until you’ve heard all the information.

3. Listen for keywords and use the signposts and headings

Don’t worry if you don’t understand everything you hear. Listen out for the keywords from the questions and focus on what you need to be listening out for.

If you miss a question, don’t dwell on it because you may miss the answer to the next one. So, if you miss one, move on.

Sometimes in IELTS Listening there is a quite a long gap between the information needed to answer one question and the next. This happens especially in the lecture in section 4. So what do you do to check where you are in section 4?


Look at your answer sheet and you’ll see there are headings which show you what the different parts of the talk are about. Here’s an example of part of an IELTS Listening section 4.

Indoor farming

Began in the early 20th century

Involves growing crops in 33 _____ greenhouses

Imagine you’ve answered question 32, and you’re waiting for question 33. The subheading Indoor farming will help you to spot when the information for the next answer is coming up. Here’s what tells you that you are now approaching question 33. 

“Well, this is where science, agriculture and design converge, and let’s start by talking about indoor farming. The concept itself is not new.”


The signpost, “Let’s start by talking about” clearly alerts you to the upcoming answer.

The good news is that these signposts are everywhere in IELTS Listening. Here’s a quick list of some you might hear in Section 4:

  • I’ll start by examining …
  • For instance, …
  • First / Secondly / Another …
  • In addition to …
  • As well as this, …
  • On the one hand / On the other hand, …
  • One major advantage is …
  • The problem, however, is …

So listen carefully for these ‘signposts’ which tell you what’s coming next.

4. Follow the word count

Make sure you follow the word count in the instructions for each question. For example, if the instructions say “write no more than one word” and you write “the train” instead of “train”, your answer will be marked as incorrect.

5. Cross-check your answers

Those are our IELTS Listening Tips! Always cross check your answers from your answer sheet to your listening booklet.

Adopt these useful strategies on How To Develop Your IELTS Vocabulary. 

If you like listening, don’t miss our podcast!

All Comments 20
  • Hi there!
    I have a question regarding articles in form completion type of tasks. When I practice listening at home, I have problems with whether or not to write articles. For example, according to the task, I should write NO MORE THAN THREE WORDS AND/OR NUMBERS (Section 1):
    Special diet: 6………………..
    Other requirements: 7…………………
    In the recording I heard (even then verified with the tapescript) the article A in both cases, and since I can write up to 3 words, I wrote 6. a vegetarian; 7. a real garden. However, the keys suggest 6. vegetarian (without a) and 7. (a) real garden (which means either is ok). I am confused. What’s the difference?
    Thank you in advance

    • Welcome! We have free live classes almost everyday! It seems like you have already signed up with us! That’s a good start!
      Next, please sign in to your E2 student platform. There you will see a class calendar in the centre of the main page. Choose the class that you would like to join and click “Register.” Note: the class time is in YOUR timezone. Please see our FAQ page, “How do I join a Live Class?” for a detailed instruction. Good luck! Let us know how you go!

  • Thanks for providing helpful tips and learning resources. With the content, you provided students will be able to practice their listening skills. Even many kids nowadays have such activities in their language classes where they need to listen to audio carefully and then answer a set of questions. The audio files you provided are also pitch-perfect all through. All the activities are interesting and learner-friendly. I am sure the IELTS listening tips you provided will be very helpful for all the aspirants and they will feel a lot more prepared for the test.

    • E2Language Team says:

      Hi Rum, glad to hear you enjoyed the Listening Guide! Thanks for your lovely comment!

      Best wishes,
      Maree from your E2 team

  • Shahidul Islam says:

    Many thanks for this IElTS listening tips which is very helpful. Keep it up. Hoping for next one. Regards Shahidul

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