IELTS Listening

The IELTS Listening test is the same in both the Academic and General Training tests.

The Listening test consists of four parts designed to assess how well you can:

  • understand the main ideas and detailed information of a set of recordings
  • recognise the opinions and attitudes of the speaker
  • follow the development of an idea or argument.

Below you’ll find more information about the test format and scoring, as well as top tips, free videos and blog articles, and other resources to help you understand the Listening test and achieve a high score.

If there’s anything else you would like to see, tell us on our social channels.

The Listening test lasts for 30 minutes with an extra 10 minutes to write your answers onto a separate answer sheet.

There are four parts with ten questions each (so 40 in total). The questions are designed so that the answers appear in the order they are heard in the audio.

Each part is a little more difficult than the one before and each has a different focus.

The first two parts deal with situations set in everyday social contexts, so:

  • in Part 1 you will hear a conversation between two people
  • in Part 2 you will hear a monologue on a general topic.

The final two parts deal with situations set in educational and training contexts, so:

  • in Part 3 you will hear a conversation between two or three people
  • in Part 4 you will hear a monologue on an academic subject.

You will hear the recordings only once. The Listening test includes a range of accents, including British, Australian, New Zealand, American and Canadian.

One mark is awarded for each correct answer in the 40-item test.

A band score conversion table will then translate the scores out of 40 into the IELTS 9-band scale.

Take care when writing your answers onto the answer sheet as you can lose marks for poor spelling and grammar.

1. Get to know the test so there are no surprises on the day. Use our preparation materials to understand the Listening test and example topics that might come up.

2. Listen to accents from a variety of English-speaking countries. Search online for radio stations in these countries and listen every day.

3. Practise multitasking. During the test you need to read the questions, listen for the answer and write down the words all at the same time!

4. During the test you have time at the beginning of each part to look at the task. Use this time to read the questions carefully and think about the topics.

5. The questions always follow the order of the recording. Don’t panic if you miss a question – look ahead and think about the next one.

How to improve your IELTS Listening test score

Looking for simple ways to improve your listening skills? 

Find out what you can do to improve your skills to help you achieve the IELTS Listening band score you need.

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How to speak Canadian English

After my posts on Kiwi, Australian, British and American English, this post is all about the English you may see, hear and need to use in Canada. So if you’re planning to live, work or study in Canada, check out the examples of Canadian English below and, if you don’t like the cold, plan to go in summer or pack a ‘toque’ (a beanie or woolly hat) pronounced /təʊk/. Weather When I visited Canada, it was early summer so I didn’t experience how hot or cold it can get. I have heard from Canadian friends though how the extremes in temperature in some parts of Canada mean that some unique vocabulary is needed to describe it. Canadians may say the temperature is plus or minus even when it’s obvious which one it is. If it’s 30° Celsius on a summer’s day, you may hear someone say it’s ‘plus 30’ even though the difference between 30° Celsius (hot) and -30° Celsius (freezing cold) is several layers of clothing! To help you decide what to wear, listen to what the ‘wind chill’ is when you watch the weather forecast. The wind chill is how much colder the temperature will feel due to the wind, e.g. “It’s minus 20, but minus 25 with the wind chill”. If it’s too cold, you can always use the elevated or underground ‘pedways’ (covered walkways) between buildings if you’re in one of the cities with them. Money Some words that you’ll definitely need to know if you visit Canada are the names for coins because they are different to those in other English-speaking countries. A ‘loonie’ is the Canadian word for a one-dollar coin because it has a type of bird called a loon on one side. A ‘Toonie’ is the word for a two-dollar coin. So, if you need to change a two-dollar for two one-dollar coins (or vice versa), you’ll need to ask... Do you have two loonies for a toonie? Do you have a toonie for two loonies? It’s also important to know that the name Canadians often use for a ‘cash machine’, ‘cashpoint’ or ‘ATM’ is ‘bank machine’ or ‘ABM’. So now you know the names for coins, let’s see how you might spend them! Free time If you decide to watch Canada’s most popular spectator sport, ice hockey, you’ll find that it’s simply called ‘hockey’ in Canada. To see all the action, you need to be at the game by ‘puck drop’, the time when the puck hits the ice and the game starts.   If you like coffee, you’ll no doubt hear someone ordering a ‘double-double’ (a coffee with double sugar and double cream) and may want to try one yourself. A favourite memory from my visit, and something I’m happy to recommend, is eating ‘Timbits’, the bits cut out from the middle of doughnuts from the Canadian-based franchise Tim Horton’s (more often called ‘Timmies’ or ‘Tims’ by Canadians). I can’t remember how many I ate but it was more than was good for me! Spelling You’ll find examples of both British and American English spelling used in Canada. To give you a few examples, Canadians tend to use the British English spellings of colour, centre, and theatre (not the American spellings of color, center and theater) but tend to use the American spellings of favorite, program and tire (not the British spellings of favourite, programme and tyre). While you may find this difficult to remember, the good news is that both American and British spellings are accepted in IELTS. English and French With both English and French being official languages in Canada, don’t forget that you’ll see and possibly hear French while there. You’ll see French on signage at airports, government offices and national parks and hear some French words used by English speakers if you visit Quebec, a mostly French-speaking province. Bonne chance (Good luck) with your IELTS test! Pete

Pete Jones

22 July, 2020

What is American English?

Whether you're living in the USA or not, you'll no doubt be familiar with American English through movies and TV shows or perhaps through watching or reading the news on an American channel. I was too when I visited the USA a few years ago but unfortunately this wasn't enough to make all routine tasks easy, which was quite a surprise given that I'm from an English-speaking country! So, to help you avoid the problems I had, here are some features of American English that will be useful if you're taking IELTS to study, work or live in the USA. They’re also important if you’re taking IELTS for another reason as the IELTS test includes texts/accents from around the English-speaking world, including the USA. Pronunciation I thought it would be easy to order a sandwich when I visited America but it wasn’t. The American pronunciation of ‘tomato’ /təˈmeɪtəʊ/ is different from the British English pronunciation /təˈmɑːtəʊ/, and no one understood me when I asked for tomato on my sandwich. I had to resort to pointing! ‘Tomato’ is one of many English words that are pronounced differently in American and British English. Other common words that are pronounced differently in American and British English are ‘herbs’, ‘vitamins’, ‘yoghurt’, ‘leisure’, ‘advertisement’, ‘mobile’ and ‘garage’. You can check the differences by listening to the British and American pronunciation of these words in the Cambridge Dictionary. Vocabulary Keeping to the theme of routine tasks, there are also many differences between American and British English vocabulary. Learning these differences could prevent you from asking for the wrong food, clothes and shops or even knocking on the wrong door! (Click to enlarge) Spelling I know that you may be worried about spelling for your IELTS test but the good news is that both American and British spellings are accepted in IELTS. If the answer to an IELTS Listening question was color, for example, both the American spelling ‘color’ and the British spelling ‘colour’ would be marked as correct. Having said that, if you’re planning on studying or working in the USA, it would be a good idea to learn the American spellings now. Some of the most common differences are: ‘centre’, ‘litre’, ‘metre’ and ‘theatre’ in British English are spelled ‘center’, ‘liter’, ‘meter’ and ‘theater’ in American English. most words with two or more syllables ending in ‘our’ in British English end in ‘or’ in American English (e.g. color, behavior, labor, neighbor). verbs that can end in ‘ise’ or ‘ize’ in British English end with ‘ize’ in American English (e.g. ‘organize’, ‘realize’ and ‘recognize’). the verbs ‘practise’ and ‘license’ in British English are spelled ‘licence’ and ‘practice’ in American English (like the nouns in British and American English) As with all rules though, there are always exceptions! The American spelling of ‘advertise’, for example, is the same as the British English ‘advertise’. Grammar While there aren’t as many differences between American and British grammar, there’s one very important one. American English speakers often use the past simple form of verbs (e.g. didn’t + verb) in situations where British English speakers use the present perfect (e.g. haven’t + verb-ed), especially with words such as ‘already’, ‘just’ and ‘yet’. So, if you’re asked about the date of your IELTS test, you could use the past simple (American English) or the present perfect (British English) to answer it: Question: When is your IELTS test? Answer (in American English): I didn’t book it yet. Answer (in British English): I haven’t booked it yet. You can read about more grammar differences and test your understanding in this lesson from the British Council. Have a good one (a way of saying ‘Goodbye’ in American English). Pete

Pete Jones

28 May, 2020

Using Audio Scripts to improve your IELTS listening

In my career, I have often heard teachers say, "listening cannot be taught only tested". It's true that when you do a listening exercise, it's often in the format of 'listen and answer the questions', and while practice does help improve your performance, there are a few exercises you can do to accelerate the rate at which you improve. As Jishan pointed out in his blog recently, there are really good ways to get hold of transcripts to practise your listening. In addition, you could use some of the Official Cambridge IELTS materials, many of which contain transcripts to the Listening test. Many students use transcripts/audio scripts to check their answers and see where they went wrong. This is a great way to identify your weaknesses and to discover certain patterns in the listening test, but there is a lot more you can do. So, here are a few of the exercises I like to use: Read before you listen Yes, you read that right. You could read the transcript before you look at the listening questions for the test. This technique helps you build your vocabulary for listening, get used to different accents, allows you to see the relationship between the question and the answer and takes the pressure off the listening experience. Record the transcript yourself When we study new vocabulary, we often have an idea of what the words sound like in our head and it often does not correspond to what other (native) speakers sound like. So if you record the transcript yourself, using your phone or computer, and then compare it to the test recording, your subconscious will be able to make connections between the written and spoken word much more easily. Listen & read at the same time To do this exercise right, you should listen at least twice. The first time, simply read the transcript and listen for the meaning of the words, trying to absorb as much as you can. The second time, prepare by reading through the questions, and try to find the answers as you go along. This technique allows you to practise listening for the meaning of the text rather than focusing entirely on trying to identify the answers to questions. If you really want to make the most of this opportunity, you could prepare some difficult vocabulary before listening a third time. Use the transcript for spelling practice Getting the spelling right is really important in the IELTS Listening test, as otherwise you may lose vital points despite having found the right answer. There are two ways in which you can use transcripts for spelling practice: Select 10 key words from the transcript (or more if you feel ambitious) and record yourself saying them. Then have a cup of tea or spend a few minutes distracting yourself on the internet. After the break, play the recording to yourself MS: and write down the words. Finally, check the spelling against the transcript. Alternatively, you could place the transcript at one end of the room and a pen and paper at the other end. Read a sentence that contains an answer from the transcript, move across the room and write down the whole sentence. You’re allowed to go back as many times as you like. When you have done one set of questions, compare your sentences carefully to the original and study any words you got wrong. This exercise is also great for training your subconscious in using grammatically correct sentences. Blank out the difficult words (Please don’t do this if you’re using a library book! ☺) Take a thick black marker or some correction fluid and go over the transcript deleting all of the words of expressions you don’t know. Then do the listening test as normal and try to answer as many of the questions as you can. The exercise helps you relax and accept that you are unlikely to know all the vocabulary used in the Listening test. It should train you to follow the listening as it goes on rather than fall behind because you worry about what you missed. Make your own questions In this exercise, you simply read a passage of the transcript and write your own question(s). This helps you think like an examiner and shows you what kind of information to listen out for. Then, compare your questions to the actual test questions and see where they differ. This will teach you a lot about the different types of questions and how examiners design the test. By using the exercises above, you can work on your listening while reducing the pressure of getting answers wrong. However, don’t forget to practise regularly under test conditions so you can measure your progress. Sophie

Sophie Hodgson

19 May, 2020

Episode 1: Top 5 IELTS questions answered

In this episode, IELTS teachers Emma and Liz answer five questions they are frequently asked by their IELTS students.

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How to work on your English at home

Emma Cosgrave shares her top tips on how to learn English at home.

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Top Tips for Multiple Choice Questions

Download our checklist for multiple choice questions in IELTS Listening

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