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.

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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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Avoiding distractors in the IELTS Listening test

Why might you get an answer wrong in the IELTS Listening test? You may not understand a speaker’s accent or the vocabulary they use, you may not be able to keep up with the recording or lose concentration, or you may make a spelling mistake or write too many words for a particular answer. There’s also another common reason IELTS test takers get answers wrong in the Listening test: Distractors! Distractors in the IELTS Listening test A distractor is when an alternative but incorrect answer is included in the recording. For example, in the IELTS Listening Part 1 dialogue below from The Official Cambridge Guide to IELTS, there are several dates given but only one is the correct answer to the question ‘What date will they leave?’. A: Right, so, you need to book some flights, is that right? B: Yes, for me and my family. We’re going to Scotland for my sister’s wedding. A: Oh, lovely! When’s the wedding? B: It’s on 21st July. A: That should be wonderful, but I assume you’ll want to fly in earlier? What about the 20th or even the 19th? B: It will have to be the 18th. I’ve actually got to attend a special dinner on the 19th. The answer is, of course, the 18th of July but, if you listened to this under test conditions, you may well write down the first date you hear (21st July) and then start listening for the answer to the next question. All of the alternative dates are distractors and are designed to test that you really understand the details of what you hear rather than only a word, two or three words and/or a number. So, now that you know what a distractor is, how can you avoid choosing them and getting answers wrong that you could get right. How to avoid distractors There are three main ways to avoid distractors: Before you listen, predict when a question may include a distractor. While you listen, write down all possible answers to each question (if you have time) and cross out the distractors. After you listen, recognise when and why you chose a distractor so you’re less likely to make the same mistake again. Predicting when a question may include a distractor (or more than one) involves knowing the different types of distractor used in the IELTS Listening test. A distractor can be… a suggestion by someone that isn’t taken (like in the example above) a mistake by someone that they or someone else then corrects the opposite to what the question asks a particular word in the question (or in a multiple-choice answer) that’s used in the recording as part of an incorrect answer Look at the four questions below (from Parts 1 to 4 of an IELTS Listening test) and predict what type of distractor could be used for each. For example, in the recording for question 2, the speaker could make a mistake with the day and then correct themselves or say that the day of the visit was Monday last week but will be Tuesday this week. (Click to enlarge) Now listen to the recording, write down each possible answer, cross out the incorrect ones (the distractors) and select the correct ones. (This is something that’s very useful to do when practising parts of a Listening test but that you may not have time to do in your real test).     When you check the answers below, it’s important to recognise whether you chose a distractor and why you chose it as this may prevent you from making the same kind of mistake again. If you chose ‘Tuesday’ for question 2, for example, was it because you heard the word ‘farm’ when the speaker said: “You’ll love the market with all the local farm produce on sale”? Download the transcript and check against the answers below to see if you got these correct and avoided the distractors: (Click to enlarge) Practise these ways to avoid distractors the next time you do a practice Listening test and see your score improve! Pete  

Pete Jones

24 September, 2020

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

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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