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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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

What is British English?

Which of the following are examples of British English? A) I'm a little bit worried about… B) I'm a wee bit worried about... C) I'm really happy with… D) I'm made up with... You might be surprised to know that the answer is all of them!  ‘Wee’ is used in parts of Scotland to mean ‘little’, and ‘made up’ is used in some regions in the north of England to mean you’re really happy about something good that has happened. So, if you’re planning to live, work or study in Britain after taking your IELTS test, here are some differences in British English you might notice. Pronunciation If you travel from one city to another (or in some cases one town to another), you’ll probably notice that people have different accents. When living in England, I was always fascinated by how different people sound depending on where they come from, and now as an English language teacher, I understand how difficult it must be for people learning English. While you won’t hear people with strong regional accents in the IELTS Listening test, you certainly will if you visit Britain or work with British people. For a quick accent tour of the UK and Ireland, check out this video recorded by the BBC.  (Received Pronunciation, or BBC English as it’s sometimes known, is probably the British English accent you’re most familiar with). If you need to understand a regional accent, one way to practise is to listen to the news from a local broadcaster. If you’re planning to visit or study in Wales, for example, you could watch the ITV Wales news.  Grammar One of the most noticeable differences in grammar is how the pronoun ‘our’ is or isn’t used depending on where you are.  If you’re living or travelling in the north of England, you’re very likely to hear ‘our’ used with the names of family members, e.g. Where’s our John? You’re much less likely to hear this in the south of England, and I’m pretty sure you won’t have seen it in any grammar books! A difference that you’ll notice if you go to certain parts of Wales is the addition of ‘to’ after ‘where’ in questions like ‘Where to is the bank?’. While these examples may sound wrong to you, they are all examples of British English. I wouldn’t recommend using them in your IELTS Speaking test though as they’ll probably sound wrong to the examiner if you use them without other features of English from the same region. Vocabulary As the examples of ‘wee’ and ‘made up’ above show, the words and phrases that British people use can be different depending on where they are from. If you’re in Liverpool, for example, you might well hear a conversation like this: Man 1: You alright, lad?Man 2: I’m sound.  Or this: Man: Our John’s just passed his driving test.Woman: That’s boss that. In these examples, ‘lad’ is an adult man, ‘sound’ means ‘okay’, and ‘boss’ means ‘great’. So, if you take your IELTS test in Liverpool, what are you going to say when you get the score you need? That’s boss that! Best of luck with your IELTS test. Pete

Pete Jones

12 May, 2020

5 ways to better prepare for IELTS Listening part 4

Which of the four parts of the listening exam do you think is most difficult? When students, teachers and examiners are asked this, many would probably say part 4. Why? Well, it's about an academic subject for a start – something we may not hear about if your listening tends to be from TV shows and films.  Secondly, it's something we call a monologue – that means it's one person speaking – so there aren't the same clues to help you in a natural conversation between two or more people. This talk lasts for around five minutes and while that may not sound long, there's no real break, and so it really tests your levels of concentration. So, with all of this in mind, here’s my top tips for how you can prepare effectively:    1. Choose the right type of listening Part 4 of the Listening test isn’t the usual dialogue that you may hear when you stream your favourite TV shows and films. To make things easier, start by choosing a topic you’re interested in.   The key here is that the subject is an academic topic – something you may hear at university or school. There are many good sources for this, both video and audio. Podcasts, audio only, as well as video from sites such as YouTube can work well here. is particularly good for many reasons, and I’ll say more about this later, as the topics are always monologues and generally similar to the themes you may encounter in part 4 of the exam. 2. Build up your listening stamina Choose something that is roughly the same length if possible. As i’ve said before, five minutes may not seem like a long time but this will test your ability to stay focused. If you need to build this up, start with shorter ones and move onto longer ones. It’s a good idea to be used to listening to longer recordings to make the listening exam not feel too long. 3. Add or reduce difficulty by changing the speed of the listening In many cases, you can download podcasts and videos using a free online tool – there are a number available but please remember that there are copyright issues if it’s not just for your own use. Once downloaded, play it through VLC player – a free playback resource. Under the option of ‘playback’, you can vary the speed to make it faster or slower. There are other software options here too and if we look again at, there is an in-built function to change the speed.   4. Check your understanding by creating and using an audioscript How do you know if you’ve understood what has been said? If there aren’t questions and answers provided as you find with specific IELTS practice activities, one great way to see how well you’ve done is to take notes of the main points and compare them with a script.  Many videos and podcasts may already have transcripts – does for example have a great interactive transcript. YouTube videos have automatically generated subtitles and this makes listening easier but doesn’t really help here. One effective solution is to do the following: Find the video or audio you want to listen to and have it ready to play on your phone.  Take your phone and place it near your computer.  Open Microsoft Word and press ‘Dictate’ in the top right corner – Google docs has a similar function.  Once the record button is showing, play the recording from your phone. You should see words appear on your Word document. It’s important to remember that this won’t be 100% perfect for every word but should still be accurate enough.  Compare this script with your notes – this also gives you reading practice.  5. Find resources which already have questions or make your own with friends Apart from IELTS resources, you may not be able to find questions to use with your listening practice. Interestingly, TED-Ed – the site dedicated to specifically educational purposes – does have questions for you to test yourself with. Alternatively, why not generate your own questions and share these with the answers to test your friends. You can find or generate a script and then create similar questions to ones you find in part 4 of the IELTS Listening exam. Ask your friends to do the same and then swap. Either check your answers by using the answers your friends provide or check by using the script. Follow the above steps and you’ll hopefully be ready to do well in the final part of the IELTS Listening exam.  Good luck! Jishan  

Jishan Uddin

24 April, 2020

Top Tips for Multiple Choice Questions

Download our checklist for multiple choice questions in IELTS Listening

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Introduction to the IELTS Listening Test

IELTS teacher and author, Pauline Cullen provides a short introduction to the IELTS Listening test.

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How to speak Kiwi English

Listen to Rachel pronounce Kiwi words from Pete's blog.

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