Students who are learning English might feel nervous about taking the IELTS test, especially if they are aiming for a higher band score, however, thorough preparation and practice can make the difference between an average score and a great one.
We’ve asked our colleague Theresa to compile some helpful tips, to aid your IELTS exam preparation!
#2 IELTS Listening test
Here are our top tips to help you improve your IELTS listening score.
The first thing you need to know is that the listening texts in the IELTS test are only played once! Many students don’t realise this, but now you know what to expect.
The IELTS listening test is the first test of the day so make sure your ears are warmed up and you’re ready to start! There are 40 questions and the test takes approximately 30 minutes. You will hear four different listening texts. The test is the same for IELTS Academic and IELTS General, and the audio gets more difficult throughout the test. You are tested on your ability to identify main ideas, specific information, opinions and attitudes, as well as how an argument is developed. You will hear both monologues (one speaker) and dialogues (up to four speakers) about social and academic topics.
Understand what you need to listen for
As in the IELTS reading test, there are a variety of questions to answer, including multiple-choice, matching, plan/map/diagram labelling, form/note/table/flow-chart/summary completion and sentence completion. You should complete practice tasks regularly in order to gain confidence with the range of question types. When you look at the questions, think about how to answer them. What information are you being asked to listen for? How many words do you need to write? Don’t forget that good spelling is important for IELTS success. You will lose marks if you spell your answers incorrectly!
It’s important to keep listening to the whole of each text in the IELTS test, because the answer may come at any point. Pay attention to discourse markers as these phrases can signal new information. Discourse markers can be informal: ‘So...’, ‘In the end..’, ‘Well, actually..’, or more formal phrases such as: ‘Although..’, ‘Additionally…, ‘Notably…’.
Listen every day and in different ways
It’s really important to listen to a range of audio sources in a variety of accents, not just British or American. The site www.elllo.org is great for listening to people from all over the world speaking English. The topics covered are very useful for your IELTS listening preparation. You can create a free account with BBC Sounds and access audio for free: documentaries, podcasts, music programmes and live radio. Listening to TED Talks will help you with following longer texts for part 4 of the IELTS listening test.
It’s a good idea to build up to IELTS with regular listening practice. Background listening is an easy way to tune in to the sounds of English: while you are getting ready in the morning, cooking, or doing chores around the house, listen to something in English. Just let it play and don’t worry about trying to understand everything. Doing this for as little as 15 minutes a day can really help you improve your overall listening for IELTS.
Another way to train your ear is to listen to replay sections of a listening text and write down the main points and keywords. You can also give yourself a dictation challenge and use the audio transcripts or subtitles to check your work. This approach will help you listen for detail.
When you are out and about in an English-speaking country you should listen to people talking, for example on public transport or in a cafe, as this will help you with part 1 of the IELTS listening. If you are studying in the UK, try and make friends with whom you can practise your speaking and listening skills.
Listen for enjoyment
Relaxed IELTS students make better listeners so - listen to things you like! Watch interesting series and entertaining films as well as funny videos and celebrity interviews. You can also listen to spoken word, poetry, dramas and stories. Ask your friends about their favourites and watch or listen together. As well as topic vocabulary, you might learn some good informal expressions and you can also pick up on emotions and attitudes from the sound of the speakers’ voices.
Music is a brilliant way to enjoy English, so listen to as much as you can. Spotify and YouTube are just two sources of music from all over the world. Singing along to your favourite artists will help you with the rhythms and sounds of the language. If you want to practise your listening with songs, sign up to www.lyricstraining.com. You could also try karaoke!
Use your time well
In the IELTS listening test, you are given time to read the questions before you hear each text. It’s very important that you use this time to look carefully at the questions. How many words do you need to write? What type of information should you listen out for? Underline the keywords and think about what you are going to hear, based on the topic, the speakers and the situation. Predicting is a really good way to focus your attention.
As you listen, write your answers on the question paper. Don’t get stuck on a word or phrase that you don’t recognise. Just keep calm and keep listening, or you will miss something else. At the end of the listening test (after recording 4), you are given ten minutes to transfer your answers to the answer sheet. Stay focused at this point - you have 40 boxes to fill. You can write in capital letters if you like but not if it slows you down. Check everything as you go along.
On the day of the test listen to something in English to ‘tune in’ - maybe your favourite song will motivate and relax you on the way to the test centre! We hope these tips will also encourage you as you prepare for your IELTS listening test.