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IELTS Listening Test Overview - Article

Updated: Feb 17, 2023

Overview


The IELTS Listening exam is part of the International English Language Testing System and tests the English language proficiency of non-native speakers. The exam consists of four sections, each with 10 questions, for a total of 40 questions.


Candidates listen to audio recordings and answer questions based on what they have heard, which test their ability to understand the main idea, specific details, opinions, and attitudes.


The audio recordings include different accents and are designed to reflect real-life situations.


The test is timed and the score is reported in whole and half bands, with a score of 31-40 being acceptable for postgraduate studies.


To prepare for the exam, candidates are encouraged to practice listening to a variety of English-language materials and to familiarize themselves with the question types, which include multiple choice, form completion, sentence completion, and note-taking.


Key skills for the exam include active listening, note-taking, understanding of accents, speed, stress management, and vocabulary.


The listening test booklet is an important part of the exam and tips for using it effectively include reading the instructions carefully, following the order of the questions, writing answers in the correct place, using a pencil, and checking answers.


Exam summary


The IELTS Listening exam is one of the four components of the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) examination, designed to assess the English language proficiency of non-native speakers.


The IELTS Listening exam is designed to test the ability of candidates to understand spoken English in various real-life situations, such as in lectures, broadcasts, and conversation. The test consists of four sections, each with 10 questions, making a total of 40 questions in the entire test.


In each section, candidates will listen to an audio recording and then answer a series of questions based on what they have heard. The questions will test the candidate's ability to understand the main idea, specific details, opinions, and attitudes in the recording.


The audio recordings are designed to reflect the kind of language that may be encountered in real-life situations and will include a variety of accents, including British, Australian, and North American.


The IELTS Listening test is timed, and candidates will have 30 minutes to complete all four sections. It is important for candidates to be able to understand and follow the instructions and questions, as well as to write their answers in the correct format.


In order to prepare for the IELTS Listening exam, candidates are encouraged to practice listening to a variety of English-language materials, such as news broadcasts, podcasts, and audio recordings of lectures or talks. They can also take advantage of online resources and study materials, such as sample tests and practice exercises, to familiarize themselves with the format and types of questions they may encounter in the exam.


Test scores


  • One mark is awarded for each question, giving a total score out of 40.


  • The total listening test score is converted to a Band Score from 1 to 9.


  • Scores are reported in whole and half bands, for example, 6, 6.5, 7, 7.5 and so on.


  • There is no pass or fail.


  • A score of 31-40 should be acceptable for postgraduate studies, and for membership of and recognition by certain professional bodies.


  • A score of 26-30 will probably be an acceptable score for most institutions and purposes, although a higher score may sometimes be required.


  • A score of 15-25 may not be an acceptable score, so you may need to spend more time practising before you take the test again.


A score of 0-14 is unlikely to be an acceptable score, so you will have to spend a lot more time improving your listening skills in English.


Levels/Bands


The IELTS Listening test is scored on a scale of 1 to 9, with 9 being the highest score. These scores are known as IELTS Bands, and they represent different levels of English language proficiency.


Here is a brief description of each IELTS Band:


  • Band 9: Expert User

  • Band 8: Very Good User

  • Band 7: Good User

  • Band 6: Competent User

  • Band 5: Modest User

  • Band 4: Limited User

  • Band 3: Extremely Limited User

  • Band 2: Intermittent User

  • Band 1: Non-User


It's important to note that each Band represents a range of scores, and the exact score within the Band depends on the individual performance in the listening test. The Bands are designed to provide a rough approximation of an individual's English language ability, and are used by many organizations as a way of assessing whether a person is suitable for various activities that require a certain level of English proficiency, such as study, work, or immigration.


The sections of the listening test


Here's an overview of the IELTS Listening test:


Section 1: This section tests a candidate's ability to listen to and understand everyday conversations in a social context, such as a conversation between two friends or a conversation at a hotel.


Section 2: This section tests a candidate's ability to listen to and understand a monologue on a familiar topic, such as a lecture or speech.


Section 3: This section tests a candidate's ability to listen to and understand a conversation between two or more people, such as a discussion or interview.


Section 4: This section tests a candidate's ability to listen to and understand a lecture or talk on a more academic or specialist topic.


Throughout the test, candidates listen to audio recordings and answer questions based on the information they hear. The questions may include multiple-choice questions, short-answer questions, sentence completion questions, labeling diagrams or maps, and other types of questions.


It's important to note that the IELTS Listening test is designed to test a candidate's ability to listen and understand English language, not their speaking or writing abilities. The test is designed to be challenging and assesses a candidate's ability to understand English language in a variety of real-life situations.


Question types


The IELTS Listening test includes a variety of question types designed to evaluate different listening skills. Here are some of the common question types you may encounter:


Multiple choice: In this type of question, you will hear a short audio clip and be given a list of options to choose from.


Form completion: This type of question requires you to fill in a form, chart, or table based on the information you hear.


Sentence completion: You will hear a sentence with a missing word or phrase and you need to choose the correct word from a list of options.


Short answer questions: In this type of question, you need to write a short answer based on the information you hear.


Note-taking: In this type of question, you need to take brief notes on the information you hear.


Label completion: You will hear a description of a diagram or image, and you need to label different parts of it based on the information you hear.


Matching: In this type of question, you need to match items from a list to the correct information you hear.


Overall, the question types in the IELTS Listening test are designed to assess your ability to understand spoken English in a variety of real-life situations, and to evaluate your ability to respond appropriately to different types of questions.


Skills and strategies needed to pass the exam


Here are some important skills needed for the IELTS listening test:


Active listening: Pay close attention to the speaker and focus on the words being said. Try to understand the meaning behind what is being said, rather than just memorizing words.


Note-taking: The ability to take notes while listening is crucial, as you need to remember important information in order to answer the questions.


Understanding of English accents: The IELTS listening test includes speakers with different accents, so it's important to get used to listening to a variety of English accents.


Speed: The IELTS listening test is timed, so you need to be able to listen and understand quickly.


Stress management: The IELTS listening test can be stressful, so it's important to stay calm and focused.


Knowledge of question types: The IELTS listening test includes multiple-choice questions, sentence completion questions, and short-answer questions, so you should be familiar with these different question types.


Vocabulary: A good vocabulary is helpful for understanding the words and phrases used in the listening test.


Ability to follow instructions: Make sure you understand the instructions for each section of the test before you begin.


By working on these skills, you can increase your chances of doing well on the IELTS listening test and achieving the score you need.


Essentials for the exam


  1. Understanding the instructions

  2. Previewing and predicting

  3. Listening for specific information

  4. Checking and rewriting.


1. ​Understanding the instructions


Understanding the instructions on the question paper and spoken on the recording. Read/listen to every word in the instructions very carefully, and make sure that you follow them exactly. The written instructions in the listening booklet are always given in italics.


Important aspects of the instructions are also in bold italic capitals. Instructions depend on the type of question. If you familiarise yourself with the various types of instructions beforehand you’ll be more likely to follow them properly in the test.

You may be asked to:


  • Circle the letter(s)

  • Write the word, words are a number

  • Complete a sentence with no more than three words number

  • Complete missing information on the table, summary, and notes are a flowchart.


2. ​Previewing and predicting


An announcer will briefly outline the topic:


  • Who is talking

  • The situation


Listen carefully as this will help you to preview the questions. Before the recording begins you’ll be given 30 seconds to read and become familiar with the questions. Use the time efficiently so that you can prepare yourself to listen to the information you need.


Here are some hints for previewing predicting:


  • Study the question and try to predict what type of answer is required, for example, a date, a name, or a number, or the grammar form it will take.


  • Check the differences between similar-looking answers. Look for minor details such as different or omitted words.


  • Try to stay at least two questions ahead of the information on the recording. This is the way you’ll be less likely to miss a question and get lost.


3. Listening for specific information


  • The use of previewing in predicting skills will help you listen to the specific information you need to answer the questions in the listing module.


  • Listening to keywords in common connected words often helps to signal a piece of specific information that you need to answer the question.


  • Make sure that while you’re writing your answers, you continue to listen to the recording, as there will not be a second opportunity to hear it.


4. Checking and rewriting


Checking and rewriting is an important aspect of the IELTS listening test. After each section, you will be given about 30 seconds to check your answers and make any necessary corrections.


It's important to check that your answers match the instructions, and that you have answered every question. You should also make sure that you have included only what is asked for in each answer. If you're unsure, it's better to guess by writing down what you think is the most likely answer, as marks are not deducted for incorrect answers.


When transferring your answers from the question booklet to the answer sheet, it's important to be careful and double-check your work. Make sure that the number on the question paper corresponds to the number on the answer sheet, and scan your answers to ensure that you have transferred them correctly. Additionally, make sure your answers are clearly written, as this will reduce the chance of them being misread or misunderstood by the evaluator.


Overall, checking and rewriting is a crucial step in the IELTS listening test, as it ensures that your answers are accurate and well-presented, increasing your chances of success on the exam.


Understanding the listening test booklet


In the IELTS listening test, the listening test booklet is an important part of the exam. It contains the questions and answers for each section of the listening test. Understanding how to use the booklet effectively is key to success on the exam.

Here are some tips for understanding the listening test booklet:


Read the instructions carefully: Before you begin each section of the test, make sure you understand the instructions for that section. Pay attention to how many questions there are, how much time you have, and what type of questions to expect.


Follow the order of the questions: The questions in the booklet are usually presented in the order that they appear in the audio. Make sure you listen to the audio carefully and answer the questions in the correct order.


Write your answers in the correct place: Make sure you write your answers in the correct space in the booklet. If you make a mistake, cross it out neatly and write your correct answer next to it.


Use a pencil: You will be provided with a pencil for the test. Make sure you use this to fill in your answers, as mistakes can easily be corrected with a pencil.


Check your answers: After each section of the test, check your answers to make sure you have answered all the questions correctly. If you have made a mistake, try to understand why and learn from it.


By following these tips, you can ensure that you are using the listening test booklet effectively and maximizing your chances of success on the IELTS listening test.

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