An ultimate guide to ace your IELTS listening exam

IELTS listening exam

Recently, some people have been telling me that the listening part of the IELTS test has always been their weakest subject that drags the overall score down. We realized that not everyone has an in-depth understanding of IELTS listening. Due to unfamiliarity and fear of failure or general anxiety, many of the students end up not performing well in the exams. Therefore, Trillium Education prepared this IELTS listening exam guide for everyone. Let’s work together on IELTS listening and do a more in-depth analysis of the part that concerns you the most. I hope this guide can help answer your questions!

IELTS listening exam
IELTS listening exam

1. IELTS Listening Guide

1.1 IELTS Listening Scoring Standard

The first step is to understand the basic information and content of IELTS listening briefly. The purpose of the listening test is to test the English-speaking ability of the candidates. The content of the IELTS test is very similar in the Academic type or General type. Candidates will need to answer 40 questions in the listening part in 30 minutes. For this reason, it is essential to practice your time management skill during the preparation.

Before preparing for the IELTS exam, we first need to understand the scoring system of the IELTS listening score. The scoring table below shows the corresponding band scores for the number of correct answers. Using this chart, we can better track and understand the scoring principle more intuitively:

Number of correct answersScore
39-409
37-388.5
35-368
33-347.5
30-327
27-296.5
23-266
20-225.5
16-195
13-154.5
10-124
6-93.5
4-53
32.5
22
11
Absent0

1.2 IELTS Listening Test Focus

You should not consider the listening part of the IELTS exam as something very difficult. You can cope with it very well if know yourself and the test. Let’s take a look at the focus of the IELTS listening test.

The IELTS listening test requires you to pay more attention to the key information, rather than having everyone understand the entire content fully. You may become nervous and overwhelmed during the test if you ask yourself to understand everything.

There are two types of listening test questions that you will encounter. One is questions with “plenty of information”, and the other is the “lead information”. Both types of questions require you to have strong short-term memory to grasp the bullet points when skimming.

Some people might ask, “I understand the overall meaning of the passage, but why are the answers always wrong? To sum it up, there could be two main reasons: one is that your range of vocabulary may not be sufficient, and errors appear when first instinct answers are wrong; the second is that the pronunciation is inaccurate, and it will affect you in answering questions if you hear ambiguous pronunciations.

One of our students who just passed the IELTS exam suggests the following when preparing for the test: We know that the IELTS listening test includes four sections. Since the difficulty gradually increases from the first part to the fourth part, we can start from the easiest to the more complex section in exercises. Also, you need to pay more attention to the vocabularies and pronunciations that appeared in the easier section, because they might be repeated in the complex section.

1.3 IELTS Listening Test Question Types

Next, we will analyze the question types of the IELTS listening test. Among the 6 major types of questions, I will analyze them one by one, and share my tips on how to answer them.


1.3.1 Fill in the Blank Questions

This type of question appears mostly in the first and fourth sections, and the difficulty is at a medium level. The vocabularies used are generally from medium to low-level difficulty but note that the questions may be replaced by synonyms.

Tips: Based on your understanding of the sentence structure, look for the keywords to predict the meaning and composition of the words in the blanks.

1.3.2 Short Answer Questions

The most important thing for this type of question is to be clear about what is being asked and to answer briefly. Generally, the answers are no more than 3 words.

1.3.3 Table Questions

There are two types of table questions in IELTS listening, one is the short-form questions, and the other is the long-form questions. When answering these questions, you must pay attention to the horizontal and vertical axis of the table and the overall content as well. Another thing worth mentioning about this type of question is that there are usually word limits, so you must pay attention to them when answering.

1.3.4 Multiple Choice Questions

There are generally more than 10 multiple-choice questions in the IELTS listening. Most of them will appear in Section 2 and Section 3. The tricky part is that some answers to the questions may be single-choice or multiple choices. So, this tests your amount of vocabulary and the ability to speed reading.

1.3.5 Chart Questions

There are a total of 3 types of charts: maps, pictures, and legends. Generally, there will be around 4 to 6 questions in section 2. For this kind of question, you must first be clear about the meaning of the picture, and secondly, pay attention to the preposition and locality words.

1.3.6 Matching Questions

This type of question is based on the recordings. Your focus should be on matching the key information with the answer options. The tip is to understand the logical relationships.

1.4 IELTS Listening Test Schedule and Process

For the schedule of the IELTS listening test, we have briefly summarized it as follows:

The order of the IELTS written test is Listening, Reading, Writing, and Speaking.

The written test goes from 9:00 am to 12:00 am.

8:00-8:20 Arrive at the test center

8:20-8:30 Start entering the examination room, please note that you are not allowed to enter the room after 8:30. So, you must not be late

8:30-9:00 Examiners inform the test requirements

9:00-9:30 Listening part

9:30-9:40 Fill out the answer sheet

9:40-9:45 Collect answer sheets and start handing out reading questions

1.5 IELTS Listening Vocabulary

Are you feeling less nervous now after having a preliminary understanding of the IELTS listening test? Don’t be overconfident yet! There are still some other important things to know. Since the listening skill is based on the number of vocabulary you know, let’s find out how to memorize words efficiently.

According to my personal experience, you should start by memorizing the CET4 vocabulary first. You can focus on quality over quantity. After all, it is difficult to remember all the words given in such a short time. So, after mastering the CET4, it is best to do the IELTS vocabulary next. At this stage, you should be able to cope with the IELTS test. But please note that when you are studying for those CET4 terms, make sure you practice each unique word with examples and aspects from listening, reading, and writing. Moreover, you also can combine with root affixes and contextual exercises to achieve your study goal more efficiently.

1.6 IELTS Listening Test Bank/Past Exam Questions

The IELTS test questions are drawn from the test bank and past questions. So, some of the past questions will re-appear in the exam, you can try to study and memorize the questions in the test bank. Of course, the workload of doing so is relatively huge. Thus, we introduce the following methods to help you save some time and effort.

In the beginning, your first step can be just doing a quick browse to grasp the key points of each question. You can set up a fixed time every day to do the practice. Then, you need to pay attention to the type of words and style repeated frequently in the test bank. For the numbers that appear in the test bank, most of them do not need to be memorized as long as you get familiar with them. In addition, you must pay attention to the word details, such as the expression of singular and plural numbers. When you are confident with all the questions in general, we can start to target the specific keywords and spellings. Next, after mastering the keywords from the test bank, we can start preparing for the maps, labeling, and matching type of the questions.

2. IELTS Listening Tips

Keyword Method: Find keywords quickly during the exam, and don’t worry about understanding the entire content.

Short-term Memory Method: Practice short-term memory and fast reading in your daily practice.

Correct Pronunciation Method: Correct your pronunciation in daily practice. This ensures that you respond quickly and can find answers during the exam.

To further strengthen your listening skills, we summarized some methods and tips based on the marking scheme for the questions.

Synonymous Substitution Method: By comparing the test questions in the test bank, we found that the words appearing in the IELTS listening questions tend to have substituted with synonyms. That means, the things you heard may be different in words but the same in meanings or context.

Mistake Identification Method: During your practice, be sure to know the reasons for your mistakes or incorrect answers like spellings, misheard, etc. Identify, summarize, and practice them repeatedly.

Increasing Playback Speed Method: In your listening practice, the playback speed should be gradually adjusted so that you will be able to adapt to the fast-paced speaking environment in the exam.

Mindset Practice Method: In your daily practice, train your mindset stability when you encounter a question that you don’t understand. Being able to skip to the next question with a clear thought is important.

3. Summary of IELTS Listening Strategies

Congratulations! After reading this guide, do you have a deeper understanding of the IELTS listening test? I hope that you are no longer afraid of the listening part of the IELTS exam. If you follow our tips and suggestions, it is not that difficult to get an ideal score for the IELTS listening. Remember, practice makes perfect! We can only do so much. Now it is your time to shine!

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