How to improve your listening skills for the IELTS Listening test

Posted September 13, 2022 at 7:30 am EDT

In this post, we look at some simple activities to help you develop four listening skills, each of which is critical to doing well on the IELTS hearing test.

The good thing is that you are already using these skills in real life every day in your own language(s).

Four critical listening skills for success

The 4 skills are ‘anticipation’active, purposeful listeningthink/prepare’ and ‘notice‘.

anticipation: In real life, we usually know what we’re hearing and why, so we have some expectations of what we’re going to hear.

Active targeted listening: For example, in environments such as airport departure lounges, you hide all unnecessary information in order to hear your own flight call.

Think/Prepare: This skill is particularly related to meetings at work or seminars at college or university. You know in advance who will be speaking and what they will be speaking about. This way you know before the presentation which notes you need to take that are relevant to you.

Notice: Another innate ability. When a friend in a casual conversation says, “Oh, by the way . . .’, we know that they are about to add new or different information. Similarly, in a lecture, the speaker says, “Now let’s turn to that. . .’, we know this signals a change in focus.

You must transfer the same skills to the IELTS Listening Test. Here are some things you can practice to apply these skills to answering questions on the IELTS hearing test.

1) anticipation

The IELTS Listening Test gives you 30 seconds to review each of the four parts of the test before the audio begins. You also have an additional 20-30 seconds midway through parts 1, 2 and 3. You should use this time to anticipate/predict possible topics and the type of information you will need to answer the question.

anticipate the issues

There are some “typical” scenarios that appear in Part 1 in one form or another. Here are some examples:

  • A job interview = Looking for a part-time job
  • opening a bank account = arranging accommodation
  • attending a conference = Organize a holiday

See IELTS test practice books for more scenarios

Think about the kinds of things that can be discussed in each of these scenarios. Make a list. Then, for each scenario, write down the type of vocabulary you might hear. Feel free to do this with a friend or classmate because two heads are always better than one!

example scenario: A job interview

Possible topics: salary, hours, breaks, holidays, responsibilities, pension, qualifications, etc.


Counting salary/hourly rate
hours Full time / part time / zero hours
breaks Coffee breaks / lunch breaks
leaving holidays / holidays
responsibilities Duties/Roles/Duties
Pension Employer/Employee Contributions
qualifications Degree / Experience / Languages ​​/ Driving License

Tip: In the 30 seconds you have before the audio starts, go through the questions and work out the themes and start thinking about the vocabulary you might hear.

Download the IELTS Listening Questions Part 1

Download the recording of IELTS Listening Part 1

anticipation of information

Use practice papers and look at the Part 1 questions. Think about the “grammar” of the missing information. Is it a noun/verb? Then use your knowledge of that scenario to predict possible answers.

example scenario: A job interview

Theme: public holidays

Question: Complete the following using no more than ONE word and/or number: “And of course you get three………………. of paid annual leave in the first year.”

From the context you can see that the missing word is a noun. With your knowledge of the world, you can anticipate the “weeks” answer. It is unlikely that new employees will only be offered 3 days of vacation a year!

Tip: Use the time before the audio begins and during the pause in the middle of parts 1, 2 and 3 to think about the missing part of speech and use your world knowledge to anticipate a possible answer.

2) Active, focused listening

Many of the questions in Parts 1 and 2 require information in the form of numbers, times, dates, prices, telephones, zip codes, etc. There are different rhythms for reading numbers in different languages. Aiming and practicing noting numbers in different, albeit typically anglophone, rhythms is essential.

Listen to audio clips full of numbers and write down each number (and what it refers to). Try this 5 minute BBC news program that is very good for that.

Tip: Listen to a radio news program regularly (usually on the hour or on the half hour). The short messages are usually followed by the weather forecast.

Download the IELTS Listening Part 2 questions

Download the recording of IELTS Listening Part 2

3) Think/Prepare

Part 3 involves a conversation between 2 and 4 people in an educational context, e.g. B. 2 students discussing a project or research, or a student and a tutor discussing the student’s work. In such scenarios, different people have different questions to ask and different information to give depending on their role. Actively think about a person’s role as you look at the questions, as this will help you prepare for which speaker to listen to for different questions.

Example scenario: A student and tutor

Read the questions and decide who you need to listen carefully to for the answer, the student or the tutor. (The answers can be found at the end of the post)

Q21. How are you getting on with the project?

Q22. What do you suggest I should watch next?

Q23. When do I have to complete the task?

Tip: Use practice tests and look at the questions from Part 3, read the description of the given scenario, and then work through the questions, thinking about who the information provider is likely to be so that you are more prepared and in before listening are able to focus purposefully. Check the audio script and see if you were right.

Download the IELTS Listening Part 3 questions

Download the recording of IELTS Listening Part 3

4) Notice

Part 4 involves listening to an academic monologue like a lecture. Although these do not require specialist knowledge, they are dense and rich in information. It is therefore important that you practice picking out as many “cues” as possible to the direction and flow of the conversation.

Tip: Use test logs to look for the related elements that characterize the organization of the lecture. Then try to categorize the different functions.

Download an IELTS test protocol

Do you:

  • negate, contradict or correct? on the other hand while actually
  • Change topic/continue? Now let’s turn to, now let’s look at…

Download the IELTS Listening Part 4 questions

Download the recording of IELTS Listening Part 4


You already have excellent listening skills in your own language. Now actively use these skills to improve your listening comprehension for the IELTS hearing test. Much luck!

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