Listening skills are fundamental to success in IELTS Listening: that’s obvious enough! But it’s not exactly obvious what listening skills are. This article describes the six most effective IELTS Listening skills for improving your score. Note that these include not only traditional listening skills but also English language skills that you’ll need to apply in the test.
Looking for a basic introduction to IELTS Listening first? Read IELTS Listening: Introduction.
In IELTS Listening, you always have time to read the questions before the recording starts. Typically, you’re given around 30 seconds. Use this time to analyse the questions and predict answers. Predicting is not the same as guessing, since you don’t write down your prediction. When you predict, you consider the type of information that COULD be the answer. This helps you to focus on the type of information you’ll need to listen for when the recording begins.
The questions in the IELTS Listening module will contain two types of word: those likely to be used by the speaker and those likely to be paraphrased. Improve your chances of following the listening passage by identifying the ‘anchor’ words (names, dates, and technical vocabulary) since these are words you will hear. As you hear these words in the recording, that will also help you to avoid getting lost and know which question you should be answering.
For non-anchor words, try coming up with some potential paraphrases that the speaker might use. English speakers paraphrase more often than speakers of many other languages, so recognising paraphrase is an important listening skill. However, you don’t have much time to think of potential paraphrases while reading the question in the IELTS Listening test. For that reason, paraphrasing is a skill you should be practicing continuously as an English learner.
Targetted listening means focussing all your attention on the ten items of information required to answer the ten questions in each section of IELTS Listening. This listening skill becomes easier when you get better at analysing the questions. Pay special attention to questions that require numbers or difficult spellings such as names. The opposite is open listening – listening for any information that helps you understand what’s going on. Open listening may be important when having a conversation with a friend, but use targetted listening for success in IELTS.
Most question types in IELTS Listening require you to write the answer, not just tick a box. If spelling is incorrect, then the answer is also marked incorrect, even if you heard it right. So good listening skills will be useless if you can’t spell! Read my guide to Common Spelling Mistakes in IELTS to find out which words you need to be extra careful with. In English, names of people and addresses may have more than one accepted spelling. In the IELTS Listening test, such words will be spelled out for you by the speaker. Just make sure you’re prepared!
In sentence and summary completion tasks, you will need to write an answer that is not only spelled correctly but also fits grammatically. This can actually be helpful. For example, you may not hear the plural ‘s’ at the end of a word, but a quick analysis of the question should confirm that the noun must be plural. Another word part that is often difficult to hear is the ‘ed’ suffix. If you know that you’re listening for an adjective, that will guide you towards the correct answer. Not only in IELTS Listening but in all modules of IELTS, the use of skills and techniques must be supported by continual study of the rules of English. So back to the grammar books one more time!
Ready to practice? Try these IELTS Listening questions based on TED talks.