IELTS Listening: Essential Skills and Strategies

Listening is probably the easiest section of IELTS to make a rapid improvement in if you master a few basic strategies. Before taking the IELTS test, be aware of the skills and strategies below and give yourself opportunities to practice them.

Important: The article assumes you are familiar with the IELTS Listening test format. If you aren’t, read IELTS Listening: Introduction first.

Predicting

Use the short time before the listening passage begins to scan the questions. What type of information does each one ask for? Pay special attention to questions that require numbers or difficult spellings such as names. Predicting – coming up with a possible answer – is not the same as guessing. When you predict, you consider the type of information that COULD complete the answer. This helps you to focus on all the important information contained in the question.

Identifying keywords

The questions 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 and technical terms) and predicting possible paraphrases of the rest.

Identifying paraphrase

It’s highly unlikely that the speakers will repeat the language in the questions, except for the keywords mentioned above. You will need to both anticipate and recognise when the speaker uses a paraphrase – a phrase with same meaning as the question but using different words. English speakers paraphrase more often than speakers of most other languages. Practice this essential skill every opportunity you get.

Targetted listening

Targetted listening means focussing your attention on the ten items of information required to answer the ten questions in each section of the IELTS Listening test. It is perfectly possible to hear these ten items without understanding everything that is said. 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.

Spelling

Since the majority of questions in IELTS Listening are NOT multiple-choice, you will need to write down the answers in words. And, if you don’t spell it right, you don’t get the point. No amount of good listening will be effective if you can’t spell. Certain words like names of people and addresses may have more than one accepted spelling, and these will be spelled out for you by the speaker. For the rest, use our guide to Common Spelling Mistakes in IELTS and learn how to avoid them.

Grammar

In sentence and summary completion tasks you will have to write an answer that is not only spelled correctly but that also fits grammatically. Knowing the rules is therefore a great advantage. You may not always hear the plural ‘s’ at the end of a word, for example, but, with a good knowledge of English grammar, you should be able to identify when a noun must take the plural form. Another common example is the ‘ed’ adjectival suffix. Recognising that an answer should be an adjective can help you to give the correct answer even when you don’t hear the ‘ed’. Not only in IELTS Listening but in all modules of IELTS, practical application of skills and techniques must be backed up by ongoing study of the rules of the language.

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