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Top 12 Tips for IELTS Academic Listening Exam

The power of listening will blow your mind!! Did you know that after hearing someone speak, we can instantly remember around 50% of what they say? We only recall fewer than 20% of what we heard one hour later. 

Luckily, the IELTS Listening test does not assess your ability to recall what you heard. However, it does examine your ability to capture the core intent and specific information of the conversation and opinions and attitudes of speakers, and, lastly, understanding the flow of the conversation.

The listening test is 30 minutes long; extra 10 minutes are given to transfer your answers on your answer sheet. Hence, you must be agile enough to grasp the core intent of the different conversation audios you hear.

You must read this article to learn some of the best IELTS Academic Listening tips. 

Table of Contents

IELTS Academic Listening Test Format

You will listen to four distinct recordings of native English speakers in the IELTS listening test. You might expect to hear British, American, Canadian, and Australian accents in the recordings. 

Each recording contains 10 questions ranging from multiple choice, plan/map/diagram labelling, matching, sentence/ form/ note/ table/ flowchart/ summary completion. Now let's have a look at the IELTS Listening test format below:

Types of Recordings

  • Recording 1: A casual conversation between two people in a daily social environment. For instance, a discussion about popular places to visit between two people.
  • Recording 2: A speech given in a general social context. For example, an introductory speech on various local facilities.
  • Recording 3: A group discussion between 4 people in an educational setting. For instance, a university professor discusses an assignment with a group of students.
  • Recording 4: An oration on an intellectual topic. For example, a university professor's lecture.

Number of Questions

40 questions — 10 questions for each recording

Time Allowed

30 minutes + 10 minutes to transfer answers on the sheet


40 marks —- 1 mark for each right answer. Marks obtained out of 40 are converted to the equivalent band score.

Question Types

There are 6 listening question types:

  • Multiple Choice: Select the correct option(s) from the given answers.

  • Matching: Match the list of items with the correct listening text.

  • Plan, map, and diagram labelling: Complete labels on the given plan/map/diagram. For example, an outline of a building, a town map, and an equipment diagram.

  • Form, note, table, flowchart, summary completion: Fill in the gaps in the outline of a listening text with numbers or words. The words/numbers required are specified in the question. 

  • Sentence completion: Add one or more words/numbers to complete the given sentences. 

  • Short-answer questions: Write a short answer of 3-4 words/number using the information you heard in the recording. 

What is the most important thing for the IELTS listening section?

Listening to the recordings attentively and identifying key information simultaneously is the most crucial part of the IELTS Listening test. Apart from this, test takers must have the following essential listening skills to crack the exam:

  • Listening for Specific Information: Active listening is key to identifying crucial information shared in the recordings. Remember, the recording is played only once! So, you must focus on hearing the key information like names, numbers, dates, verbs, nouns, etc. and note it down.
  • Make Notes while Listening: You must develop the habit of listening and writing simultaneously. Do not focus on finding answers to a particular question; you might miss out on the critical information shared for another question. 
  • Stick to the Word/Number Limit: Some listening questions specify the word/number limit. Test takers must write down the answers strictly within the mentioned word/number limit. If you go above the limit, you will lose marks for that question. Words with hyphens in between, like 'check-in', are considered one word. In the case of numbers, the year '1991' is regarded as one number. 
  • Guess when in Doubt: There is no negative marking scheme for incorrect answers in the IELTS exam. This is why you should not hesitate to take a calculated guess. Even if you do not know the answer, you can still guess; you might be right! Moreover, it's better than skipping the entire question, where you will surely lose marks. Furthermore, you may mark an answer for the wrong question due to leaving blanks for an answer you do not know. 

Why is the IELTS Listening Test so Challenging?

The IELTS Listening exam can be challenging on several fronts:

  • You Only Listen Once: You can listen to the recording only once. There is no option to replay or pause to hear the audio again for clarity. So, you must be quick while taking notes and writing specific factual information like important dates, words, phrases, etc. 
  • Understanding Various English Accents: Catching up with the pace of the recording can take time, as understanding different English accents can be time-consuming. Hence, it would be best to habitually watch English TV series, movies, and podcasts to easily understand different accents and pronunciations of certain words or phrases.
  • Identifying Each Speaker's Voice: You might get confused with the voices of different persons in a group conversation, like in Recording 3 of the listening test. Understanding each speaker's intent, attitude, tone, and accent is crucial to comprehend important information shared during the recording.

12 Effective Tips to Improve IELTS Listening Score

  • Understand the Listening Test Pattern: Comprehending the exam format is the first step to preparing for the listening test. When you are well aware of the exam structure, you will not encounter any surprises during the test. Moreover, you will be prepared with a structured approach to crack each part of the listening test. You must prepare yourself for all the six types of questions asked in the listening test. Designing a strategy is crack each question type will help you save time and answer each question accurately.
  • Scripted Audio Recordings: When practising for the listening test, it is crucial to understand the spoken native English language and different accents. Spoken English differs greatly from written English due to tone, pronunciation, and accent differences. So, to understand any conversation, it is important to understand every word. 
    Audio recordings with scripts are an excellent tool for listening practice. Scripts are word-to-word written sentences or texts of an audio recording displayed while it plays. 
    While practicing with Scripted Audio Recordings, you should make notes based on your understanding without the scripts. Later, you can compare your notes with the scripts. In addition, you must read while listening to the audio. This will help you get comfortable with various accents and pronunciations.
  • Recognize Synonyms: The importance of learning synonyms of multiple words is a practical approach for writing and reading sections of the IELTS test. In reading and writing tests, you must use synonyms in your answers, but in the listening section, you must check for synonyms in the questions. The recordings might contain words or phrases that might not be directly mentioned as it is. You must recognize the relevant synonyms used in the question to select the correct answer.

    Don’t Forget to Read: IELTS Writing Task 1 Sample Question with Answers

  • Practice Listening Everyday: The most natural way to learn is to practice listening and speaking in English daily. You can have a conversation partner at work, college, or home who interacts with you in English every day.
  • Double Check your Answers: The listening test is tricky as you can hear the audio only once. So, you have limited time to read the questions and listen carefully. You need to follow the question instructions thoughtfully. For example, if the question asks you to add a plural word(Dogs), a singular word(Dog) will be considered incorrect.
    Furthermore, during the final check, you must watch out for spelling mistakes, answers exceeding the word/number limit, incorrect or missing prefixes(like currency signs($)), and suffixes(like quantity(kg, litres, etc.)).
  • Don't forget to attempt all the questions: There are no negative marks for incorrect responses. It is best that you do not leave any stone unturned. So, guess the correct option even if you are unsure of an answer; it is always better than leaving a question unattempted. 
  • Do not choose your answer too early: While listening to the recording, you might think that you found the right answer, but you might get it wrong if you instantly write the answer. This usually happens in recordings where two people are conversing about making plans which might change at the end of their interaction due to unforeseen circumstances. So, deciding the answer too early in the recording might be a better thing to do. You must write the key pointers as you listen without thinking it's the correct answer. You can decide which answer is right at the end of the recording.
  • Transfer the answer properly: In the listening test, you get an additional time of 10 minutes to transcribe your answers in the answer sheet. Marking the correct option against each question is crucial and requires more focus. 
  • Use Short-forms or Abbreviations: While making notes, do not try to write complete words or sentences; you might miss out on the crucial information for other questions.
  •  Differentiate relevant and irrelevant information: Multiple forms of information are shared during the conversation, but all are not important. For instance, two people are talking about visiting a museum. They will discuss all the possible timings and dates but the date/time mutually decided by them is relevant; the rest of all the other dates/times shared stand irrelevant.
  • Enhance your Vocabulary: Building up your vocabulary is crucial to IELTS preparation. The listening test includes interaction between different native English speakers; all of them do not have a perfect vocabulary. Your job is to correctly identify the vocabulary errors or mismatched/mixed words to accurately understand the intent of the conversion and answer the questions.
  • Take Listening Practice Tests: Aim to practice listening tests similar to the actual test. Try listening to the audio recordings only once; you are allowed to listen to the recordings one time during the test. Practising in this manner will help you familiarize yourself with the test pattern and boost your confidence.

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