IELTS Listening

IELTS tests a range of listening skills that you need to live, work or study in an English-speaking environment. This means that you need to be able to understand different types of spoken English in a range of formal and informal context.

Duration and format

Listening is the first module in the IELTS test. It has four sections of increasing difficulty, with a total of 40 questions, and takes about 30 minutes. Each section has 10 questions and is heard ONCE only. You have time to look through the questions before you listen, and also time to check your answers after each section. You write your answers on the question paper as you listen, and you then have 10 minutes at the end of the test to transfer your answers to a separate answer sheet. You will hear a range of accents including British, North American and Australian English.

Structure of the test
IELTS Listening Section 1 and 2

Section 1 and 2 develop the listening skills needed for survival in an English-speaking country, in situations such as shopping, accommodation, etc.
These listening passages include:

  • a conversation between two speakers talking about, for example, opening a bank account
  • a monologue about, for example, a tour of a museum or information on part-time English courses
IELTS Listening Section 3 and 4

Section 3 and 4 have a more academic context, with an educational or training focus.
These include:

  • a conversation between up to four people talking about, for example, a school project
  • a monologue, where, for example, a lecturer is talking on a general academic topic
Question types

A variety of questions are used, chosen from the following types:

  • Multiple choice
  • Matching
  • Classification
  • Short-answer questions and lists
  • Note/Table/Flow chart completion
  • Sentence or summary completion
  • Labelling a diagram, map or plan
  • Each section of the test usually contains two or three question types, so in one complete listening test, you could get a maximum of 12 different question types (usually you will get about eight or nine). Sometimes the same question type occurs in more than one section of the test. Remember, you may get a mix of the listening question types in any section of the test.

All the answers have one mark. Any answer which is above the word limit specified for that task will not receive a mark, so it is important to read the instructions carefully. Spelling and grammar must be correct. Both British and American spelling are acceptable, e.g. programme/program, colour/color, but you should NOT use abbreviations. Numbers can be written as words or figures.

The final score is converted into a Band Score of between 1 and 9. You can get half bands in the listening test, e.g. 7.5.

How can I improve my Listening scores?

  • Use the time you have before the speaker begins, to look at the questions and try to predict what sorts of answers are required. (e.g. Do you need a number, date or a name?)
  • There is no negative marking so you should not leave blanks. Answer all the questions.
  • Try to anticipate what the speaker will say next. This will help you to focus on the answers.
  • Underline keywords in the questions to help you when listening.
  • Don’t worry if you miss a question while the passage is going on. Answer the next and go back to the one you missed later.
  • Check your spelling and grammar carefully.
  • Be careful to transfer your answers accurately, in the time given at the end of the test to do this.