7 tips to improve IELTS listening
So you’ve practiced, you’ve listened to the radio, taken practice tests, you’ve even taken the IELTS test – often a number of times – and you’re still not getting the result you’re looking for in the IELTS listening test. What’s going wrong?
Here’s a handy 7 point checklist for IELTS listening to work through when taking practice tests to help you identify your weakness and strengths.
1. Using the available time
Throughout the listening, there are breaks in the recording where the narrator will tell you ‘You have now time to…’. Some of these breaks are to give you time to read the next set of questions, but there are also breaks given so you can check your answers from the previous part. Although checking your answers is important, remember that you have 10 minutes at the end of the test for this too, so spend the majority of the ‘free’ time you are given moving on to the next set of questions. The more prepared you are for what is coming, the better the result will be.
DO: use the time given to check upcoming questions.
DON’T: spend too much reviewing answers you have already written down.
2. Did you answer all of the questions?
Never leave an answer empty! In the 10 minutes given at the end of the listening test, put an answer that (a) seems logical (b) suits the requirements of the question – e.g. if the instructions say NO MORE THAN TWO WORDS, your answer isn’t three words (c) very often is a word or words from the text. Remember that you do not lose points for giving the wrong answer, so there’s no harm in taking an educated guess!
DO: Put an answer for EVERY question
DON’T: leave an answer key blank
3. Is there one particular question type that is causing more difficulty than others?
By looking at your answers, check if there is a particular question type that you seem to make more errors with more often than others. For example, did you know that most multiple choice questions will have at least part of each option mentioned? Knowing some tips and hints for each question type can definitely help.
DO: identify question types that you find difficult, study any tips and hints about those question types, practice them repeatedly
DON’T: keep making the same errors with the same question type!
4. For questions you answer incorrectly, do you understand why the given answers are correct and why your answer was incorrect?
Analysing your own work, focusing on the answers you got wrong, retracing why you put that answer and spending time looking at why the correct answer was correct will help you work a lot faster through the listening test. Taking practice tests is a good plan, but you need to spend at least the same amount of time working through the test after you know the answers. Reading through the transcript where available (let us know in the comments section if we’re missing a transcript!) while listening to the recording again can help you improve your overall listening ability.
DO: spend as much time analysing your incorrect answers as you did taking the test, even if that means playing the recording or reading the transcript repeatedly until you can see the logic of the correct answer.
DON’T: simply move on to a new practice test hoping it will improve – without looking at your own mistakes, your result is likely to stay the same!
5. Maintain your focus by using active listening
This is a tricky skill to master for IELTS as you are not allowed to make any noise, but ‘active listening’ means being a part of the conversation or monologue that you are listening to. Imagine you are there as part of the discussion – what are the speakers wearing? How old are they? Are they smiling or looking stern? By imagining yourself in the recording, it’s a lot easier to keep focused and stay with the flow of the conversation. You can nod your head, smile in agreement or shake your head in disagreement – all of these actions have the ability to fool your brain into thinking that you are there, and natural good manners means you will keep listening rather than drifting of thinking about other things.
DO: Become an active (although silent) part of the conversation
DON’T: think of yourself in a room taking a test
6. Always be one question ahead
So you’re listening carefully for the answer to Question 2, which you’re sure is a person’s name, but you don’t hear it. Then you find that you’ve been waiting for the name for so long that you’ve missed the next two questions! To avoid this, be prepared by knowing what the next question is too. If you hear the answer to Question 3 before you hear the answer to Question 2, then you’ll just have to accept that you missed it and move on – losing one point is better than losing two or more because you lost your place!
DO: know what the next TWO questions are
DON’T: focus only on the next question
7. Make the question paper your own
This applies more to the paper based test rather than the computer based test. Once the test is finished, the test invigilator will collect all of the papers on your desk. However, your answer paper is separated from the questions and the markers will not see what you have written on the question paper, so make a mess of it! Underline key words, put large circles around qualifying words – even write synonyms for words you think might be rephrased.
DO: Write on your question paper; underline / circle key words
DON’T: leave your question paper in a neat and tidy state!