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IELTS Listening-An in-depth look.

In the latest blog, we are going to take an in-depth look at the IELTS listening exam. The IELTS listening exam has 4 sections and will last around 40 minutes.

Section 1

Section 1 will feature a conversation between 2 people. You will have to listen for specific information and answer 10 questions. The most common question types in part 1 are multiple-choice, form completion and matching. Please remember these can appear anywhere in the test and not just in part 1.

Form Completion


This is a vital skill in the listening exam. By predicting the answer or type of word you are focusing yourself on what to listen for. Use the time you are given between questions to help you predict what you are listening for.


Don’t just listen for the words that are written on the test paper. Try to think of synonyms and focus on these.


Numbers are vital in form completion. 13 can easily be mistaken for 30. Make sure you practice your numbers both saying them and listening to them.


Make sure you are familiar with the address format of various English speaking countries as these are used in the test.

Multiple Choice

Read each question

Make sure you read the question carefully. Underline the keywords and make sure you're aware of the differences in the options.

Synonyms or paraphrasing

Don’t listen for exact matches but instead focus on listening for how things may be expressed.


You’ll likely hear something related to all of the options. Just because you hear an option mentioned doesn’t make it correct. Make sure you focus on the difference between the options and pay attention to what you hear.

Listen for keywords and synonyms

You’re not going to hear the exact phrase.


Use the preparation time

you need to read the task to find out the topic, what the task covers, and what the keywords are.

Answer Order

In matching questions, the questions will be mentioned in the order in the recording but the answer options will appear randomly.


A distractor is a word or a phrase that changes or corrects the original piece of information given. So, you may be given an answer and then have it taken away again. Pay close attention when you hear words like but or however.

Guess if you don’t know

You won’t lose any marks for getting the answer incorrect. It’s far better to have a guess than leave a blank answer.

Section 2

This part of the test is a monologue i.e. one person speaking. You may hear one or two other people speak, but it will mainly be one person

What will I hear?

A variety of topics come up, but common things to hear about are explanations of tours, such as where you can go, how to book, them and how much they cost, or someone on the radio giving advice about something or explaining some charity work they have been involved in.


  • Use the time: In the 1 minute given to you for reading questions, underline some keywords you can concentrate on while listening to the audio

  • Gap-fill strategy: Look at the words around the gap to understand what’s missing, a noun, an adjective or a verb.

  • Watch out for traps: You might hear the speaker starting to say one thing and then, suddenly, continuing to something completely different. This is a trap, so make sure you don’t fall for it.

  • Check the grammar: If the answer you give is grammatically incorrect – it can not be the right one.

  • Eliminate: When you deal with multiple-choice questions, elimination is a good strategy. Usually, only one answer is correct, unless instructions say something else.

  • Answer as you listen: The reason you have to “answer as you listen” is that you immediately forget the sentences after you have heard them

  • Watch out for synonyms: They might use different words with the same meaning to confuse you.

  • Listen for specifics: When you are listening, look for descriptions and details, such as dates, places, telephone numbers, opening hours, years), transportation and if you hear them, but don’t know where to place them yet – make a note of them as later you will have some time to check your answers. Going over the questions that you couldn’t answer during the Listening passage, you might see that what you’ve written in your notes fits.

Section 3

  • is usually a dialogue

  • has 2 or more people discussing an Academic subject

  • is often a student talking to another student or tutor

  • is sometimes an expert being interviewed on an academic subject

In IELTS Listening Section 3, you can commonly find any of the questions such as table completion, MCQs (Multiple Choice Questions), matching headings, flow chart or diagram. However, form filling and sentence completion are not usually seen in this section.

Underline Keywords

Underlining important keywords in question is the most effective strategy for solving IELTS Listening Section 3. For this, you can utilize 1 minute, given to you prior to listening to the audio conversation.

Simple MCQ

Joy has been working in the hospital for

  1. Three years

  2. One year

  3. Four years

In the above question, the main keywords you can focus upon are “Joy”, “working” and “hospital”. Hence, you can highlight these keywords by underlining them. Afterwards, when the audio starts, just keep these underlined keywords in your mind to get the gist of the question while having your eyes on the three options; “three”, “one” and “four” and just avoid the common word “years”.

So, you have to choose the answer out of those three numbers only and this is how you are able to solve this type of question easily.

Difficult MCQ

Let us now discuss the difficult type of MCQs:

John was successful in his business because he

  1. recruited hundred more employees

  2. was the highly skilled professional

  3. could reach out to maximum customers

The above type of question is comparatively difficult to concentrate on, you can underline keywords as highlighted above.

Section 4


In section four, you will likely encounter two different question types. These commonly include table completion or sentence completion, as well as multiple choice. At this stage in the test, you may need to write down several words for each answer or write down a word that is quite difficult to spell.

This section will almost certainly contain some difficult vocabulary. However, understanding the questions and answers will not require you to understand these hard words. Remember, you never need specialist knowledge to do well in IELTS. A key skill here is following the main idea and listening for specific details, thereby ignoring the difficult vocabulary. In a sense, you need to avoid being distracted by confusing words and focus on the task at hand.

Think in terms of synonyms. That means you should read the question carefully, circle or underline any important vocabulary (including phrases), and listen for synonyms or paraphrasing. It is almost certain at this point in the exam that you will hear words in the listening passage that have the same meaning as those in the question, but which are different.

Pay attention to structure, as academic talks are likely to have a straightforward structure. Unlike conversations, the speaker will probably use some signpost language, and may even begin with an introduction that explains the content of the lecture. This can help you follow the talk, and move from one question to the next.

Take some time to read the questions carefully, and try to predict the answers. Look at the context (such as other categories in a table) and guess what the answer would likely be. Here is an example from the British Council IELTS website. Number 31 sounds like it could be the opposite of “positive”, right….?

section 4 IELTS listening


The final tip is to practice listening often. Try to take a two-fold approach to IELTS practice, which means doing some general and some exam practice. You should work on your English skills as well as your IELTS skills during your spare time. Listening can be fun… even watching movies is technically practice. Obviously, I would also suggest using TED talks to boost your listening skills. You can find loads of them on this website. Just check the homepage.

However, you need to work on actual IELTS listening exam skills like those I mentioned above.

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