Note completion questions come up regularly in the IELTS Listening exam so there’s a high chance of you getting one in your test.
They can take many different forms but will always be a gap fill activity of some sort where you have to fill in missing words. You could, for example, be asked to fill in missing words in a set of notes from a lecture or a list of instructions for a journey.
There are almost endless possibilities but as long as you have a good strategy to follow, you’ll be able to answer any question you’re given.
What are notes?
As an English language student, you probably make notes on a regular basis. It’s also common to make notes, for example, during meetings and telephone conversations or when browsing the internet for information on a particular topic, such as travel information for a holiday.
So, what sort of information do you write down when you’re taking notes? And, what do you not write down?
Key word & phrases
The minimum vocabulary necessary for the information to make sense to the writer
They frequently include:
Headings & subheadings
Numbers or bullet points
Notes don’t generally contain full sentences and are often ungrammatical.
Here are two note completion questions from past IELTS Listening papers.
IELTS Listening Note Completion - Sample Question 1
The recording for this sample question is a telephone conversation between a clerk at the enquiry desk of a transport company and a man who is asking for travel information. You are required to fill in the missing information about travel options by bus and train from Bayswater to Harbour City.
IELTS Listening Note Completion - Sample Question 2
The recording for this sample question is a radio broadcast about The National Arts Centre. You are required to fill in six pieces of missing information about the centre.
Strategy & Tips
You will have a short time to prepare before the speaker begins talking. Use this time to familiarise yourself with the question and focus your mind on what you need to listen out for.
1) Read the instructions
Read the instruction carefully, paying particular attention to how many words you are allowed to write for the answer.
The instructions for our sample question state that you must,
Write NO MORE THAN THREE WORDS AND/OR A NUMBER for each answer.
If you write more than three words, your answer will be marked incorrect even if the information you give is correct. Don’t lose marks over silly mistakes like this.
The answers to note completion questions will usually be factual information such as names, places, dates, times and phone numbers.
2) Look for a title
Not every question will have a title but if there is one, it will tell you the context of the question. Our sample question has the title ‘The National Arts Centre’.
Knowing the context gives some meaning to the information in the notes. This will help you to understand the question and give you a big clue as to what sort of information will be contained in the recording.
3) Predict the answers
Try to predict what the answers might be. This will focus your mind on what to listen out for in the recording.
Occasionally, you’ll be able to predict the actual word but mostly it’s one or more of these things that you’ll be able to determine:
The type of information required, e.g. surname, place name, date, phone number, postcode, percentage, price.
The type of word required, e.g. noun, adjective, verb.
Any clues you can get will help you to understand the audio and identify the information needed for the answers.
Have a go at predicting some of the answers in our note completion practice question. There are 6 answers to fill in, 11-16. Then have a look at my predictions below.
Here are the notes with the missing information.
11 – ?
12 – the name of a room or facility
13 – a verb in the past tense
14 – a date
15 – the name of a business or organization
16 – a number
You can see that just a few seconds spent doing this can give you a lot of information about what you need to listen for in the recording. This will greatly improve your chances of identifying the correct answers.
4) Synonyms and paraphrasing
In all types of Listening questions, you need to listen out for synonyms and paraphrasing. These are something else that you may be able to predict.
If you have time before the recording starts, scan the question to identify key words or phrases that are likely to be replaced by synonyms and think of some that might be used.
Three that stand out are:
opened to the public
days per year
As you’re listening to the recording, remind yourself that you are not looking for the exact words as in the question but the same meaning.
5) Answer order
The answers will come in the same order in the recording as they are listed in the question so, you will hear answer 11 first, then answer 12 and so on. This makes it easier to pick out the answers than if they were in random order.
6) Problematic vocabulary
There are 6 types of vocabulary that can cause particular problems for students and some of them will almost certainly be present in notes completion questions. The 6 types are:
You must be able to recognise them in speech and to write them correctly in your answers.
7) Watch out for distractors
The examiners will try and catch you out with distractors. 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.
Here are some sample sentences containing distractors. I’ve highlighted the relevant words.
The Centre has always been famous for its theatrical productions but in recent years it has become better known for operatic performances.
In the original design of the building, there was a sculpture hall next to the art galleries. However, the plans were changed to include a studio for visiting performers to run workshops.
The first visitors were welcomed in July 1983. No, sorry. That’s when the Centre was completed. It wasn’t open to the public until September of that year.
The use of ‘but’ and ‘however’ are particularly common distractors but there are many different words and phrases that can be used to change or correct a piece of information so be alert for them.
8) Guess if necessary
My final tip is to never leave a blank space on the answer sheet. If you miss an answer, take an educated guess. This gives you at least some chance of getting it right. Don’t stress about a missed answer or it will affect your ability to answer the next set of questions. Just make your choice and move on.