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IELTS Listening: Summary Completion

Updated: Apr 20, 2022

IELTS Listening test practice is an essential part of your preparation for exam day. This lesson shows you how to answer summary completion questions, one of the ten different types of questions you could get in your test.

Whilst not the most common type of Listening question, they do sometimes come up so you need to understand them in case you do get one.

We’ll start with the definition of a summary in case you're unsure of the meaning of the word.

Summary – a short, clear description that gives the main facts or ideas about something

For summary completion questions, you'll be given a summary of the recording. The recording will typically be a monologue on an academic subject such as a lecture on the Amazon rainforest or the Pyramids at Giza. There will be words missing from the summary which you must fill in.

This type of question is most likely to come up in Section 4, the most challenging part of the test.

Here are two summary completion questions to show you what they look like. The first is from a past test paper and the second has been created specifically to teach you the strategy for answering them and to illustrate some tips.

IELTS Listening Test Practice – Sample 1

IELTS Listening Test Practice – Sample 2

Strategy & Tips

You will have a short time to prepare before the speakers begin 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 instructions carefully, paying particular attention to how many words you are allowed to write for the answer as this does vary.

The instructions for our sample question state that you must,

Write ONLY ONE WORD for each answer.

The instructions for the Caveman Diet question, on the other hand, state that you must,

Write NO MORE THAN TWO WORDS for each answer.

If you write more than the number of words required, your answer will be marked incorrect even if the information you give is correct.

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. 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.

Both our sample questions have titles. These are:

Origins of the Caveman Diet

Sydney Opera House

3) Answer order

The answers will come in the same order in the recording as they are listed in the question so, for this question, you will hear answer 32 first, then answer 33 and so on. This makes it easier to pick out the answers than if they were in a random order.

4) 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. name of a person, place name, number, date.

  • 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 summary completion practice question. There are 5 answers to fill in, 32–36. Then have a look at my predictions below.

Here’s the summary with the missing words.


32 – a noun

33 – a date

34 – a place name

35 – an adjective

36 – a number

You can see that just a few seconds spend 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.

5) Synonyms and paraphrasing

Synonyms and paraphrasing will be used extensively in the recording. So, you will not only be listening for the exact words that are used in the summary but also, different words and phrases that have the same meaning.

In your preparation time, scan the summary and underline key words that are likely to be replaced by synonyms. These will be words immediately before and possibly straight after the missing word(s). Then, quickly think of words that might be used instead.

I’ve underlined some important key words in our practice question. Can you think of some synonyms for them?

Sydney Opera House is famous for its roof’s architecture resembling 32 ………. . The opera house was designed by Jørn Utzon from Denmark and it was built between 1959 and 33 ……………. . .

The roof is covered with more than 1 million roof tiles which were manufactured in 34 ……………. . Every evening the roof is lit up in a 35 ……………. spectacle.

The opera house has a variety of performance halls and theatre and exhibition spaces. More than 36 ……………. shows are staged there every week. Every year, more than 8 million visitors visit this Australian landmark.

We’ll look at the synonyms and paraphrasing that have been used in this question when we review the answers.

6) Problematic vocabulary

There are 6 types of vocabulary that can cause particular problems for students and some of them are frequently used in summary completion questions. The 6 types are:

  • Time

  • Numbers

  • Prices

  • Dates

  • Letters

  • Addresses

You must be able to recognise them in speech and to write them correctly in your answers.

7) Watch out for distractors

The examiners may 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 two sample sentences containing distractors. I’ve highlighted the relevant words.

  • The venue is most famous for its operatic performances but pop concerts are equally as popular today.

  • The cost to build Sydney Opera House was estimated at $7 million. However, the final bill came to $102 million and it was largely paid for by a State Lottery.

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.

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