7 Tips for Preparing for the IELTS Listening Test


You spent so long with the headphones on, listening to different passages and sentences in English, that you were considering having them surgically fitted to your ears!

Then the test comes along and you freeze because you hear a different accent and you lose track of what they’re saying!

That could be you but listen up! Today I have some advice for you about preparation for the IELTS listening test, so that doesn’t happen to you.

There’s no reason why you can’t face that section confidently and with a full understanding of what’s coming your way. Knowing what’s coming and preparing for it is key, so we take you through the basic structure and then some preparation tips that will help you relax during the actual text.

Listening Test Structure

There are 4 sections to the IELTS listening test:

  • General conversation –  2 people speaking for approximately 5 minutes, with 10 questions to follow.
  • Talk/Presentation – 1 or 2 people speaking for approximately 5 minutes with 10 questions to follow.
  • Procedural Discussion/ Academic Course/ Work Discussion –  2 people speaking for approximately 5 minutes with 10 questions to follow.
  •  Academic Lecture – 1 person speaking for approximately 5 minutes with 10 questions to follow.

Before each recording starts there are some instructions and there is time to look at the questions; after the recording starts you must listen and then write down your answers in the Listening booklet, next to the appropriate questions.

7 Test and Preparation Tips

1. Don’t Transfer the Answers to the Answer Sheet Until later

Ask any student who does well in the listening test and they will say the same – use the time at the end to transfer answers to the answer sheet; some make the mistake of transferring the answers at the beginning of the next section and therefore miss valuable time to prepare for the coming section.

After all the recordings have finished students are given 10 minutes to transfer answers to the answer sheet. Then, and only then, is the time to do it.

2. Know what to Expect!

As ever, knowing what’s coming is the perfect preparation to be able to handle it better; familiarise yourself with the structures and types of listening exercises from previous IELTS exam papers; conversation topics can come up again so it is beneficial to cover as many previous sample topics as possible and get to grips with the type of vocabulary used.

3. Familiarise Yourself with Different Accents

This is a very important one for the listening exam. If all of your listening practice has been in one or two accents, then you may struggle to understand the speakers in any of the four sections. Make sure you are exposed to a diverse range of accents.

4. Practice Listening with a Native Speaker or Tutor and Ask for Feedback

You need to avoid repeating the same mistakes again, so that means there must be a question/answer/feedback and correction element to your listening practice. It is fine listening to taped conversations as long as you are testing your actual comprehension and having mistakes corrected. Rehearse and practice with a tutor or native speaker present wherever possible, and ask them to correct mistakes in your comprehension. When the time comes for your test you will be more confident that you are following conversations and can answer the questions accurately.

5. Use Speed Tuning if Possible

Some English listening practice facilities (like those offered by the British Council) allow you to change the playback speed of conversations, so that you can be sure to follow and work at your own pace; as you get more proficient you can play the recordings faster until they are at normal speed and you are ready for the exam.

6. Practice Tests Consecutively

When practicing tests, don’t take breaks between the test sections – the closer you get to your actual test date you should try to answer the listening, speaking, writing and reading tests consecutively without breaks – just as in the real thing.

7. Total Immersion … wherever possible

Listening is one of the hardest skills to improve quickly – it takes a lot of practice and the more you can immerse yourself in the language the more it will help. Sample tests will expose you to many listening passages that you may not understand completely at first but practice really will improve your listening and comprehension skills, the more you surround yourself with the language.

As well as listening to tapes, watch movies and newscasts in English; there are plenty of ways to really immerse yourself in English in the lead up to the exam, and they needn’t all involve having your head in a book. Hope you find these tips useful and …good luck!


If you’re going to take the IELTS test soon, check out our free report with practical tips and strategies for preparing yourself and taking the test. You can download it here.

About Mark Stephens

Originally from the UK, Mark lived in Australia for many years, and is now based in Thailand. With previous experience in teaching English and in business to business sales, he is now a professional writer working on his first book.

  • ali

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