How To Improve IELTS Listening Skills

In this lesson, you will learn 6 strategies for improving your listening skills in preparation for your test.

How to Improve IELTS Listening Skills – Strategy 1

Listen to English every day

The listening test is designed to test how well you understand spoken English. So, the most obvious way to improve your listening skills is to listen to lots of English being spoken. But what should you listen to?

You’ll find everything you need for free online. Whether you’ve can spare just a few minutes to listen or have an hour of study time planned, there’s a wealth of material that you can access in seconds.

Listen to a range of things. The test will include two monologues (one person speaking) and two conversations, so you must practice listening to both.

Online News Channels are ideal because news broadcasts contain a good mix of reports and conversations. For all parts of the IELTS exam, I recommend BBC News as the best news channel to tune in to.

However, for the Listening test, listen to the news from a range of English speaking countries (UK, Ireland, US, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa) so you get used to understanding different accents.

Podcasts are also an excellent resource. They can last for as little as 2 minutes or go on for an hour or more. They also cover a vast range of topics so you’ll easily find something interesting to listen to in the time you have available.

The best platform to search for podcasts is Stitcher.

TED Talks are equally as useful. These are online lectures, often very short, and are perfect for practicing listening to monologues. Again, the range of topics is huge.

Follow this link to the menu page with hundreds of subjects listed: TED Talk Topics

You can also watch TED Talks on YouTube.

Then there’s YouTube itself, with millions of videos from serious topics to light entertainment. It’s an invaluable resource to help you prepare for your exam.

Online Radio is one of the best sources for interviews so, tune in to a good station when you want to practice listening to conversations.

If you listen to something every day, ideally for at least 10-15 minutes, your listening skills will gradually improve.

Now let’s look at some more ideas on how to improve IELTS Listening skills.

How to Improve IELTS Listening Skills – Strategy 2

Complete practice tests

Many students make this their top priority and complete test after test. You do need to do practice tests and learn strategies for answering the 10 different types of questions in the Listening test but this will be of limited help in improving the specific skills you need to achieve a high score.

I recommend spending 10-15% of your preparation time completing practice papers and 85-90% of the time listening to spoken English as outlined above. As well as improving specific listening skills, this will also quickly improve your general level of English leading to higher marks in all parts of the IELTS exam.

I recommend that you use only official tests for exam practice as only these fully replicate the real exam paper that you will take on the day of your test. There are several available for free online and I've included two on the website. See them here:

However, the main source of genuine tests is the Cambridge English series of authentic exam papers. These books are excellent. Each contains four complete test papers. Make sure that the copies you buy include an audio CD for the listening test as some versions do not and you have to buy them separately.

Having said all this, there are many practice tests available that have been created by teachers like myself to teach you the skills needed to do well in your test and allow you to practice them. It’s fine to use these for this purpose.

For lessons on how to answer the 10 different types of questions in the Listening test, including practice activities, follow the links in the menu at the bottom of this page.

How to Improve IELTS Listening Skills – Strategy 3

Identify your weaknesses

There’s little point in spending hour after hour listening to spoken English and completing practice tests unless you identify your areas of weakness and focus on improving these in particular.

Is it grammar that’s letting you down, a limited range of vocabulary, or do you find it hard to follow conversations? One way to identify your biggest challenges, if you don’t already know what they are, is to analyse your results from practice tests and determine what mistakes you are making on a regular basis.

The Cambridge English books of authentic test papers (and some online tests) include transcripts of the recordings. These will help you to understand why you got a particular answer wrong.

How to Improve IELTS Listening Skills – Strategy 4

Practice paraphrasing

A specific skill you can practice when listening to spoken English online is paraphrasing.

The recordings in the Listening test will contain lots of synonyms and paraphrasing of the key words and phrases in the questions.

Here are a couple of examples for illustration:

Question / answer 

The park was first built in 1979. 


The park itself wasn’t developed until 1979.

The Hurricane roller-coaster is tall and made of wood

It’s the highest wooden roller-coaster in the country.

Podcasts are ideal for practicing paraphrasing as you can stop and restart them at any point. Every so often while you’re listening to one, pause the recording after an individual sentence and think how you could paraphrase it and what synonyms you could use.

Do this for a few sentences each day and your paraphrasing skills will steadily improve.

How to Improve IELTS Listening Skills – Strategy 5

Practice prediction

Being able to predict what you might hear in the recording and what will be said next during the talk or conversation, will greatly help you to understand the audio and identify the information needed for the answers.

This is a skill that’s easy to practice. First, select something to listen to from one of the many resources listed above.

An additional resource that I recommend for practicing prediction is TED Ed videos. These have several multiple choice and open-ended questions included on the page (click ‘Think’ in the menu) which enable you to practice listening out for specific information as you will have to do in the Listening test.

Before you start the video, read the title and predict some related ideas that might be included in the recording. Then, as you listen, pause the audio every now and then and predict how you think the topic will develop in the next few sentences. And, of course, try to identify the answers to the questions.

How to Improve IELTS Listening Skills – Strategy 6

Understanding connected speech

This is something that most students struggle with to some degree or another.

Connected speech is when words and sounds run into each other making it difficult for a non-native speaker to understand what is being said.

In these examples, you can see the words being spoken followed by how they might sound to the listener.

What are you going to do?    à    Whadya gonna do?   

I’m going to read a book.    à    I’m gonna re dabook.

Come on. Let’s go to the park.    à    Cmon. Let’s getethe park.  

I have to do my homework first.    à    Ivte dome homework first.   

There no easy way to overcome the challenge of connected speech apart from listening to lots of native speakers speaking at a normal rate.

Podcasts are ideal for this as you can pause them and listen to confusing sentences over and over again until you fully understand what’s being said. You’ll gradually become familiar with the way words link together and find it easier to comprehend fast-paced speech.

Doing this regularly will improve your listening skills considerably.

I hope you’ve found this lesson on how to improve IELTS Listening skills useful. There's lots more help with the Listening test in the lessons below. 

Want to watch & listen to this lesson on how to improve IELTS listening skills? 

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IELTS Listening  All Lessons

IELTS Listening Test – Understand the format & question types. Know what skills are assessed. Also, discover 3 important marking tips.

Listening Strategies – Learn 3 essential listening strategies – question analysis, answer prediction & how to use keyword clues.

Listening Skills – Learn the 4 key listening skills needed for a high score highly. Examples from real questions.

Listening Exercises – 8 listening exercises to help you recognise & learn vocabulary for 6 common topics – time, numbers, prices, dates, letter names & addresses.

The 10 Question Types – Examples of all 10 types of Listening questions. Learn how to recognise & understand them. Links to 10 step-by-step lessons.

Listening Tips – Top 10 tips to bring you success in your Listening test. Essential information you need to know to achieve a high score.

How to Improve Your Listening Skills – 6 simple strategies essential for achieving a high score in the test.

Listening Practice – 4 practice techniques to develop your listening skills

Map & Plan Vocabulary – Learn the vocabulary you need for your test. 5 maps & plans with sample sentences containing common vocabulary of location & direction.

Listening Practice Samples – Short activities to improve your listening skills & help you learn topic vocabulary.

   Genuine Full Practice Tests:

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