Whilst most students put in hours and hours of work preparing for the reading, writing and speaking sections of their exam, many do very little listening practice for IELTS.
Arguably, it’s easier to understand a spoken foreign language that it is to read, write or speak it but to do well in a listening test, there are some specific skills that you need to learn and practice. One of the most important is how to listen attentively for a significant period of time.
The techniques I’m about to introduce you to will greatly assist you with this.
A major challenge when listening is to stay focused.
Think about when you listen to someone talking, be it in a conversation or when listening to a radio programme or suchlike. Do you pay close attention and hear every word or does your mind sometimes wander and you miss bits of what’s being said? I suspect it’s the latter. This is natural. We all lose concentration when listening and tune out briefly.
Listening in this way in the listening test would be a disaster. You’d miss answers and the marks that go with them. So, you need to train yourself to stay focused and listen with close attention for the duration of the recording.
To help you learn to listen, I have four techniques for you to use in your listening practice for IELTS. They increase in skill level from 1-4 so I recommend that you start with the first technique and work on it until you feel you’ve made sufficient improvement to move on to the next level.
Once you’ve got good at all of them, use them randomly for a quick practice when you have a spare few minutes or as warm-up activities before completing a full listening practice test.
These listening practice ideas come from IELTS author and test writer Pauline Cullen.
For this first listening practice activity, play a very short extract from a piece of audio and repeat exactly what is said, speaking out loud. Start with a single sentence.
If the speaker(s) talk mainly in short sentences, progress to a couple of sentences. When listening to a recording where the sentences are longer and more complex, one sentence at a time is probably enough.
This isn’t an activity to test your memory but a technique that makes you really concentrate in order to be able to repeat back what you heard said. However, it will also improve your recall skills which will be a huge benefit in the test.
Listen several times if you need to, especially when you first try this activity.
There are a couple of sources of recordings that I highly recommend. Both include transcripts of the audio so you can easily check if you’ve repeated what was said correctly.
Recommended resources for listening practice for IELTS:
British Council - Listening Practice
The BBC recordings are at intermediate level and the British Council offers listening practice from beginner level (A1) to advance (C1). Both cover a wide range of topics so will also help you to learn vocabulary useful for your IELTS exam.
You can use these listening resources for all four of the practice techniques.
Work with slightly longer extracts of a recording for this second technique. This time, instead of repeating what you hear, explain what has been said in your own words. It’s a good idea to record yourself. You can then play it back and compare it with the transcript to see how accurate you were.
As well as improving your ability to concentrate, this activity also will test your understanding of what’s been said and your paraphrasing skills which are so important for all parts of the IELTS exam.
Build up to listening to quite long extracts and then summarise as much of the information as you can remember.
It takes a lot of concentration to listen attentively to several minutes of monologue (one person speaking) or dialogue (two or more people speaking) without a break and to follow what’s being said. This is what you have to do in the Listening test so it’s vital that you learn to focus for this length of time.
The listening text will contain some specific vocabulary that will help you to keep track of the progress of the discussion or ideas being talked about. I’m referring here to signpost words. Their job is to lead the listener forward and show how the ideas are connected and developed.
Signpost words and phrases are what we’re going to be looking for as we practice the third technique for developing your listening skills. For this activity, read the transcript of the recording as you’re listening to the audio. Look out for language that indicates the following:
Here are some examples of what I mean in the transcript of a recording from the British Council resources I mentioned earlier as excellent material for listening practice for IELTS. I’ve highlighted the key signpost language. Can you see how it helps guide you through the presentation?
A presentation about a new product design
Hi, everyone. Thanks for coming to this short presentation on our new product design. As you know, we've already redeveloped our 'Adventure' shampoo to make it more modern and appealing. And we've renamed it 'Adventure Tech'. Our market research established the target market as men in the 18-40 age range who like to be outdoors and also like technical gadgets such as smartwatches, drones and things like that. We needed to create a bottle which appeals to that market.
So, today, I'm happy to unveil our new bottle design. As you can see, it's designed to look like a black metal drinking flask, with some digital features printed on it.
I’d like to talk you through the following three points: the key features, sizing and our timeline for production.
Firstly, you'll notice it has an ergonomic design. That means it fits smoothly into your hand and can be easily opened and squeezed using one hand. And, it looks like a flask you might use when hiking outdoors. The imitation digital displays are designed to remind the user of other tech devices they may have such as a smartwatch or smart displays in their home.
I’d now like to tell you about the sizes. It comes in two sizes: the regular size and a small travel size. The travel size is the same type of design – a flask, also with imitation digital displays on the bottle. We were thinking of starting with one and following with the travel-size in a few months, but we've worked hard and both are ready now.
Finally, I'm going to talk to you about our timeline for production. You've probably heard that we're launching in two months. In preparation for that, we're starting the marketing campaign next month. You can see the complete overview of all phases in this Gantt chart.
In summary, the bottle's been designed for men who like adventure and technology, and it comes in two sizes. The marketing campaign is starting next month and we're launching the product in two months.
Ok. So, any questions? Feel free to also email me for further information in case we run out of time.
Some listening scripts will contain more signpost language than others, depending on the type and purpose of the talk or dialogue. However, there will always be some and the more practice you have at recognising it, the easier you’ll find it to follow the recordings in the exam and the better you’ll understand what’s being said.
For the final practice technique, you’re going to listen to a recording and write down what you hear. Use just short extracts and listen to them several times if necessary.
There are two ways you can do this activity, each focusing on a different skill area.
a) To test and improve your skill in recognising different types of sentence structure as you listen, write down exactly what you hear, word for word. This will help you to identify grammar that you find challenging and that you need to work on.
b) To test your understanding, write down what you hear in note form in your own words. When doing this, you’ll be paraphrasing the information in the audio script. In your listening test, the questions will paraphrase the information in the recording so this is ideal training to prepare you for recognising paraphrasing.
This type of exercise will also give
you practice at working out the meaning of unfamiliar vocabulary from context,
that is, from the words and phrases that come immediately before or after it. This
is another essential skill for a high score in IELTS.
As well as
learning to stay focused throughout the recording, there are some very specific
skills you need to develop to get a high score in the Listening test. I cover
these in the lessons listed below. In them, you’ll also learn some essential strategies
that will help you to identify the answers more easily.
Study the lessons and practice what you learn. This is how you’ll achieve the band score you need.
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:
Click the links below to learn how to answer each type of question.