Paradigm Language Institute

Using time wisely in the IELTS listening module

Thursday, September 19, 2013

One student asked me this about IELTS (International English Language Testing System):

“I’ve been told I should transfer listening test answers to the answer sheet during the break at the end of each section.

“The reason given was I may not have enough time to transfer them all at the end of the test. Other people have told me to read the next section of the listening test instead. What should I do?” Here’s my reply:

Unfortunately, the advice to transfer answers during the test was wrong.

The listening module has four sections with ten questions each. The test’s recording runs for about 30 minutes, and candidates have time to read the questions and to write down and check answers.

All answers are written on the question paper while candidates listen to the recording.

Listening test breaks

Here’s when there are breaks during the test:

  • Before each section. Candidates have time to look at and understand the questions in each section before the recording for that section starts. They’re also told which questions they should look at (e.g., “First, you have some time to look at questions 21 to 26”).

  • During each section. There’s a short break roughly halfway through each of Sections 1, 2 and 3. Candidates hear an announcement like, “Before you hear the rest of the discussion, you have some time to look at questions 27 to 30.”

The break gives test takers a chance to study the remaining questions in those sections.

However, Section 4 usually doesn’t have a break.

  • After each section. Candidates are given half a minute to check answers at the end of each section. If they prefer, they can start reading the next section.

When the 30-minute recording ends, candidates are given a further ten minutes to transfer their answers from the question paper onto a separate answer sheet.

Test takers risk losing marks if they try to transfer answers to the answer sheet during the breaks halfway through, or at the end of, each section. As the breaks before, during and after each section are only 20 to 30 seconds, they may easily rush and make careless errors.

For instance, they may write answers in the wrong place on the answer sheet, make spelling errors or use the incorrect form of words.

Also, they aren’t giving themselves the chance to read the questions coming up. They therefore risk adding more pressure on themselves when the recording starts again.

Using breaks wisely

Instead of transferring answers during the listening test, use the breaks wisely. Here are my suggestions:

  • Read the instructions for each set of questions to find the word limit.

Remember, any answer over the word limit will be marked as incorrect (and that’s even if the extra word is “a,” “an” or “the”).

  • Use the information in the questions to predict the situation. Who’ll be speaking? Why? What about?

  • Underline key words. These are the words which help you identify the information you need to listen for. Some examples are in bold in the box that follows to help you understand what a key word is. While the recording is playing later, look at the key words to help you concentrate on what you’re listening for.

  • Read each question to identify the type of information the question’s looking for. For instance, in question 1 in the box, you need to listen for a condition when air fares are lowest; in 2, two reasons; and in 3, the names of two products or services.

  • Think about the grammar of the answer needed for those questions where you have to write down a word (or a phrase). Will the answer be a verb, an adjective, an adverb or a noun? Will the verb or noun be in singular or plural form? Will the noun be countable or uncountable?

In sample questions 2 and 3, you need to listen for nouns or noun phrases. Also, in question 3, the nouns will be plural if they’re not only countable but also referred to generally (i.e., as category names).

  • Form a question in English to help you catch the information while you’re listening. For example, for sample question 1, “When are air fares lowest?”; for question 2, “Why is the pricing changing?”; and for question 3, “What else is marketed this way?”

  • If you can’t hear or guess an answer, leave it and focus on the next question. Don’t spend time thinking about the missed answer. If you do, you won’t be listening to the recording, so you may lose your place. It’s better to miss one answer than several answers.

  • Even though you’re told at the end of each section that you have time to check answers, move on and start reading the next section’s questions.

After 30 seconds, you’ll be told to turn to the next section (which you’ll already be reading).

That way, you’ll have up to a minute to study the next section’s questions. Since test questions become steadily more complex, this extra “thinking time” is valuable.

Fully use the transfer time

Use all of the ten minutes allowed for the transfer of answers to the answer sheet. Here are my tips:

  • Don’t just copy the words. Think carefully as you transfer answers, even if they seem straightforward. It’s easy to make careless mistakes.
  • Check the spelling and grammar of each answer, and make sure it’s not over the word limit. A block of numbers (e.g., a phone number) is one word.
  • Don’t repeat words from the question stem given in the question booklet. You won’t get a mark if you do.
For example, a question may read: “The aeroplane was forced to land ............... hours after take-off.” If you hear “5 hours” in the recording, write “5,” but not “5 hours” (as “hours” is in the question stem).
  • Be careful about changing an answer. Check it against the information in the question paper, making sure it fits the question grammatically and logically.
  • As you write each answer, make sure it’s in the correct space on the answer sheet. At the end of the 10-minute transfer period, you won’t be given extra time to change any answers in the wrong space. In an emergency, circle a block of incorrect answers and use an arrow to show where they should be located.
  • Keep checking to the last possible moment.

This article was written by David Park, a highly experienced IELTS teacher. Ajarn David teaches at Paradigm Language Institute.

If you have any questions about IELTS that you would like Ajarn David to answer,
or if you wish to do an IELTS preparation course, write to:

IELTS is owned by Cambridge ESOL, the British Council and IELTS Australia.

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