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Top tips for the IELTS listening test

Thursday, October 17, 2013

14 practical ways to maximise the score you get for the IELTS test

Most Thai candidates say that the listening module is the easiest of the four modules that make up the IELTS (International English Language Testing System) exam. Still, it doesn’t mean candidates always get high marks.

During practice listening tests in class, I often see people make mistakes that could have been avoided. Often, all that was needed to get the right answer was a little more care and thought.

Careless errors can lower the score for a listening test by up to 3.0 bands, based on what I’ve seen in class. It’s therefore essential that anyone preparing for the IELTS exam understands how to approach the listening test.

Here’s my summary of the main things you should do to improve your chances of getting the best possible score.

  • Check the instructions. It’s essential that you read the instructions for each set of questions carefully. You need to be very clear on what you’re expected to do.

For example, do you have to write a short phrase as the answer, or do you have to select from a list of options? If a short phrase is required, what’s the word limit?

If it’s two words or less, for instance, an answer with three or more words will get a zero mark. No half-mark is given, no matter how close your answer is to the proper answer.

  • Predict the situation. From the information given in the questions, guess the listening situation. Who will be speaking? Why? What about?

  • Identify what’s required. Quickly read the set of questions to identify the type of information required.

Is it a name, a location, a date or something else? Is it a verb, an adjective, an adverb or a noun? If it’s a noun, is it singular or plural, and is it countable or uncountable? Is it a singular or plural verb?

  • Form questions. Don’t just passively look at the space in the question booklet where an answer has to be written. Make a question in English to help you catch the information needed.

For example, if you’re listening for the name of a present that someone bought, the question might be, “What did John buy?” Such questions will help you focus on what’s being said and catch the right information.

  • Check the grammar. Use the other words in the recording to work out whether a verb or noun in an answer is in singular or plural form. Also, make sure the answer fits the grammar suggested by the question.

For instance, if the question says, “John bought a ...... ”, you’ll need a singular noun like “flower” as the answer, not a plural noun like “flowers”.

  • Check the logic. Similarly, check that your answer is logical.

Here’s an example. If the answer to a question should be the name of a present (e.g., “flower”), don’t write where the present was bought (e.g., “the market”).

  • Guess. Guess at an answer if you need to. While a wrong guess will never lose a mark, a correct guess will always earn one.

  • Write promptly. Write down an answer as soon as you hear it. Don’t wait to check to make sure that it’s right. If you do hear the correct answer later, write it down immediately.

  • Avoid the eraser. Cross out wrong answers instead of rubbing them out. While you’re focussing on rubbing out every little pencil mark, you risk missing important information in the recording.

  • Watch two questions. Keep your eye on the next question as well as the one you’re currently listening for. This stops you from losing your place.

  • Read ahead. Don’t check answers at the end of a listening section. Instead, read the next section. This gives you the maximum time (up to a minute) to think about the next set of instructions and questions. This is especially helpful for the most difficult sections of the test, Sections 3 and 4.

  • Use the question booklet. During the test, write all your answers in the question booklet, not on the answer sheet.

At the end of the test, transfer the answers to the answer sheet (you’ll be told when to start transferring). You’ll have plenty of time (ten minutes).

  • Transfer carefully. Copy answers carefully to the answer sheet. Double-check the grammar and logic of answers to questions that require you to write words as the answers.

Be careful with verbs (especially the third person present simple) and nouns (on average, seven of the 40 answers need an “s” at the end of verbs and nouns).

As well, make sure your spelling is correct as a zero mark is given for misspelled words (e.g., writing “flouwers” instead of “flowers”).

  • Forget the case. Answers can be written on the answer sheet in upper case, lower case or a combination. There is no marking penalty. The common belief that you should write all answers in CAPITAL LETTERS to avoid a marking penalty for wrong capitalisation is not correct.

For example, the answer “Bangkok” can be written as “bangkok”, “BANGKOK” or even ‘bAnGkOk’. All versions would get the mark. 

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 IDP: IELTS Australia.

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