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Listening Exam: Overview and Tips

Updated: Feb 23, 2023

This article will give an overview of the listening exam and some useful tips to help you get the score you deserve!

In this article we are going to do 4 things:

  1. 🔎 Give an overview of the Listening Exam format and content

  2. 💡 Discuss Listening Exam Pro-Tips

  3. 💪 Talk about how to improve your listening in general

In future posts, we will look at specific question types and how to answer them as well as the most essential listening exam strategies.

1. 🔎 Listening Exam Format and Content

Time to Complete the Exam:

Approximately 30 minutes.

If you do the paper based test, there is an additional 10 mins for transferring answers to the answer sheet.

Number of Sections:


Number of Questions:


Times Recordings are Played:


What kind of speaking samples do you hear in each section? Section 1:

  • A social or transactional dialogue between 2 speakers.

  • These transactions are normally: making reservations, buying something over the phone, applying for a job, learning about the services of a company or institution, etc.

Section 2:

  • A monologue set in an everyday social context, e.g. a speech about local facilities.

  • These speeches are normally: following processes (flow charts, diagrams), giving information to groups (e.g. tourists, campers, students), information about an event or tourist attractions, facility instructions or orientations (maps of libraries, shopping centres, universities etc.)

Section 3:

  • A discussion between 2 and 4 people set in an educational context.

  • These discussions are normally about: projects in study or work situations, interviews or talks to a professor or boss for guidance on a specific topic

Section 4:

  • A monologue, academic-style lecture or presentation set in an educational context.

  • This lecture will usually be about something fairly academic and specific, but for a non-specialist audience (like you or me). Despite the ‘specialist’ nature of the lecture, you do not need any specialist knowledge to complete this part of the test as it will be quite simplified and you will be tested on the explanations given in the talk.

What kinds of questions are in the Listening exam?

  • Multiple choice

  • Matching

  • Plan, map, diagram labelling

  • Form, note, table, flow-chart, summary completion

  • Sentence completion

  • Short-answer questions

What kinds of listening skills are tested in the exam?

  • understanding specific information

  • understanding main ideas

  • understanding the speaker’s opinion

What other kinds of skills are tested in the exam?

  • your ability to concentrate on listening to English for 30+ minutes

  • your (quick) reading skills

  • your knowledge of vocabulary and synonyms

  • your spelling

2. 💡 Listening Exam Pro-Tips

⭐ You get the score you deserve. If you don’t listen to enough English, you won’t get a very high grade. If you don't know enough vocabulary, you won’t get a very high grade.

⭐ To get a good grade, you have to understand the questions 100%, but you don’t have to understand 100% of the audio.

⭐ Improving your listening in general will do more for your score than ‘tips and tricks’.

⭐ Familiarise yourself with the different types of recording in the exam.

⭐ Familiarise yourself with the different types of questions in the exam.

⭐ Practise sustained listening. In the IELTS exam you have to concentrate on listening to and understanding English for 30+ minutes.

⭐ Listen to the right kind of things (TV series, TED Talks, The News, Documentaries, British accents)

⭐ The Listening Exam also tests your ability to read quickly, so improving your reading speed will help you quickly read and understand the questions.

⭐ If you read regularly, this will also improve your spelling. This is important because if you misspell words in the Listening Exam, you lose points.

3. 💪 How to Improve your Listening Skills in General

  • Practice, practice, practice. Listen to as much English as possible.

  • In order to listen to more English, and pay attention to it, find things that you enjoy listening to, such as entertaining TV shows and movies, or podcasts and audiobooks about topics you're interested in.

  • Practice watching TV/videos without subtitles. Listening to podcasts and audiobooks can be a great way to reduce your reliance on subtitles.

  • Learn more about English pronunciation so you can improve your understanding of fast, reduced, connected speech.

  • Work on your vocabulary and learn how words are pronounced. If you know more words and understand how they sound in context, then this will also comprehend them when you hear them.

  • Practice ‘micro-listening’: 1. Listen to something until you get to a bit you don’t understand. You probably didn’t understand because of either some vocabulary or some element of connected/reduced speech. 2. Pause the audio/video and relisten to that bit until you can understand it well enough to transcribe it. 3. Continue listening until you get to another bit that you don’t understand, and repeat.

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