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IELTS Listening: Strategies and Tips

Highlight Key Words

Read the question carefully and highlight the key words so you know what to listen for. While listening, do not try to understand everything you hear. Listen only for the answers.


IELTS Key Words Reading


   “The focus group were surprised that the screen size was the same as the previous model… as they expected it to be increased. However, the most voiced concern for the group was speed of the internet connection. Users frequently complained that it took an annoying amount of time for websites to load, which tested their patience.”


The answer here is A. Both A and B are mentioned by the speaker but question 22 asks about the main problem and the most voiced concern was the speed – websites took a long time to load.

Synonyms and Paraphrase

Even though you highlight the key words and phrases in the questions, you will not usually hear them on the recording.  IELTS uses synonyms and paraphrase for the key words and phrases in the questions.

Synonyms are words with similar meaning. Example: built – constructed

Paraphrase is phrases with similar meaning (often using idioms). Example: all things considered – at the end of the day


Synonyms IELTS Reading


  “Demand for the vehicles far exceeded production which led the company to make some radical changes. The first vehicles were manufactured manually by workers operating on a moving production line but these employees were gradually replaced by machines which were, in turn, replaced by robots.”  

The answer here is A. Note the synonyms and paraphrase…

  • original cars – first vehicles.

  • built – manufactured.

  • hand - manually.


When you highlight key words and phrases, do not listen for them specifically. Think of synonyms and paraphrase for them before you listen.

Predicting the Answers

Before you listen, try to predict the answers. Think about the type of word you will hear. This is a typical part 1 task.

IELTS Reading Predicting

Number 1 will be a surname. and number 2 the name of a road. Careful to spell them beginning with a capital letter (if you choose to write in lower case). Number 3 will be a number – (Written as a number rather than words).

Before you listen predict how the missing words fits grammatically in the sentence.


Predicting IELTS Reading

Source: Cambridge English IELTS past papers

Number 21 is most likely an adjective as it is followed by a noun. 22 is probably a noun or adjective + noun since it is preceded by “the” and it describes how much it costs to enter the race.

23 is also a noun and it describes the distance of the race - written as a number with the unit of measurement. That’s km OR kilometers OR m OR miles. Better to write them as symbols (km / m) to avoid spelling mistakes.



IELTS Predicting Reading


IELTS veterans will tell you that the listening test is not so straightforward – in fact there are many “traps”. One of these “traps” is the use of distractors.



IELTS Reading Distractors

A: So you need to make some reservations.

B: Yes we’re going to Ireland for my parents wedding anniversary.

A: When is the anniversary?

B: It’s on 13 July.

A: So I guess you’ll need to leave on the 12th or even the 11th?

B: Actually, we’re having a family dinner on the 10th. So if there’s a flight on the morning of the 10th.

A: OK let me check… yes we have seats available on the 9.30 flight.

B: That great, thanks.


The answer here is 10th / 10 July. There are also 3 distracters (13th, 12th and 11th).

Listen carefully and be patient. Don’t write down the first possible answer you hear.

Many have questioned IELTS use of distractors and the most plausible explanation is that it reflects “real” conversation patterns.

Signposting Language

Parts 2 and 4 of the Listening tests are monologues, where the speaker gives information and talks about a topic. The speakers will use signposting words and phrases…  


     Now, first of all I want to give you some background information.

     OK, let’s move on to the late19th Century when a great deal of changes was taking place.

     And finally, I’d like to talk about some future projects.

These signposting words and phrases are used to guide the listener through each part of the talk. They also signal when you should move on to the next question.


IELTS Reading Signposting


Now, first of all I want to give you some background information. The Players Association was originally the brainchild of Thomas Smith, or as we all know him “Tommy”, way back in 2006. However, it wasn’t until a decade ago that it was officially sanctioned by FIFA and commenced operations.

Ok, let’s move on to the election of the Association’s first President. Everyone outside the Association presumed that Tommy would be the natural choice but the day before the election he removed himself from the list of candidates citing ill health, which left them with a bit of a dilemma since that meant there was just one other candidate… Joe Smith.

When the speaker says “OK, let’s move onto…” you should move from question 1 to 2.

It’s important to be aware of signposting language as they are commonly used in parts 2 and 4 and they tell you when you should move on to the next question which, will help you keep up with the recording.


Examples of Signposting Language

IELTS Listening Signpost Language

Keeping Focused

During the listening test, students sometimes “lose their place” or lose focus and struggle to keep up with the recording.

One of the reasons this happens is when students spend too much time answering one question while the recording moves on. Therefore, once they have decided on an answer, they have lost their place in the recording.


Try not to spend too much time on one question. If you are not sure of the answer, leave it unanswered and move on.

At the end of the Computer Delivered test you have two minutes to check your answers and at the end of the paper-based test you have 10 minutes to transfer your answers to the answer sheet.

For the CD test unanswered questions are highlighted in a different color so you can quickly locate them. At the end of the test find the unanswered questions and answer them by trying to remember what was said on the recording or GUESS.

There are no minus points for wrong answers. You might get lucky!

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