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IELTS: Crack the listening module

Gurpreet Wadhera | March 29, 2006

We do hope you have read Planning to take the IELTS?, which explains what the International English Language Testing System exam is about and gives an overview of the question paper.

The listening module is what you have to tackle first; it takes place at the beginning of the test.

You will have to listen to a recorded conversation through headphones and answer questions related to it.

The recording is played just once. It is very important that you understand exactly what is required for the answer.

Structure of the listening test

The test occurs in four sections and there are generally around 40-42 questions that need to be attempted. The difficulty level increases as the test proceeds.

Section 1 is a conversation between two speakers about a social or semi-official topic. The speed of conversation is quite slow.

Section 2 is a monologue (spoken by one person only) on a non-academic subject. The speakers talk normally about social situations and needs.

Section 3 is a conversation among three to four speakers about an academic topic. As more than two speakers are involved, this section tends to create a lot of confusion. Also, the conversation is fast-paced.

Section 4 is again a monologue, a university style presentation of an academic topic.

Part One: Planning to take the IELTS?

Format of the questions

The types of questions include:

  • Multiple choice
  • Short answers
  • Matching
  • Sentence completion
  • Table completion
  • Form completion
  • Completing notes/ summary

Candidates are allowed to write on the question paper. While listening, answers should be written on the question booklet only. The tape generally goes on for 30-35 minutes, after which you have around 10 minutes to write the answers on the transfer sheet.

Try this strategy

Answer the questions as you listen to the cassette.

You will hear an announcer introducing the situation. You have around 30 seconds to go through the related questions so you know which information to focus on once the tape starts playing. Once you answer these questions, you are given a few more seconds to check the answers.

Each section follows the same pattern.

Tips you could use

~ Read and listen to the instructions. Make sure you follow them correctly.

~ Read the questions carefully, underline key words and try to predict the kind of answer required.

~ Try and find out the difference between similar looking pictures and diagrams.

~ The extra time given to check answers can be used to preview questions from the next section.

~ Make sure you continue to listen to the conversation while you are writing your answers.

~ In the diagrams (or tables), read the information given on both the horizontal and vertical axis. Don't start reading the words; instead, locate the numbers (questions) and see the information given corresponding to these numbers. Generally, the conversation in these kind of tables and diagrams is in sequence -- either horizontally or vertically.

~ Try and stay ahead of the recording so you have time to go through the question and know what information you are looking for while the recording plays.

~ Don't panic if you miss out on any answer; jump to the next question. Attempt the missed answer when you get extra time to check the answers.

~ Carefully transfer answers to the transfer sheet. Ensure you don't make mistakes.

~ There is no negative marking, so make a guess in case you have missed out on any answer. Don't leave any question unanswered.

~ Take adequate care while transferring the answers to the transfer sheet. The serial number in the question paper and answer sheet must tally and no variation must occur in the wording of the answer stem.


Part I: Planning to take the IELTS?
Part III: Do you write well?
Part IV: Do you speak English well?

The author is Centre Manager, BetterThink division of Top Careers & You, Ludhiana, which specialises in IELTS preparation. She can be reached at

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