IELTS Listening

IELTS Listening Tip 1: Know the Context

‘I want the one on the left. It’s not the best, and it’s a little rich, and maybe something lighter is better, but I want everyone to feel happy.’

Can you tell me what ‘the one on the left’ is?

I’m waiting.

At this point you might realise that it is not possible to know what ‘the one on the left’ is. We need more information; we need to know the context of the words and sentence. We need to know …

1   who is speaking,

2   where they are speaking, and

3   what they are speaking about.

These questions are answered at the start of each IELTS Listening passage. For example, you will hear something such as,

‘Sally and John are students, sitting in the university cafeteria, discussing what to write about for their history essay.’

Thus …

1 = Sally and John

2 = university cafeteria

3 = discussing subjects for history essays

So, listen carefully to this context, because this context is very important to understanding and making sense of the listening itself.



What would ‘the one of the left’ be if the speaker was:

  1. In a cake shop?
  2. In a paint shop?
  3. In a car showroom?
  4. Looking at a joke book?

For answers, click here.


IELTS Listening Tip 2: Use Common Sense

As a human being, you have experience of the world and of life in general. This gives you background knowledge which you should always use with every IELTS question you encounter. For example:

‘I went to the __________ because I had a toothache.’

What’s the answer? You know it (probably ‘dentist’ or ‘dental clinic’) simply from your knowledge of the world. When you look next at IELTS preparation materials, practise using common sense to predict answers.



Answer the following question just using common sense.

  1. How many people are waiting outside the office?    A. 50              B.  100             C.  200            D.  300
  1. There will be strong growth in ………………. snacks, such as muesli bars.
  1. There are four kinds of bicycles available:

Racing , Touring , …….………, and Ordinary.

  1. The shop is conveniently located at the ………………. of Pitt Street and Hill Avenue.
  1. What do they watch on the television at 6 pm?

A.   A romance film.       B.   A program on Chinese cooking.    

        C.   The nightly news.     D.  A talk show program.


For answers, click here.


IELTS Listening Tip 3: ‘Read’ the Answer

Many IELTS listening questions are ‘type’ questions – in other words, the answers are a ‘type’ of something. When faced with this, think about the sort of answers it will be. In this way you have prepared your mind for the sound and shape of the answer, so you will find it much easier to catch it in the listening.

For example, consider the questions,

‘Name two kinds of movies Peter enjoys very much’.

Hmmmm. ‘Romance, Adventure, Horror, Action, Science Fiction’. Say them aloud, since one of these might well be the answer.



‘Read’ the type of answer for these five questions. Say them aloud. Think of as many possibilities as you can.

  1. Sources of humours in the body: Gallbladder, spleen, ……… and ………  .
  2. The best time for watching birds is   …………………………. .
  3. To watch birds, we need:   ……………… and ……………… .
  4. Long prison terms are given for:   ……………… and ………………
  5. How did she travel within Vietnam?   ………………….. .


For answers, click here.


IELTS Listening Tip 4: Put Pictures into Words

In the listening test you will often find multiple choice questions where you must select the correct picture or drawing. Always study them, and note the differences, and ‘translate’ the pictures into words – and that way, predict the sort of words and phrases you need to listen for. For example,

Briefcase A has a brand name ‘Sagi’ on the left hand side, and a scratch on the right hand side. Briefcase B has the name on the right …..

Briefcases diagram-page-001


  1. What is the same about all of the briefcases?
  2. What is the same about A & B?
  3. What about C & D?
  4. What about A & C?
  5. What about B & D?


Read the following dialogue and work out which briefcase they are describing.


Andrew:          I think I lost my briefcase.

Sue:                    What does it look like?

Andrew:           Well, it’s got the company logo, STS, on it.

Sue:                    Does it have any distinguishing features. You know, locking buckles, straps, scratches, and so on?

Andrew:           No, it’s just a plain briefcase, with just the logo at the top.


For answers, click here.


IELTS Listening Tip 5: Watch Out for Paraphrasing

In the listening test, you may hear someone say something such as:

‘Well, if the sun is too hot, I’ll just slop some stuff on my face’,

while the question is:

The man wants to wear:          A. a hat        B. sunscreen        C. sunglasses          D. an eye shade

What is the answer? The answer is … ‘B. sunscreen’, but that is not what you read in the question, was it? This difference between what you hear, and what you read on the question paper, is very possible in the listening test. So, be ready for such ‘paraphrasing’ when you are doing the test. When you read the question, paraphrase some of the key words. Give synonyms or other words to say the same thing.



Match the following terms with their paraphrasing. I wrote this exercise based on just one listening test from an IELTS book, showing just how common paraphrasing is.

1.          Observe A.        Have some problems
2.          4.45 B.         Excellent returns for your fee
3.          Best value C.         Under the banner of
4.          Next year D.        Up and running
5.          Named E.         Quarter to five
6.          Difficult F.          Watch carefully
7.          Open G.        Within 12 months


Now fill in the gaps.

Question:   The main attraction is (8) …………………

You hear:      The video section has fans too, although most people want to see the magazine section, but the non-fiction is popular with researchers.


Question (9):     The couple could:   A. stay in a hostel.    B.  go camping.     C.   stay in a caravan.   D.  stay with friends.

You hear:      I suppose, if all the hotels are booked up, we can always just pitch a tent.


Question (10):           Reason for studying Chinese:       A. Tourism      B. Business       C. Long term travel      D. Meeting friends

You hear:      My company is sending me to China for two and a half years.


For answers, click here.