IELTS Listening – A Complete Guide

If it is your dream to study in a foreign nation or to seek employment in a foreign country like Canada, New Zealand, United Kingdom, then the International English Language Testing System examination (IELTS) is to be taken by you in order to fulfil that aspiration.

IELTS Listening test consists of 4 sections. Each section has 10 questions. The time limit for the entire listening test is 30 minutes, with an additional 10 minutes at the end of the test given to transfer the answers to the answer sheet.



The IELTS Listening test has four tasks in total. In each of the four tasks, different recordings are played. Before the recording begins, the candidate will get some time to go through the questions and hence, you must use this time wisely to guess and paraphrase the possible information and the answer to that information. Doing this will make you ready, agile and prompt as the recording plays on.

The first and second recordings will be of a conversation and a monologue in a social setup. For example, a conversation between two neighbours about the prevalent weather, and a speech by a single person about the rising real estate prices.

While the third and fourth recordings will be a conversation and a monologue on an academic set-up. For example, a conversation between a professor and his students about the assignment submission, and a speech by a researcher on the importance of Intellectual Property Rights awareness.


According to Cambridge IELTSOpens in a new tab., the following are the key parameters on which a candidate is tested:

  1. Your ability to understand the main ideas and detailed factual information: The candidate is expected to understand the key ideas that the speaker is putting forward. The key idea will always be set apart from the other insignificant details, and hence, it is expected of the candidate to catch the main and significant detail. In addition to the main ideas, a lot of facts and data will also be spelt out in the recording. The candidate must catch the data at the corresponding time of it being spoken and quickly jot it down in the sheet.
  2. The opinions and attitudes of speakers: The speakers will have their speech divided into two parts – the mere factual data and the opinions which in turn reflect the attitude of the speaker.  
  3. The purpose of an utterance: Understanding the ‘why’ behind the utterance of the speaker is also important. Mere superficial listening of the speech will not be enough to fetch a great score in the listening section. In addition to that, the understanding of the purpose of what is being uttered is also equally important. 
  4. Evidence of your ability to follow the development of ideas: Ideas come in a particular flow, and are developed in a manner. Every idea development has a foundation which then grows from the roots to various branches. The different branches are how idea development takes place. The candidate is expected to catch the development of ideas while listening to the recordings. 


IELTS Listening scores vary from 0 to 9, calculated on the basis of the number of questions answered correctly. There is no negative marking for a wrong answer and hence, it is advisable to attempt all the questions.  The top educational institutes and recruiters generally accept IELTS scores of 7 or more on the overall test. Hence, a candidate should consistently practice and try to achieve a 7+ score in each section.

Here is how the IELTS Listening test is calculated

Correct AnswersBand Score

The band represents the following remarks in the actual exam –

Band ScoreSkill LevelDescription
9Expert userThe candidate exercises full command over the language, with appropriateness, accuracy, complete understanding and fluency.
8Very good userThe candidate has full command over the language, but with slight errors and inappropriate uses. Although capable of understanding descriptive arguments yet often misunderstand certain things in an unfamiliar situation.
7Good userThe candidate has operational command of the language, with some errors, inappropriate usage and misunderstandings in some unfamiliar situations. They have a good overall understanding of detailed arguments.
6Competent userThe candidate has a good command of the overall language use but with some errors, despite some inaccuracies, inappropriate usage and misunderstandings. They can use and understand fairly complex language, particularly in familiar situations.
5Modest userThe test taker has a partial command of the language and copes with overall meaning in most situations, although they are likely to make many mistakes. They should be able to handle basic communication in their own field.
4Limited userThe test taker’s basic competence is limited to familiar situations. They frequently show problems in understanding and expression. They are not able to use complex language.
3Extremely Limited userThe candidate can communicate only superficially in familiar situations with many breakdowns.
2Intermittent userThe candidate faces difficulty in understanding spoken and written English.
1Non-userThe candidate can only use a couple of words in isolation but has no ability to use the language overall.
0Did not attempt the testThe candidate failed to answer any questions/didn’t attempt the test.

Check your IELTS band using our IELTS Band Score Calculator


Given below are the different types of questions that you can expect in the examination. Make sure that you are well versed with each type and have practised each type thoroughly to ace the listening section. The number of questions from type is not fixed and varies from paper to paper.

1. Fill in the blanksCandidates will be asked to fill in the blanks based on the recording being played.   The question can be in different formats like:   a. Form: mainly consists of factual data like names, addresses, phone numbers, date of birth, etc. b. Tabular data: deals with filling information belonging to a particular category – for example, cloth category, its price, etc. c. Flow chart: any information with a step-by-step information flow or stages connected together using arrows.  
2. Multiple choice questionIn this question type, a question is followed by three possible options. The candidate may have to choose one or more than one options.  
3. Match the informationIn this question type, candidates are required to match certain items from a list given in the recording to the list given in the question paper.  
4. Sentence CompletionThe candidate is required to complete the sentences by summarising the information from the recording and fill the blanks with the number of words/numbers as mentioned in the question statement.  
5. LabellingIn this question type, candidates are required to complete the labels on either of the templates like a map of a town, diagram of a structure, etc.  


Here are the tips to improve your IELTS listening skills:

  1. Practice is the key: The more one practices, the better one gets. This applies to everything in life including the IELTS examination. The most important skill that you need is to practice the different question types, and various mocks and also analyse your mistakes.
  2. Expose your ears to various accents every day: The IELTS exam will present a range of accents, being a global exam and hence, it is important for you to expose yourself to the different accents. An unfamiliar accent can make it difficult for you to even catch a simple detail and hence result in a loss of marks.
  3. Plan well before the recording begins: You will be given some type before the recording begins. Planning during this time will prove to be utterly beneficial for you. It is advisable that you use this time well by getting familiar with the different question types and anticipating the information that will follow. This will give you an upper hand and a focused mindset.
  4. Build up focus: A focused and calm mind can handle any situation better than a distracted and chaotic mind. This is why the candidates are advised to enhance their focus as listening requires a lot of concentration. Ensure that you are actively listening, are not distracted and have complete concentration on the day of the final exam to get the maximum score.
  5. Don’t get stuck on a single question: The candidate must not get caught up in the anxiety of not being able to do one single question. If you missed one question, make sure you quickly move on from the question and refocus your mind on the upcoming question. If you fail to catch up with every subsequent question, you’ll end up missing one question after the other, thus the majority of the section will be missed. 


IELTS listening is a general test of a candidate’s English Language skills and does not require any heavy specialization in the language. Yet, many aspirants fail to get a good score in the exam due to the following reasons –

  1. Being a passive listener: A successful listening score depends on how proactively are you listening to the recording that is being played. If you are only listening to the recording passively, you are bound to get stuck up on questions and miss them. Ensure that you are listening with a full focus which will definitely lead to a good score in the exam.
  2. Inability to understand various accents in English: It is very important for a candidate to be well-exposed to various international accents. If you face any difficulty while understanding a particular accent, make sure you practice that accent very well in time before the actual exam.
  3. Inability to read and follow the instructions carefully: For every set of questions, prior instructions will be given. If the candidate fails to comprehend and apply those instructions properly, it will result in wrong answers.
  4. Making mistakes while transferring the answers: After the recordings are played, candidates are given sufficient time to transfer their answers to the answer sheet. Due to carelessness, often the candidate transfers an answer incorrectly. This leads to a loss of precious marks despite knowing the correct answer. 


The IELTS listening subtest is a test that can take your overall score really high if you put in the right effort at the right time. Make sure that you practice all the possible question types that have been asked and practice tests with consistency. A combination of consistent hard work and a focused mind will take you to your ideal IELTS score. Be confident and maintain your calm in the examination hall. Definitely, you will get success!

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