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Why IELTS Listening is difficult for you – and how to make it easier


The IELTS listening test can seem overwhelming and difficult. If it’s your first time sitting for the test, it can be easy to fumble and make errors, especially if you aren’t used to multitasking.

Many candidates find the IELTS Listening component tough because of the various types of recordings being played and you’re only given the chance to listen once!

Thankfully, with the right resources, strategies and preparation, you’ll be able to shore up your weaknesses to score better on test day.

Here’s why the IELTS listening test isn’t as difficult as it seems, plus effective strategies to help you ace the assessment.

Why IELTS Listening is difficult for you and how to get the score you want.

1. You aren’t used to listening to spoken English

During the IELTS listening test, you will be exposed to four different recordings that can range from conversations to monologues.

This means encountering a whole slew of different accents including American, British and even Australian accents. In addition, there will be different mannerisms from each speaker that you might not be used to listening to.

During the test, the recordings will only be played once. You’ll have to immediately sort through the different accents and understand the underlying information or meaning being presented.

A great way to prepare is to start listening to more English-based conversations and dialogues. This can be from a variety of sources including news channels, podcasts or even radio stations.

Here are some news channels you can watch to get exposed to different accents and styles:

  • CNN (American)

  • BBC (British)

  • ABC News (Australian)

  • TVNZ1 (New Zealand)

2. Your knowledge of common English phrases and terms is limited

Having a wide breadth of vocabulary is important to score well during your IELTS listening test.

Speakers tend to use a wide variety of English phrases, terms and words that might seem alien to you if your knowledge is lacking.

Phrases such as ‘through thick and thin’ and ‘come rain or shine’ have underlying meanings that can completely change the context of a sentence or even an entire story.

You can start to increase your knowledge of common English phrases by exposing yourself to a variety of programmes beyond just the regular news channels.

These include programs such as:

  • BBC Earth

  • Animal Planet

  • ABC Four Corners

  • National Geographic

You’ll want to note down key phrases and terms as you listen and apply them yourself in practice.

3. You can’t pick up on key information well

The listening test requires you to understand the main ideas presented as well as the detailed factual information and opinions shared.

This is essential as you’ll be required to answer 40 questions in the IELTS listening test that are spread out across different tasks that include:

  • Multiple choice questions

  • Matching numbered lists

  • Map and diagram labelling

  • Sentence completion

In order to score well, you’ll want to be an active listener and start paying attention to key details in the conversations or monologues. Focus on key facts and opinions as well as look at the test questions for clues.

If there is a $ sign in front of an answer, you will know to listen out for the mention of money and its amount.

An effective way to be an active listener is to practice extensively with sample tests. You can also start having conversations with a friend who can quiz you after the session without you knowing the questions beforehand!

4. You can’t multitask well

Multitasking is key in your IELTS listening test. Not only will you be required to listen to the recordings, but you will also have to write down or type in your answers.

You’ll have to listen, read and write simultaneously while answering the questions in the right context. Because there will be a variety of tasks that range from short-answer questions to multiple-choice and sentence completion, you’ll want to be very familiar with the question types.

In order to build your multitasking muscle, you’ll want to start doing timed listening practice tests. This allows you to work on your active listening and scanning skills while helping you get used to answering questions at the same time.

5. You can’t concentrate well during the test

Stress is a killer, especially on test day! If you can’t seem to concentrate well during the test it might be due to one or two things.

Either you aren’t well prepared enough or you are just tired and putting too much pressure on yourself. It is important to keep yourself in a relaxed state and to be in a good mood.

Ensuring you perform your best starts well before test day. You’ll want to get ample rest the day before and take steps to remove stress.

Studies show that music can have a powerful positive effect on your mind while meditation is proven to calm and clear your nerves.

Remember that IELTS listening is just a test and you’ll eventually pass it; there is no need to rush. All you can do is to prepare well and do your best on test day. Hang in there, you can do it!


Get ready for your IELTS with our preparation materials

Sitting for your IELTS test can be difficult and tough, but with our resources, you can easily even the odds and attain the band score you desire for your dream course!

Here are some of our preparation materials for you:

Be sure to practice them and invest enough in your IELTS preparation before sitting for the test.

Develop your IELTS writing, reading and speaking skills here

Having difficulty with the other components of your IELTS test? Fret not, here are our resources to help you get a leg up!

Why you find the IELTS Writing test difficult

Why you find the IELTS Reading test difficult

Why you find the IELTS Speaking test tough


Breeze through your IELTS listening test with IDP

While the IELTS listening test might seem intimidating, all you need is regular practice and you’ll have it in the bag!

By consistently exposing yourself to English programs and by being an active listener, you’ll gradually improve your listening skills. Combine that with deliberate practice with sample tests, there’s no reason to fret.

Ready to take your test? Get started with IDP.

The official co-owner of IELTS, IDP offers convenient test locations and free test preparation materials to support you. Learn why you should take your IELTS test with us.

Book your IELTS test today to begin your journey.