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1-Active listening and note-taking skills for IELTS - SEA

Listening is often a skill overlooked by students during the course of preparing for IELTS. It’s too easy to assume that good hearing equates to effective listening and success in the IELTS Listening test. That’s not exactly true. Hearing is passive, but listening demands engagement with what you hear.

When it comes to excelling in IELTS Listening, you must further combine this active listening skill with smart notetaking to ensure you manage your time well enough to tackle all test questions. Read on to learn how to use both skills to your advantage while you prepare for IELTS.

What are active listening and effective note-taking skills?

Active listening involves grasping the implicit and explicit message conveyed. In other words, rather than listening to something, you are listening for something. Along the same line of thought, individuals with effective note-taking skills don't just transcribe everything they hear. Rather, they actively discern the audio, jot down and organise the key points.

Benefits of active listening and note-taking

Adopting this approach can enhance your performance in the IELTS Listening test in several ways:

1. Improved understanding

Test-takers are advised to read the question clearly and answer accordingly, as well as to maximise the reading time of questions before the audio is played. Focusing intently and processing the information you hear improves your comprehension of the audio clips, making it easier to draw conclusions and answer your IELTS Listening test questions accurately.

2. Better time management and information recall

Meanwhile, effective note-taking aids in extracting crucial details from the audio clips quickly and organising them in a way that is easy to comprehend later. It also helps you identify connections between concepts recorded and reinforce the information in your memory. This consequently makes it easier to recall the required details when answering questions, and improves your response time for the IELTS Listening test.

3. The ability to filter through noise

During the IELTS Listening test, the sheer amount of information and speed at which it is presented makes it almost impossible to jot down every detail for your subsequent reference. This is where active listening skills become vital.

When you listen actively, you can better distinguish the main points from the less significant details in the audio, which is one of the key skills tested in IELTS Listening. This enables you to record what is relevant and crucial for answering your test, improving the accuracy of your responses and test score.

How do you listen and take smart notes?

If you’re looking to enhance your active listening and note-taking skills, the following tips can be helpful:

Active listening skills

1. Focus on the intent and purpose

Active listening starts with fully engaging and being receptive to the conversations and monologues. As such, when attempting IELTS Listening online practice tests like those offered by IDP, it’s crucial not to pre-empt, judge or make assumptions about what will be said next. Be mindful that the answers might come up earlier than intended in the audio, and stay alert to possible synonyms and similar phrases to pick out the right information. Keeping an open mind ensures you remain attentive to details and avoid letting your judgements affect your comprehension.

2. Note down changes in the topic

Another way to enhance your active listening skills is to be alert to verbal signposts. These can help you discern when the speaker is about to convey main ideas, elaborations, examples, or new topics. Such signposts include those that indicate order and those that show relationships.

Signposting of order signals the sequence of a discussion in introductions, conclusions, and when moving between major concepts or discussing methods and procedures. Some examples include:

Type of word


Listing words

● Firstly

● To begin with

● Afterwards

● Next

● Following this

● Finally

● Lastly

● To conclude

Referring forward

● As we shall see

Referring backward

● As discussed previously

● Initially

Signposting of relations involves using words to demonstrate the connections between different ideas. They are used when the speaker is making comparisons or contrasts, establishing cause and effect, summarising key points, providing examples, or highlighting crucial information. Examples of these words include:

Type of word


Words building on ideas

● As well as

● In addition

● Besides

● Also

● Furthermore

Words indicating similarity

● Similarly

● Likewise

Words indicating examples

● For instance/example

● To illustrate

● In particular

● Namely

● Notably

Words indicating contrasting ideas

● In contrast

● However

● Rather.

● Conversely

● Instead

● Whereas

● On the other hand

● Alternatively

● Despite this

● Nonetheless

● Then again

Words indicating cause and effect

● Therefore

● Consequently

● Thus

● As a result

● This means that

● Hence

● In view of this

● With this in mind

● As a result

● Subsequently

Summary of ideas

● To sum up

● Overall

● In short

Repetition of ideas

● In other words

● That is to say


● In particular

● Especially

● In fact

● Moreover

● Furthermore

As the audio conversation during the Listening test will follow the order of questions, test-takers should keep an ear out for verbal signposts to help you identify the core message and answers within the audio track.

Equally important are verbal cues, such as changes in the speaker's tone, volume, speed, emotion, and emphasis. By tuning into them, you can better capture critical details and bolster your audio comprehension, enabling you to better answer the test.


2 - Active listening and note-taking skills for IELTS - SEA

1. Use shorthand and abbreviations

During the IELTS Listening test, where time is of the essence, taking notes in complete sentences is not always possible. In such scenarios, employing symbols and abbreviations for commonly used words, phrases, or names is a smart strategy. This method lets you keep pace with the information flow without missing essential details. However, using a consistent shorthand system is important to facilitate subsequent recall and interpretation.

2. Write down keywords

Another tip on how to be smart about notetaking is to avoid getting bogged down by every word. Instead, selectively note down words that are pivotal to understanding the content and answering the test questions as well. An example is to skip common words like “the” and “a,” which don’t contribute significantly to the meaning. This strategy ensures that if you miss a detail, you can quickly regain your bearings and continue to take in the subsequent information shared. This balance between being concise and informative allows for efficient and effective comprehension during IELTS Listening.

3. Structure your notes

Besides capturing the details, organising your information well is also a key aspect of smart notetaking, as it ensures that you can easily understand and use your notes to answer questions. To get started, consider using different bullet points to distinguish major points from minor ones. This structure helps you quickly recognise the hierarchy of the presented information.

Meanwhile, a rough mind map is a good way to visually map out connections between ideas, making complex information more digestible. However, a rule of thumb is to first test out the different approaches during your usual IELTS Listening practice. While the test itself will involve answering questions in the structured order they come in, practice sessions are a good time to see which idea organisation method works best for you. Over time this will hone your question-answering skills and accuracy too.

IELTS Listening practice: tools and resources

As with any skill, practice makes perfect, and consistently and actively employing these techniques is vital to help you sharpen your test skills and impress the examiner. If you’re looking for resources to help you study for IELTS Listening, IDP’s IELTS Prepare offers a range of free IELTS preparation materials online for test takers to leverage.

These include free IELTS Listening practice tests that help you familiarise yourself with the format and types of questions you will encounter while applying your newly acquired skills. By opting for IELTS Progress Check, the official practice test, you can even benefit from having your mock test marked by IDP’s in-house experts. As a joint owner of IELTS, you can trust that we understand the nuances of the IELTS test, ensuring you receive the most up-to-date training and curated resources that maximise your study efficiency.

Whether you’re looking for an IELTS preparation course for a structured approach and guidance, test tips and videos or webinars, IDP’s IELTS preparation materials will help you with the IELTS Listening segment and acing the test. You can make significant headwinds in your studies with targeted practice and feedback.

So, download the IELTS by IDP app to start using our resources in your test preparation journey, and set the stage for success by booking your IELTS test with IDP.