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IELTS Listening: active vs passive learning

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Navigating your IELTS preparation journey is a critical milestone, particularly if you are eyeing educational opportunities in English-speaking countries. An impressive IELTS Listening score doesn't just open doors, it swings them wide open. The crux of achieving a high IELTS band score in listening may well be the strategies you employ in your preparation course. Specifically, the age-old debate between active vs passive learning becomes crucial when tailoring your IELTS Listening practice. By judiciously leveraging both methods, you not only elevate your band score but also gain a comprehensive skill set.

In this article, we will unravel how to enhance your IELTS Listening skills through a balanced blend of active and passive learning techniques.

Understanding active listening

Active listening goes beyond mere hearing; it's an engaged form of learning that requires your complete focus, making it a cornerstone strategy for those aiming for a top-tier IELTS listening score. Whether you're enrolled in an IELTS preparation course or taking free IELTS mock tests, incorporating active listening into your study regimen is pivotal. By applying this method alongside your regular listening practice, you're on your way to elevating your IELTS listening band score while taking full advantage of the myriad IELTS preparation material available online.

Strategies for active listening

Dive into the actionable techniques that can elevate your IELTS Listening score. Here are the key strategies for effective active listening:

1. Focusing your attention

The first pillar of active listening is staying focused, a must-have skill for achieving a remarkable IELTS Listening score. Make sure to eliminate distractions like notifications on other devices and create a dedicated environment to fully engage with your listening practice. This approach of concentration not only enhances your active learning experience but also provides the focus needed to improve your listening capabilities.

2. Note-taking

Note-taking is a game-changing active learning strategy, especially if you're targeting a stellar IELTS Listening band score. Whether you're enrolled in an IELTS class or simply leveraging IELTS preparation resources online, capturing unfamiliar terms, key points, or phrases during your listening practice can dramatically improve your retention and understanding. By jotting down these nuggets of information, you're arming yourself to tackle the specific questions you'll encounter in the IELTS Listening section, thereby improving your chances of achieving a desirable IELTS band score.

3. Interactive engagement

If you're keen on elevating your IELTS Listening score, this active listening strategy is crucial. Interactive engagement means participating actively, for example by questioning the audio or making predictions and drawing conclusions related to the listening material, instead of just passively hearing it. This not only enriches your IELTS preparation material but also fortifies your skills needed to excel in the IELTS Listening section. This technique is woven into quality IELTS preparation courses and is a must-try during your free online IELTS mock test sessions or any other practice test and exam you undertake.

4. Summarising and reviewing content

Summarising and reviewing the content after each listening session is a cornerstone in active listening strategies. Taking a moment to encapsulate what you've absorbed not only helps in how you can improve your IELTS Listening skills but also aids in fortifying retention and comprehension. This active learning approach is often embedded in IELTS preparation courses and is a vital step to complete. It essentially acts as a self-assessment, giving you insights into your progress as you aim for that coveted IELTS band score in listening.

Understanding passive listening

Understanding passive listening is paramount, especially when weighed against active learning strategies directed to elevate your IELTS Listening test score. Unlike active engagement, passive listening usually occurs when you're multitasking — like driving or doing household chores. Interestingly, there's a place for this seemingly laid-back approach in your IELTS preparation. Incorporating passive listening can complement your practice for the IELTS listening test, offering unique advantages. While it may not replace the benefits of a structured online IELTS preparation course or the hands-on training you get in IELTS classes, it can add another layer to your learning strategy and even contribute positively to your overall band score.

Strategies for passive listening

Discover the underestimated power of passive listening and how it can complement your active strategies in IELTS preparation.

1. Background immersion

Background immersion — playing English audio while engaged in other activities — is a strategy frequently employed in classes to improve your listening skills. While this technique leans more toward passive learning, it serves as an excellent supplement to an all-encompassing IELTS preparation. If you're looking to boost your IELTS Listening test score, adding this passive listening element to your learning can strengthen your overall approach. Whether you're sifting through IELTS preparation material from your classes or participating in online IELTS mock tests for free, background immersion is a valuable layer that can positively impact your IELTS Listening band score.

2. Repetition

Repetition is a technique that straddles the line between passive vs active learning and offers a potent way to reinforce vocabulary and sentence structure. Universally endorsed as a pivotal method to elevate your IELTS Listening score, incorporating repetitive listening of the same piece of audio content multiple times can significantly enhance your study regimen. By embracing this approach, you not only enrich your learning experience but also advance towards securing the band score you want. This practice allows you to become familiar with the content, making it easier to understand and recall, ultimately solidifying your comprehension and retention of the material.

3. Use audio with visuals

When undertaking your IELTS preparation course, choosing a programme that combines audio with visual aids can offer a multi-sensory learning experience. This technique is especially effective for IELTS Listening practice, as it enhances word recognition and contextual understanding — key components for boosting your listening test score.

Comparing active and passive listening

Embarking on a journey to achieve a high IELTS Listening score involves a delicate balance of active and passive listening techniques. According to a meta-analysis of 225 studies, active learning significantly outperforms its passive counterpart  across various performance metrics, including exams. While passive learning plays a valuable role in building general language comprehension skills, it's important to note the potential drawbacks of relying solely on passive listening for IELTS preparation.

  • Lack of retention: Despite its merits, passive listening is not all sunshine and rainbows. You might remember the gist of what's said but miss the essential specifics necessary for achieving a high IELTS Listening band score.

  • Missed opportunities for skill development: IELTS isn’t just a test of your language abilities; it’s a comprehensive evaluation of your skills like understanding arguments, identifying attitudes, and more. Relying solely on passive listening robs you of honing these intricate skills.

  • No feedback mechanism: Unlike active listening, passive techniques often lack a feedback mechanism. So, you won't immediately know if you've grasped the details or skated over them, making it a bit risky.

In sum, a balanced approach, weaving both active and passive listening, appears most effective in IELTS preparation. For instance, incorporating active listening breaks is a dynamic way to balance passive learning in your IELTS preparation strategy. For every hour you spend engaged in passive listening activities, consider dedicating 10 minutes to active listening practice to enhance your listening skills. During these active intervals, fully engage with the audio, jot down notes, and even challenge yourself with a quick and free online IELTS mock test. This can help you gauge your progress and is invaluable for those aiming to achieve a remarkable IELTS band score in listening.

Preparing for the IELTS Listening exam

If you're striving for that coveted band score of 9 in IELTS Listening, you'll want to have a well-rounded strategy. Take advantage of IELTS preparation materials online , make the most of free IELTS online tests, and don’t hesitate to use the IELTS by IDP app . By blending active and passive learning techniques, you’re setting yourself up for success.

The IELTS test is the world's most recognised English proficiency test, accepted by over 11,500 organisations and institutions globally. By booking your test with us, you unlock access to exclusive perks such as online materials and a specialised IELTS preparation guide, ensuring you are well-prepared to achieve your desired band score. Don’t just meet but exceed your expectations and open doors to countless opportunities across the world. Book your IELTS test with IDP  now and embark on a journey to success.

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