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In the IELTS Listening test, recordings are only played once. But there is no need to worry because today we will look at common mistakes made in the IELTS Listening test and tips on how to prepare for your IELTS Listening test.

Following instructions and understanding the questions

The Listening test consists of 4 parts with each part containing one or more sets of question types. Instructions for each part of the Listening test are given to you before and after each audio recording. And you will have some time to prepare for each set of questions.   

It is difficult to concentrate on what you hear while trying to read the questions at the same time, so make sure you: 

  • Read the questions first before you listen to the recording 

  • Check the type of answer you have to write (e.g., a letter, an option from the box, etc.) 

  • Use a pencil to underline or circle key words in the instructions and questions to help you focus on what to listen out for in the recordings 

  • Check your answers after the audio clip is played and use this time to prepare for the next part of the test. 

Understand specific information

Sometimes it is difficult to determine exactly which information you should use to answer the question. For certain question types like form-filling, you must listen carefully to fill in particular information such as a name, date, time or other details.  

To help understand the question, make sure you: 

  • Read the question carefully, so you know what information you are listening for 

  • Spend some time studying the information given to you and then listen to the instructions.  

  • Think of synonyms for your keywords (words with similar meaning) as the recording will use different words or phrases to the wording in your question booklet.

Following a description

Part 2 of the Listening test involves tasks like labelling a map, plan, or diagram. You will need to figure out where things are, what something is made up of, or how it works. You might have a task where you will need to identify places, buildings, parts, or stages of a process.  

There will be some keywords in the recording to help guide you. These keywords may be: 

  • Verbs, adjectives (size, shape, quality) 

  • Directions (north, south, east, west) 

  • Prepositions of position or place (in front of, next to, behind) 

If you are unsure of which side is left or right or where north or south is, a simple hint is to write L and R and draw the compass points on your question booklet. This will make it easier to follow directions.

Understanding a conversation

In Part 3 of IELTS Listening, you will have to follow a discussion with up to four speakers talking about a study-related topic. You will be asked to listen for important facts, ideas, reasons, views, or opinions.  

It can be hard to identify who is talking and what they are saying, so always: 

  • Read the text before you start listening to the recordings 

  • Note down information about the speakers, their relationships, and how it relates to the situation.  

This can help you anticipate which speaker is about to talk and what the speakers are going to talk about. 

Following a lecture/talk

Because the level of difficulty increases as the Listening test progresses, Part 4 is often regarded as the most challenging in the Listening test. In Part 4, you will listen to a talk or a lecture on an academic subject (e.g. a university lecture).  

Make sure you listen for signpost words that the speaker uses to indicate the different stages of the talk. These signpost words, for example, can include:  

  • Firstly 

  • On the other hand 

  • Although 

  • Because

  • To name a few 

  • Finally.  

These words signal what information is coming next and can help you to follow what the speaker is talking about.  

And make sure you also pay attention to stress and intonation as the speaker will use it to highlight important information.

Word counts

The Listening test instructions will tell you how many words are in the answer. For example, no more than ONE word, no more than TWO words and/or a number.

Read the word-count instructions very carefully to avoid adding in extra words and remember: 

  • If the instruction says ONE word and you write ‘the bus’, the answer will be marked as incorrect, even though ‘bus’ is the correct word.  

  • If you write a number in words and not numerals, that is acceptable. For example, ‘three hundred and twenty’ is ‘320’ and counts as ‘a number’.  


Correct spelling is essential in the Listening test.  If the spelling is incorrect, then it will be marked as wrong. Make sure you can spell commonly used words correctly, like library, environment, street, avenue, professor, and so on.  

If you are planning to take the IELTS on paper test, you will be given 10 minutes to transfer your answers from the question booklet to the answer sheet. Remember to check the spelling, listen carefully to the instructions, and make sure you put the right answers in the right place.  

As with all tests, the key to success is to be prepared and to practice. With practice and preparation, you can put yourself in the best possible position to succeed.