Increasing your vocabulary range is important if you want to become a more proficient language learner. Understanding words and knowing how to use them and write them correctly is important and will help you perform better in the IELTS Listening test. You are being tested on understanding what you hear, however, if your answer is spelled incorrectly, your 'correct' answer will be marked as incorrect.
Each part of the Listening test presents different vocabulary groups, starting with the most frequently used vocabulary in Part 1, to vocabulary that is specific to a range of topics in Part 4. We will look at the most commonly used words in all four parts of the IELTS Listening test along with tips and advice on how to spell English words correctly.
Part 1: familiar vocabulary
Basic vocabulary that you would have studied when first learning English is included in Part 1 of the Listening test. You will hear a conversation between two people set in an everyday social setting. The vocabulary used will be familiar word groups relating to everyday life, dates, times, places, activities, work and leisure.
Even though these words are used commonly, they are often spelled incorrectly so valuable marks are lost in the easiest part of the Listening test.
1. Days of the week: Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday
Quick Tip: Wednesday is commonly misspelled.
2. Months and seasons of the year: January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December, winter, spring, autumn, summer
Quick Tip: The first ‘r’ in February is often forgotten. If you struggle with spelling, you can choose to write the date using numbers as long as these numbers are written in the correct format. E.g. 'the 10th of February, 2020' = 10/02/2020
Quick Tip: the final 'n' in autumn is often forgotten as we don't hear the silent 'n'.
3. Shapes: circle, square, rectangle, triangle, cylinder, oval
Quick Tip: Shapes can be used when we refer to places in a city, King George Square, so it's important that you can spell common shapes.
4. Transportation: automobile, truck, tractor, tram, subway, airplane, train, bicycle, car, pedestrian, passenger, commuter
Quick Tip: 'commuter' is often misspelled, confusing it with 'computer'!
5. Colours: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, white, black, brown
Quick Tip: Colour spelled with a ‘u’ is the Canadian/British spelling. In the US, it is spelled ‘color’ without a ‘u’. Both are correct and a matter of preference.
6. Verbs: suggest, develop, borrow, persuade, discuss, review, concentrate, believe, crash
Quick Tip: Sometimes verbs are conjugated for gender, tense, etc. The difference could give you an incorrect answer.
7. Adjectives: beautiful, necessary, fantastic, comfortable, convenient, wonderful, terrible, temporary, permanent, knowledgeable, exciting, boring, difficult, easy
Quick Tip: Make sure that you note adjectives that have double consonants (ss/mm). It is easy to miss a letter.
8. Numbers, times, and currencies: commonly appear in Part 1 of the listening test. Recording the corresponding number or symbol is suggested because this will help eliminate the possibility of spelling the word incorrectly.
For example, thirty dollars is the same as $30 on the listening test. Also, six o’clock and 6:00 are the same as well. Finally, ten thousand and 10,000 are also both correct. Writing the number or symbol allows you to feel more confident that you have not made a spelling mistake.
Quick Tip: When deciding on whether the answer is 30 or 13, listen to the stressed syllable. If it's 13, the stress is on the second syllable 'thirteen', if it's 30, the stress is on the first syllable 'thirty'.
Quick Tip: Copy the correct symbol from the Listening question to make sure you are using the correct currency. If you use '$' instead of '£', the answer will be incorrect.
Read our recent blog on how to write numbers in the IELTS test.
Part 2: a monologue, speech or talk
In Part 2 of the IELTS Listening test, you will hear a monologue which is set in an everyday context. You might hear a speech about local facilities, describing the layout of a recreation centre, or you will hear a description of rooms in a particular building. There are a variety of question types in this part of the test and some questions may involve maps so there is vocabulary that may be helpful to know.
If you see a map or diagram, the first piece of advice is to write L and R on either side of your booklet, to make sure you don't confuse your right with your left! It would also be useful to draw a compass with the points North, South, East and West if this has not been already done for you. Remember when you are under test conditions, you will be nervous, and may confuse left with right, meaning you cannot follow the description.
1. Rooms in buildings: kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, living room, dining room, lounge, library, gymnasium (gym), cafeteria (cafe), classroom, waiting room, reception, ticket desk, storage room, theatre
2. Place markers: street, road, avenue, lane, drive, court, place, terrace, way
There is some vocabulary you should be listening for, but may not have to write down when doing a map question in Part 2, which will allow you to follow the map more easily. Make sure you know where these direction words point to.
3. Directions and prepositions of place: north, south, east, west, up, down, right, left, straight, across from, between, beside, diagonal, corner, opposite, adjacent to, near, past, before, after
4. Verbs: turn, move, continue on, walk, cross, pass, start, finish, end, stop, go straight ahead
5. Places on a map: tennis court, river, courtyard, laboratory, building, bridge, road, path, traffic lights, bench, seat, table, basketball court, running track, swimming pool, beach, forest, garden, castle
Part 3: a conversation between people
In Part 3 of the IELTS Listening test, you will hear a conversation between up to four people. This conversation will generally be set in an educational or training context, for example, an university lecturer discussing an assignment with two students.
Being familiar with academic related vocabulary connected to learning, study and assessment may be helpful for this part of the test.
1. School terms: presentation, project, teamwork, pairs, organisation, outline, proofreading, experiment, reference, lecture, tutor, teacher, attendance, specialist, knowledge, faculty, bachelor’s, master's, schedule, management, leadership, questionnaire, statistic, percentage, laboratory, school, university, college
Quick Tip: North Americans pronounce ‘laboratory’ in three syllables: lab-bra-tory. British English speakers pronounce the same word using four syllables: lab-or-a-tory.
2. Subjects in school: Mathematics (Maths), Science, English, Physical Education (PE), Art, Music, Geography, Biology, Chemistry, History
Quick Tip: When students study a subject at school, their school year is divided into terms or semesters. They have breaks or holidays between each term.
3. Subjects in university: Commerce, Science, Psychology, Engineering, Marketing, Sociology, Medicine, History, Geography, Architecture, Law, Philosophy, Economics, Education
Quick Tip: When students study at university, their university year is divided into semesters. They usually have exam blocks at the end of each semester following by a break. They can study part-time or full-time and combine it with employment.
4. Examination: assessment, test, revision, pass, fail, repeat, supervise, supervisor, assess, exam, results, degree, certificate
Part 4: a university lecture
Even though Part 4 is the most difficult part of the IELTS Listening test, the vocabulary used is still words that are common knowledge. Part 4 is also based on academics, so there could be a range of different topics spoken about.
Look through the range of topic areas below and some vocabulary that is frequently used.
1. Health: vegetarian, vegan, healthy, unhealthy, leisure, disease, vitamin, protein, carbohydrates, exercise, treatment, obese, overweight, fit, doctor, check up, medicine, vitamin, pandemic, virus, cure, vaccination
2. Animals and their habitat: mammals, reptile, primates, predators, prey, mountain, jungle, forest, island, pond, river, stream, zoo, pet, endangered, species, ocean, sea
3. Continents and Countries: North America, South America, Asia, Africa, Europe, Antarctica, Australia, Oceania, England, Canada, China, United Kingdom, Germany, Mexico, Switzerland
4. Environment: global warming, disaster, earthquake, tornado, blizzard, hurricane, pollution, temperature, drought, flood, cyclone, volcanic eruption, deforestation, desertification, bush fires
5. Government: politics, leader, politician, senator, mayor, laws, regulations, senate, president, society, individual, council, rules
Quick Tip: The word ‘society’ is one of the most commonly misspelled words on the IELTS test.
6. Energy: nuclear, oil, coal, hydro electrical power, natural gas, solar power, source, generate, electricity, dam, windmill, wind turbine, renewable, non-renewable
Quick Tip: Remember to check your spelling of nuclear, it is often written as 'unclear', a simple typo that result in an incorrect answer.
7. General: appointment, cooperation, employment, government, exhibition, occupation, aluminum, century, decade, millennium, individual, creativity, guarantee, satellite, opportunity, licence, frequently, calendar, different
Quick Tip: The words ‘government’ and ‘different’ are two of the most commonly misspelled words in the IELTS test. Also, ‘aluminum’ is pronounced with four syllables in North American English: a-lu-min-num. It is pronounced with five syllables in British English: al-u-min-i-um.
To help you feel confident in the Listening test as well as the rest of the IELTS test, try to be knowledgeable on a variety of topics and have a good range of vocabulary to discuss those topics. If you need more tips and advice on how to build your vocabulary, read our blog on building mind maps. You will notice that the more you use these words, the more likely that you will be able to remember their meaning and also how to spell them.