The Role of Grammar in the IELTS Listening Exam 

 May 20, 2024

By  Jonathan

Many IELTS candidates focus intently on vocabulary building and pronunciation skills when preparing for their listening test. While these are indeed important, overlooking the role of grammar can be a costly mistake. Having a strong grasp of English grammar structures will significantly boost your listening comprehension and help you decode the information being presented, resulting in a higher overall score.

Why Grammar Matters in IELTS Listening

  • Understanding Sentence Structure: Listening isn’t just about individual words. Grammar allows you to make sense of how words are combined, revealing relationships between ideas and who or what is doing the action.
  • Connecting Ideas: Understanding pronouns, conjunctions, and how clauses link together is vital for following extended speech, particularly in the more academic-style recordings on the IELTS.
  • Picking Up Cues: Grammatical markers like verb tenses, prepositions, and articles signal shifts in time, location, and meaning, all essential for making sense of what you’re hearing.
  • Anticipating Information: Recognising sentence patterns used commonly in spoken English gives you clues about what type of information may come next. This helps you stay focused.

Key Grammar Areas for IELTS Listening

Let’s break down some essential grammar areas that have direct relevance to the listening exam.

  • Word Order: English generally follows a Subject-Verb-Object word order. Understanding this pattern helps you identify what the main idea of a sentence is.
  • Verb Tenses: Pay attention to whether verbs are past, present, or future. This provides context for when things happened or are likely to happen. Be particularly aware of the present perfect tense (have/has + past participle), as it’s commonly used to discuss ongoing situations or recent events.
  • Prepositions: These little words are easy to miss, yet they signal important relationships. Understanding common prepositions like “at”, “in”, “on”, “to”, and “for” is vital for deciphering location, time, and manner.
  • Articles: Knowing when “the” (definite) and “a/an” (indefinite) are used helps to distinguish between specific and general information, often giving you clues about whether the speaker is introducing a new topic or referring to something already mentioned.

How Grammar Errors Can Mislead You

  • Confusing Similar-Sounding Words: Mishearing “a” and “the” may make you think a speaker is referring to something when they’re not. Similarly, mishearing past and present verb forms can distort the meaning.
  • Incorrectly Parsing Information: Not being able to identify where one clause ends and another begins can leave you trying to understand longer, nonsensical stretches of speech, making it easy to lose focus and miss important points.

Improving Your Grammar for Listening

Here’s how to boost your grammar skills specifically for the listening section of the IELTS:

  • Active Listening Practice: Whenever you listen to English podcasts, news broadcasts, or audiobooks, focus not just on the general message but also how sentences are constructed.
  • Grammar Focused Exercises: Find listening exercises that target specific areas like verb tenses or prepositions, allowing you to pinpoint weaknesses.
  • Dictation: Choose short audio clips and attempt to transcribe them verbatim. This forces you to pay close attention to grammatical markers and word order.
  • Transcript Review: After listening exercises with transcripts available, compare your answers to the written script, noting where grammatical errors led you astray.

Additional Tips

  • Predict What’s Next: Use grammar clues to anticipate what a speaker might logically say next. This helps tune your listening.
  • Don’t Panic Over Unknowns: Focus on the core grammar structures to maintain overall comprehension even if specific vocabulary is unfamiliar.

Beyond the Basics

While this article highlights foundational aspects, be aware that more advanced grammatical constructions will also appear in the IELTS Listening, especially as the difficulty increases across the sections of the test. Having a solid understanding of the basics will make it easier to recognise and process these more complex structures.

Final Note

Remember, grammar isn’t an isolated skill you can only focus on outside of your listening practice. Every time you improve your understanding of how the English language is constructed, it strengthens your comprehension abilities overall. Making grammar focus a part of your regular study routine will translate into those higher band scores on your IELTS Listening Test.

Jonathan has been teaching students to prepare for the IELTS and PTE Exams for more than 10+ years. He's taught English to students in various countries in the world including Singapore, China, Australia, Canada and Colombia.