The IELTS Exam Listening Test

The IELTS Listening exam tests your listening comprehension skills. In this part of the IELTS test, you have to answer different types of questions based on four recordings. The recordings include a variety of Native English accents as well as different types of situations. There is no option to pause or replay any of the audio and they are only played once.

It is important to note that the answers to the questions appear in the same order during the recordings and this is useful in guiding you throughout the recording as you try to listen out for answers. This article aims to guide you about the IELTS Listening test format and structure and is useful for test-takers from Singapore as well as other places where the IELTS exam is offered.

Why Are Listening Skills Tested In The IELTS Exam?

The IELTS Listening test is designed to assess your listening comprehension skills. It gives a good indication of whether or not a candidate will be able to understand the real-world listening situations that one might encounter when studying in or moving to an English-speaking country. It also checks your understanding of English as spoken with different accents (American, British, Australian).

The IELTS Listening Exam Format

The listening section of the IELTS exam lasts for 30 to 40 minutes. Test takers will have 30 minutes to complete the Listening test. During this time test-takers will have to listen to the recording and answer in rough in your question paper. An additional 10 minutes is provided at the end of the test to neatly transfer your answers to the answer sheet. The test consists of 40 questions, worth one mark each. The number of questions that you get correct will be converted using a grading system to your final Listening band score. There are 4 parts, consisting of 10 questions. Each section represents a different type of situation and the difficulty of questions increases progressively with every part.

Part 1: A conversation between two speakers in social or semi-social context. For example, a conversation about inquiring about accommodation or a job application.

Part 2: A talk by a single speaker in a non-academic situation. For example, someone could be giving a talk about the features of a tourist spot.

Part 3: A conversation with up to 4 speakers based on academic topics or course-related situations. For example, this could a conversation between students discussing a group assignment

Part 4: A university-style lecture or talk. This part of the test usually focuses on academic topics that you would usually hear about in a university lecture.

Difference Between The Computer-Based And Paper-Based Listening Tests

In the paper-based IELTS test, the audio is played by the speaker. This can create an issue of clarity. In the computer-based test, every candidate is provided with a pair of headphones which helps the candidate to listen clearly to the audio. However, students have to answer directly into the computer while they listen to the recording. This can be problematic if you are not that adept at typing.

In the computer-delivered Listening test, the timings are slightly different from the paper-based test. The computer-based test gives just two extra minutes to check your answers. The paper-based test gives 10 minutes to manually transfer answers.

Important Things to Note About the Listening Test

  • You only hear the recordings once. It’s important to stay focused on listening out for the correct answers. There are pauses of about 30 seconds between recordings which must be used wisely to analyse the next set of questions.
  • Correct spelling is important. Make sure you transfer your answers carefully, with the proper spellings.
  • Certain questions require a specific word limit, you might be asked to answer questions using no more than one or two words. Unfortunately, many test-takers lose valuable marks due to their inability to follow the instructions regarding word limits.

It’s important to find a free practice test which is based on actual Cambridge IELTS Tests. Use full-length exams in which you’ll find questions that reflect what you’ll see on the test day and that gives you all the necessary help and information needed to guide you through the test before you start. You can use these practice tests to get a better idea of what the IELTS listening test is actually like.

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.