Maximising Your IELTS Listening Score: Strategies for Tackling Varied Question Formats 

 May 1, 2024

By  Jonathan

The IELTS Listening test challenges your ability to comprehend spoken English and extract information in diverse ways. This requires not only strong overall listening comprehension but also familiarity with the various question formats you’ll encounter. Mastering strategies for each type is essential for maximising your Listening score.

Common IELTS Listening Question Types

  • Multiple Choice: Choose the correct answer from a few options. May focus on main ideas, details, or speakers’ opinions.
  • Matching: Pair items from two lists based on the information in the audio. Requires attention to detail and understanding of relationships.
  • Fill-in-the-Blank: Complete sentences or a table with short answers, often requiring specific words or numbers heard in the recording.
  • Labelling Diagrams, Maps, or Plans: Accurately label elements based on the audio cues.
  • Short Answer: Briefly answer questions in your own words based on the recording.

Strategies for Success: Multiple Choice Questions

  • Eliminate Obviously Wrong Options: This saves time and narrows your focus.
  • Look out for Paraphrasing: The correct answer in the audio may use different wording than the question’s options.
  • Prediction: If possible, anticipate the type of information needed based on the options before the audio starts.
  • Consider All Options: Don’t choose the first answer that seems correct. Listen to verify it throughout the corresponding audio section.

Strategies for Success: Matching Questions

  • Scan Lists Thoroughly: Understand all options in both lists before the audio begins, giving yourself a general sense of the topic.
  • Synonyms Matter: Be alert to the audio using synonyms or related phrases instead of the exact words in the lists.
  • Don’t Assume Order: The information you need from the audio might NOT come in the same order as the lists.
  • Process of Elimination: Crossing out used items can prevent confusion.

Strategies for Success: Fill-in-the-Blank Questions

  • Grammar Awareness: The words surrounding the blank will often give cues as to whether you need a noun, verb, adjective, etc.
  • Don’t Overthink: Answers are usually straightforward and verbatim from the audio.
  • Pay Attention to Number/Spelling: Be meticulous about accurate spelling and singular vs. plural forms.
  • Context is Key: The sentence around the blank helps you predict the type of information needed and verify if your answer makes sense.

Strategies for Success: Labelling Diagrams, Maps, or Plans

  • Note Orientation: Quickly familiarise yourself with how the diagram is organised (top/bottom, directions, etc.)
  • Vocabulary Cues: The instructions usually explain any specific vocabulary needed to label correctly.
  • Attention to Detail: Audio cues may include directional language, prepositions, and specific locations.
  • Spelling Counts: Check if correct spelling is required for scoring. Accuracy is essential!

Strategies for Success: Short Answer Questions

  • Instructions Matter: Note the word limit and whether answers must be complete sentences.
  • Use Your Own Words: Avoid lifting phrases verbatim from the audio, even if they seem to answer the question.
  • Avoid Unnecessary Information: Respond directly to the question, without adding extra details unless they are required for the answer to make sense.
  • No Guessing: Only answer if you heard information related to the question. Unanswered questions are better than incorrect ones.

Remember: Practice is Key!

While understanding strategies is important, applying them under timed conditions through practice tests is where you truly hone your skills. Additional tips:

  • Analyse Incorrect Answers: Understand WHY you got something wrong – vocabulary gap, misheard detail, misunderstanding the question?
  • Note Recurring Struggles: Do you consistently have more difficulty with a certain question type? Target these for extra practice.
  • Track Your Progress: Note if you improve on specific question formats with continued practice, indicating your strategies are working.

The Importance of Familiarity

Effectively tackling the variety of IELTS Listening question formats reduces stress on test day, allowing you to focus fully on understanding the audio content itself. By strategically practising each question type and understanding the common pitfalls, you position yourself for the best possible performance within the time constraints of the IELTS Listening section.

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.