What's Tested on the IELTS Listening Section

The Listening module consists of four recorded sections, each containing ten questions, and takes 30 minutes to complete. You will only hear each recording once so you must be prepared to know what to listen for. You are not expected to have any specialist knowledge, but you should be able to deal with a range of topics and a number of different voices and accents.
Each of the four sections in a Listening module may have up to three types of questions. Before each section, you will hear a short introduction about the speaker(s) and the situation. This introduction is not printed on the test paper. You are then given 30 seconds to look over the questions before the recording continues. You will have another short break (30 seconds) each time there is a new set of questions within the section, so you can look over the next set of questions before the recording continues.
Each section is played only once, and the questions always follow the order of the information presented in the recording. After each section, you are given 30 seconds to check your answers.
In any Listening module, there are always the same four section types, which always appear in the same order. The first two sections are from everyday contexts and the last two from educational contexts.

  • Section 1: A conversation between two people in a real-life context, often involving customer service, in which information is exchanged.
  • Section 2: A monologue in a real-life context, often involving directions, a description of a place, event, organization or process.
  • Section 3: A conversation, usually between two students, sometimes being guided by a tutor.
  • Section 4: An extract from a lecture.


Listening Section Question Types

There are six main question types in the Listening module; you may see any or all of them in any given test paper. The fourth type combines several similar formats into a single question type; in the Kaplan IELTS book, we will consider examples and strategies for these individual formats. The table describes the different question types, and whether you are expected to write a letter, word(s) or a number.
Question TypeForm of Answer
Multiple ChoiceChoose the correct letter
MatchingChoose the correct letter
Plan, map, diagram labellingChoose the correct letter or word
Form, note, table, flow-chart, summary completionWrite words and/or numbers
Sentence completionWrite words and/or numbers
Short answerWrite words and or numbers

For questions involving money or measurements, you should write the unit (e.g. £, cm, %) if it is not already given on the test paper. It is not necessary to write the full form (e.g.; pounds, centimeters, percentages); the abbreviated form or symbol is fine. Abbreviated forms (£12, 3 cm, 45%) count as a number.
Once you have heard all four sections, you will have a further 10 minutes to transfer your answers from the test paper to the answer sheet. You will only receive credit for answers that have been entered on the answer sheet. The examiners do not mark anything you have written on the test paper.
The Listening section always begins with an example, which you do not have to answer.

Listening Strategies

  • Read the instructions before the start of each recording, so you know how many words you should write. The word limit includes all articles and prepositions. Do not go above the word limit or your answer will be marked incorrect.
  • Underline the keywords in the questions and options before you listen. Underlining the keywords around each blank can help you listen more effectively.
  • Before each recording starts read the questions and information carefully to get the gist of the recording.
  • Ask yourself who is talking and what they are talking about.
  • Analyze the questions and decide what type of information is required for each blank. This may include information such as a price, name or time.
  • Eliminate options in multiple choice questions by putting a mark (such as a cross) next to them when you are sure they are wrong.
  • Try to re-phrase the notes and questions in your own words. This could help you to identify the moment when the speaker is about to give the correct answer.
  • Listen for any synonyms or paraphrases that have the same meaning as the information you expect to hear; sometimes you will hear the correct answer said in a different way.
  • Listen for any clue that the speaker is about to answer the questions. They will probably use different words than those in the question.
  • Do not write more than the maximum number of words you are asked for. Write only the words you hear, without changing them.
  • If you miss an answer, do not worry – keep listening. Otherwise, you will miss the next question, too! Make sure you include an answer for every question. You will not lose marks for wrong answers.
  • As you copy your answers, check that the words you have written make sense in the context, are grammatically correct and are correctly spelt.
  • Do not copy anything printed on the test paper when transferring your answers to the answer sheet. You should copy only what you yourself have written.
  • You will have plenty of time during the Listening test to read the questions and check your answers, so don’t panic.
  • Predict key points based on the main idea. Using your prediction skills makes listening easier. Once you have identified the topic it will help you to find out certain details. For example, a student who wants to talk about his term paper might have problems with his topic, organization, due date, length, bibliography or a partner. Similarly, a professor who gives a lecture on bees might discuss their appearance, abilities, evolution, migration, reproduction, diet, the reasons for studying them, and so on. Knowing the possibilities makes it easier to understand what a speaker says.
  • Do not try to record everything in notes. If you decide to take notes during the exam, make sure they are effective and efficient. That means you need to determine the topic of the talk, study the questions and decide what type of information and what types of words are missing. Focus on noting down only those words. You can either leave out less important words or record them using symbols and abbreviations.
  • Be familiar with number conventions, such as telephone numbers, decimal numbers, prices, fractions, thousands, and dates.

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