IELTS Listening: Common Problems and Solutions (Part 2)

Previously, we discussed two problems – inability to understand accents and failing to keep pace with recordings – that test takers typically face during the IELTS Listening test and how best to deal with them.

A third problem that test takers grapple with is dealing with unfamiliar vocabulary. Even if you pick up every word on the recording, not knowing the meaning of key vocabulary can stop you from finding the correct answers. For instance, in Part 4 of the Listening test, if you didn’t know what the word ‘intact’ means, you might not be able to tell with complete confidence whether an artefact recovered from an excavation site is damaged or not.

Whilst it won’t be possible, or necessary, for you to know all the words you hear, expanding your vocabulary would certainly help improve your performance. You’re likely to come across particular types of vocabulary groups in each part of IELTS Listening – use this to your advantage. Words describing shapes and colours, for example, are likely to be used in Part 1, whereas common academic terms, such as syllabus and dissertation, frequently pop up in Part 3. Additionally, invest time in brushing up on your spelling because bad spelling will be penalised.

Finally, even if your listening comprehension is exceptional, a lapse in concentration can cost you dearly. In fact, it is not entirely uncommon for test takers to be distracted when they’re in the middle of the test, letting their attention wander as a result. When you’re loaded with so much information over half an hour, being able to keep your concentration is also something that demands practice.

If you have a poor concentration span, then it’s something you’ll need to work on before sitting IELTS. For starters, form a habit of listening to recordings in English that are reasonably long. Note-taking might help initially to stop your attention from wavering. Besides, learn strategies to tackle various question types so that you have a clear purpose while listening. Most importantly, enjoy developing your listening skills; if you treat it like a chore, you’re bound to lose interest sooner or later. And here’s a final tip – simulate exam conditions while practising listening so that you’ll feel less stress on test day. Good luck!

IELTS Listening: Common Problems and Solutions (Part 1)

The Listening section in IELTS may appear to be a breeze compared to the Writing or Reading sections, but it would still make sense to do some practice tests before you take the real thing.

Over two parts, we’ll talk about some common problems that test takers face and ways to get round them.

To begin with, failing to understand a speaker’s accent often proves to be an obstacle to doing well in the test. IELTS is internationally focused in its content. Naturally, the Listening section makes use of a variety of voices and a range of native-speaker accents, including North American, British, Australian and New Zealand. If you haven’t had much exposure to the speech rhythms and accents characteristic of the English-speaking world, it could be hard going.

Although there is an entire universe of native English accents out there, the good news is that IELTS has been known to use only neutral accents. One way to get better at comprehending standard native-speaker accents is by regularly listening to content produced in countries like the UK, the US, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. YouTube would be a good place to start, as it has tons of TV programmes filmed in the English-speaking world. The added bonus is that much of the content there comes with subtitles.

Another problem is test takers being unable to keep up with recordings. This is most common in the latter part of the Listening section, when speech gets faster. Sometimes, people are caught off guard – they lose their way and miss out on answering an entire set of questions.

To give yourself the best possible chance to keep pace with the speaker(s), see to it that you read all 10 questions in a part before the recording begins. That way, you can listen actively instead of having to do two things at the same time – i.e. reading questions and listening to the recording. Another strategy is to underline anchor words (e.g. names, numbers, technical words) while reading questions, as you’re likely to hear them in the same form later. This should help you navigate through a recording without getting lost.

Do read the next part to know about some more challenges that the Listening section can throw at you.

IELTS Test Day Advice: Listening (Part 3)

So far in this series, we’ve focused on some dos and don’ts that can help you ace the IELTS Listening section.

Here’s some more advice on what to do and what not to do during the test.      

9. Be mindful of grammar rules and spelling  

It isn’t entirely uncommon for test takers to do all the hard work to find the right answers, only to lose marks in careless fashion soon after. For example, they may forget to add an article (a, an, the) in front of a singular countable noun, misspell a word, or simply fail to pluralise a word. Remember, carelessness can hurt your chances of getting a high Listening score. 

10. Do not leave blanks

While it is important not to get stuck with a question, it doesn’t in any way mean that you leave blanks. There is no deduction of marks for entering wrong answers in the IELTS Listening and Reading sections. For this reason, it makes total sense to have a go even if you aren’t sure of the answer. Who knows, if it’s your day, you might earn yourself a valuable mark. And that one extra mark could sometimes change your band score.  

11. Do not go wrong with sequencing

At the end of the recordings, test takers get 10 minutes to transfer their answers on to the answer sheet. Be very careful while transferring answers so that you do not go wrong with sequencing. If answers go in the wrong boxes, they’ll be marked incorrect. One effective strategy to overcome this problem is to deal with answers in blocks of 10 – after writing answers to the first 10 questions, do a quick check against the question paper to ensure that you’ve written the answers in the appropriate boxes. Once you’re satisfied, proceed to write the next block of answers.  

12. Do use upper case if needed

Although grammar is important, capitalisation is not assessed in IELTS Listening. If you’re one of those people with illegible handwriting, use UPPER CASE throughout. It’s safer that way, as it’ll be easier for the clerical marker checking your answer sheet to identify letters.  

Follow these tips, and you’ll give yourself every chance to get a high Listening score. Good luck!

IELTS Test Day Advice: Listening (Part 2)

In a previous blog post, we gave you some advice on what to do during the Listening test – ensuring audio clarity, using time prudently, following instructions, and learning to anticipate what will be spoken in a recording.  

Read on for some more tips on IELTS Listening.     

5. Answer in the question booklet

Over half an hour, test takers need to answer 40 questions based on four different recordings. As you get to hear each recording only once, it’s important that you listen with rapt attention. Write your answers in the question booklet as you listen. That way, you can scribble down words without having to worry about your handwriting. Also, if you need to change an answer you’ve already written in the booklet, just cross it through before jotting down new information. Remember, your question booklet doesn’t get looked at, so feel free to write what you like.

6. Focus on finding answers

Seldom do test takers realise that they don’t have to understand every single word that is being said in the recordings. Don’t push the panic button if some parts of recordings go right over your head. Instead, stay calm and see if you can find any information that’ll help you answer the question(s) in hand.

7. Don’t get stuck

It’s quite possible that you might struggle to find the answer to a question despite your best efforts. Whatever you do, do not get stuck on a question and spend too much time; the recordings can’t be heard a second time. If a question seems too hard, quickly move on to the next one so that you are able to find the remaining answers.

8. Pick up signpost expressions  

Signpost expressions are words or phrases that help guide the listener through the various stages of a talk. Here are some examples: firstly, moving on, in fact, for instance, lastly, however, whereas. As they establish relationships between points, signpost expressions can help you understand how information is being organised in a talk. In other words, they help you tell whether the speaker is making comparisons, contrasting two things, adding information, or just sequencing ideas. This approach is particularly useful in the last part of IELTS Listening, when you’ll hear a university-style lecture on an academic topic.

We’ll be back soon with some more advice on how to improve your IELTS Listening scores.

IELTS Test Day Advice: Listening (Part 1)

Listening comprehension tests can be challenging for some, especially if they happen to be non-native English speakers. This may be down to various reasons, such as failing to understand speech sounds, having limited vocabulary, or experiencing too much anxiety.

In this series, we’ll give you handy bits of advice to do well in the IELTS Listening section.    

1. Ensure audio clarity

When your scores depend on how well you hear and understand recordings, nothing can be more important than audio clarity. At many British Council IELTS test centres, test takers get headphones so that they have the best possible audio experience. Before the test begins, use the volume wheel/button on your headphone to set the volume to what is the right level for you. If your headphone develops a problem at any point during the test, raise your hand right away. An invigilator would then come to your aid.

2. Use time wisely  

Before the recording in each section begins, test takers will receive some time (about half a minute) to read questions. How accurately you find answers will depend mostly on how well you understand questions. Use the time given to read questions carefully, taking in as much information as you possibly can. What you should also be doing is underlining important parts of the text – such as instructions and key words – so that you remember to focus on them while you listen.

3. Follow instructions

In IELTS Listening, the test taker’s ability to follow instructions is almost as important as their skill to find answers. For instance, if you have been asked to write NO MORE THAN TWO WORDS for each answer, then writing ‘works of art’ as the answer, instead of ‘art works’, will fetch you no marks. So, be alert all through the test!

4. Learn to anticipate

More often than not, it is possible to anticipate what the speakers might say and what vocabulary they are likely to use. This can be done in two ways: identifying the context and skimming through the questions. You’ll be able to guess who the speaker(s) will be and what they may talk about. Questions can also tell you what types of words may fit as answers – nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc.

Remember, as far as exam success goes, strategies count as much as language skills.

Understanding the IELTS Listening Test

When moving to an English-speaking country for work or study, one challenge that many foreigners face is communication. Even those with reasonably good English skills are stunned to find themselves struggling to follow the brand of English spoken abroad.

This is for the simple reason that native speakers pronounce differently. They employ a range of pronunciation features that many non-native speakers aren’t familiar with, such as contractions and weak forms.

Being an essential survival skill, listening comprehension is commonly assessed by language tests meant for migration, work, or study. Here’s an overview of the Listening section in IELTS, the language test trusted by universities, governments, and businesses the world over.  

Skills tested

IELTS Listening tests a wide range of skills needed to function efficiently in an all-English environment. This may include understanding factual information and main ideas, recognising the opinions and attitudes of speakers, and following the development of an argument or a talk.

Content

Unlike Reading, the Listening section in IELTS is the same for Academic and General Training test takers. The test has four sections, and includes both monologues and conversations. Conversations can involve as many as four speakers. While the first two sections are set in everyday social situations, the last two have an educational or training context. A range of voices is used, which means that test takers are likely to hear British, North American, Australian, or New Zealand accents.

Timing

IELTS Listening lasts approximately 30 minutes, at the end of which test takers receive an additional 10 minutes to transfer their answers from the question booklet to the answer sheet. All the recordings are played once only, so test takers need to be alert throughout.

Questions and marking

The test has a total of 40 questions, each worth one mark. Question types include multiple choice questions, labelling maps or diagrams, giving short answers, and filling in a form. Once a raw score out of 40 is calculated, it is converted to the IELTS 9-band scale using a conversion table.

Here’s a quick tip to finish off: IELTS listening is designed to be progressively difficult, so if you are aiming for a high score, make sure you get almost all answers in the first couple of sections right. Good luck!

Traps to Avoid in IELTS Listening (Part 3)

 

Image courtesy of Fe Ilya via Flickr (CC 2.0)

 

So far in this series, we’ve looked at some ways in which test takers make mistakes in IELTS listening: losing concentration when distractors are used, spelling words wrongly, looking for instances of word match, and not understanding different ways of referring to time.

Here are two more ways in which you could lose marks:

 

Word limit

All questions in the listening part come with clear instructions. While some questions require the test takers to choose answers from a list of options, others contain blanks that need to be filled in. When filling in blanks, you need to be cautious not to exceed the word limit. If not, your answer will be marked incorrect.

 

In IELTS, even small words such as articles (a, an, the) and pronouns (I, we, you, he, she, it) are counted as individual lexical items. So, if you don’t keep track of the number of words you enter as answer, you’ll certainly lose marks in perhaps the silliest of ways.

 

Example

Question

Complete the sentences below.

Write NO MORE THAN TWO WORDS for each answer.

 

35. During such rituals, the tribal chief used to wear a __________

 

36. _________ offerings were often made to the gods.

 

 

In this example, the task clearly instructs test takers to complete each sentence using no more than two words. Let’s assume the answer to question 35 is silk jacket. If you happen to rephrase this as jacket made of silk, your answer will obviously be marked wrong, as it has four words.

 

Transferring answers

Listening is the only part of IELTS where test takers receive extra time to transfer answers. This is because they are asked to jot down answers to all 40 questions on the question booklet itself as they listen.

 

The extra 10 minutes is for candidates to write answers legibly and sequentially (entered in boxes 1 to 40). Of course, answers that are out of sequence will be marked wrong.

 

Remember, while these tips may sound simple enough, it takes a bit of practice to get them right.

 

 

GLOSSARY

 

blank
Form : noun
Meaning : an empty space
Example : Please fill in the blanks using words from the reading passage.

 

jot down
Form : phrasal verb
Meaning : to write something
Example : Give me a second, Sam. Let me find a notepad to jot down the address.

 

legibly
Form : adverb
Meaning : (written or printed) in a way that can be understood easily
Example : Please fill in the application form legibly

 

Traps to Avoid in IELTS Listening (Part 2)

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In part 1, we spoke of two kinds of traps – distractors and spelling.

Here are two other ways in which you could lose marks in IELTS listening.

 

  1. Word match

Sometimes test-takers choose a certain answer because the exact same words are used in the conversation and the question paper. This is particularly true when attempting multiple choice questions. However, most answers in IELTS listening are paraphrased. In other words, the vocabulary used in the conversation is usually different to the one in the question.

 

Example

Question

23. What does the woman like most about the house?

A   the design

B   the locality

C   the living room

 

Recording script

Estate agent: So, what do you think?  

 

Woman: Very nice! I mean, I love the living room – it’s spacious and so tastefully done up. And the design is so European! I’ve always wanted to live in a house with French windows and a brick fireplace. But the best bit, without doubt, is the neighbourhood. It’s so pretty and peaceful – just the kind we were looking for.  

 

As you can see, the actual answer is paraphrased – the word locality in the question is replaced with the word neighbourhood in the conversation. Understandably, listening for matching words will only mislead you, so spend time on improving your comprehension instead.

 

  1. Time conventions

If you are a non-native speaker, the chances are you don’t refer to time the way people in English-speaking countries do. Being an international test, IELTS listening makes use of such native terms to talk about specific periods of time. Here are some examples:

 

 

Convention Used to talk about Example
quarter to 15 minutes before any hour on the clock quarter to six = 5.45
quarter past 15 minutes after any hour on the clock quarter past six = 6.15
half past 30 minutes after any hour on the clock half past six = 6.30

 

Do learn more about them, or you could be left with a blank when it comes to taking the test!

 

 

 

Traps to Avoid in IELTS Listening (Part 1)

 

Image courtesy of egrodziak via Flickr (CC 2.0)

 

 

Ever thought what listening tests are designed to do? Well, the primary aim is to separate the wheat from the chaff – identify which test takers are able to fully comprehend what they hear, and which aren’t. And to accomplish this, traps are set across the test to trick test takers and induce errors.

 

Here are some traps you should avoid in the IELTS listening test.

 

  1. Distractor

As the name suggests, a distractor is something that causes confusion so that the test taker does not pay enough attention to what they should be doing – which is listening for the right answers. For instance, in a conversation, a speaker may say something and then quickly correct themselves, or they may be corrected by another speaker. As a result, the listener hears two versions of the same piece of information – obviously, one is correct while the other is incorrect.

 

Example

Question

5. Telephone number: 9342__________

Recording script

Receptionist: Okay, what’s the best number for us to contact you on?

 

Customer:  You can call me at the hotel where I’m staying. The number is: nine-three-four-two-six-five-three-nine… Oh no, did I say five-three-nine? Sorry, it should be three-nine-five.

 

If you’re not careful, a distractor can make you choose the wrong answer, so be prepared. And here’s an additional tip: in IELTS listening, distractors are most commonly used in section 1, and they usually involve some type of number (telephone number, credit card number, postcode, cost of something, time, date, etc).

 

  1. Spelling

In IELTS listening, poor spelling is penalised, so test takers need to be able to accurately spell words that are long and complicated. If your spelling isn’t great, try learning commonly misspelt words.  Additionally, make a list of words that you have already find trouble spelling.

Mnemonics can also be incredibly helpful in remembering the spelling of tricky words. For example, if you find it challenging to spell the word island, just remember this sentence: An island is land surrounded by water.

 

Remember, one way to avoid falling into a trap is to spot it early on, so keep an eye out while reading questions.

 

 

GLOSSARY

 

separate the wheat from the chaff
Form : phrase
Meaning : to identify a good group from the other, less desirable ones
Example : Face-to-face interviews with applicants can help recruiters separate the wheat from the chaff.

 

induce
Form : verb
Meaning : to cause
Example : Drinking cough syrup can induce sleepiness in a person. 

 

mnemonic
Form : noun
Meaning : something, such as a poem or word, that helps a person remember something
Example : Use the mnemonic VIBGYOR to remember the colours of a rainbow.

 

keep an eye out (for something)
Form : phrase
Meaning : to watch carefully for something
Example : While shopping I always keep an eye out for clothes sold at a discount.

How Signposting Can Help Improve Your Listening

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Imagine you are in a brand new city and need to get to a particular place. If you had no technology for help, you would be all at sea. Even so, you could still get directions the old-fashioned way via signposts – signs next to a road giving information about the direction and distance to a place.

 

Similarly, when language learners hear a lecture or an extended talk given by a native speaker, they may experience difficulty in fully understanding what’s being said. Unlike reading, where you can check content over and over again, listening generally gives you only one chance to make out what is being said. In such a situation, identifying signpost expressions can help improve comprehension.

 

So, what exactly are signpost expressions? Well, they are words that guide the listener through the various stages of a talk. In a way, signpost expressions help the listener predict what is going to be said next. As a result, the relationship between points becomes clearer, be it comparing, contrasting, adding information, or just sequencing.

 

Here are some common expressions used for signposting:

 

Signpost expressions What they indicate
Firstly The beginning of a list of points
like, such as Introduction of an example
while, whereas Comparing two or more things
In other words, Put another way Rephrasing what has been said
Moreover, What’s more Introduction of additional information
However, This isn’t always the case though Introduction of a contrast or an exception
As I said earlier Reference to a point made earlier
Moving on Introduction of a new point
Finally The speaker is nearing the end of the talk / Introduction of the last point

 

 

In language tests, candidates often need to listen to long monologues and answer questions. A good example of this is the IELTS Listening test, which has two monologues, including a university-style lecture.

 

Be sure to look out for signposting language in an exam situation, and you’ll have a very good chance of finding the right answers.

 

 

GLOSSARY

 

at sea
Form : phrase
Meaning : confused and not sure what to do
Example : I’m all at sea with this new syllabus. I mean, I am not familiar with many of these topics.

 

extended
Form : adjective
Meaning :  longer than expected
Example : If you buy this TV right now, you also get an extended warranty. 

 

over and over again
Form : phrase
Meaning : several times
Example : Reihaan, your dad has told you over and over again not to play in the rain.

 

in a way
Form : phrase
Meaning : to a certain extent
Example : In a way marrying Jake within weeks of meeting him was a big mistake.

 

 

monologue
Form : noun
Meaning : a long speech by someone during a conversation that stops others from saying anything
Example : Thomas went into a monologue about his trip to Sri Lanka last year.

 

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