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!

Six Ways to Improve Your English Pronunciation (Part 2)

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In the first part, we discussed two key pronunciation features – individual sounds and word stress. Here are two more aspects that can change the way you sound when you speak English.

 

3. Sentence stress

A sentence in English generally has two kinds of words: content words and function words. The first kind are words that give you the overall meaning of the sentence, so they are normally nouns, main verbs, adjectives, or adverbs.

The second kind are usually small words that glue the sentence together to make grammatical sense. Naturally, function words are not usually stressed, whereas content words are. Here’s an example:

Tom has a brother and a sister
Content words: Tom, brother, sister
Function words: has, a, and, a

 

Learners also need to be aware that the way they say a sentence can affect its meaning. In other words, depending on which word(s) in a sentence they stress, the meaning changes. Here’s an example:

Question What the speaker means
Why are you flying to London tomorrow? What is the reason?
Why are you flying to London tomorrow? Why not someone else?
Why are you flying to London tomorrow? Why not travel by some other mode of transport?
Why are you flying to London tomorrow? Why not some other place? 
Why are you flying to London tomorrow? Why not some other day?

 

4. Weak forms

As we already know, some words in a sentence are stressed, while others are not. The words that aren’t are generally function words, and some of them have two pronunciations – a weak form and a strong form.

Generally speaking, we produce a weak form by changing the vowel sound in the word to a schwa /ə/. Here is the same example: Tom has a brother and a sister. 

When saying this sentence, we use the weak form of all the function words so that the content words get highlighted.

Word Strong form Weak form
has /hæz/ /həz/
a /eɪ/ /ə/
and /ænd/ /ən/

Listen out for it when you next hear a native speaker talk or radio. Remember, if you wish to talk like a native speaker, then mastering the use of weak forms is a must.

Traps to Avoid in IELTS Listening (Part 3)

 

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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 1)

 

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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.

 

An Insider’s IELTS Preparation Tips: Listening and Reading

newspaper stack

 

This week we’re going to look at preparation tips for the IELTS Listening and Reading components.

 

The Listening Test

The first, but most obvious point to remember is to listen carefully to the recording. Listen for overall meaning, but especially for those words that can give you a clear idea of what is being talked about. You will be listening for the answers to the questions on the paper, so try to follow the recording closely and write at the same time. You’ll have 10 minutes after the recording has ended to transfer your answers to the answer sheet.

 

TIP: Good practice is to listen to English radio stations online or your favourite English language podcasts with a friend and then discuss what is being talked about.

 

  • Try and anticipate what the speaker will say; this will require concentration
  • Don’t worry if there is a word you don’t understand; you may not need to use it
  • If you don’t know the answer to a question, attempt it but do not waste time; move quickly onto the next one

listening-video

 

 

The Reading Test

There are a number of different types of reading, as we’ve talked about on this blog before, so preparing for the Reading component should include practising these different skills.

 

TIP: Practice reading online and newspaper articles on a range of subjects and give yourself different time limits to do it. Then hide the text and write down everything you can that you took from the passage. You’ll then become familiar with reading different types of text and be able to quickly absorb and relay the information.

 

Remember, in the Reading test you shouldn’t try to read every word in the passage. For some questions, scanning the text will give you what you need, so long as you have a clear idea of what you’re looking for. Read with purpose. If you’re asked for something in particular – be on the lookout for it.

  • Make sure that you understand the questions and follow instructions carefully
  • Pay attention to timing; do not spend too long on one passage or question
  • If you don’t know the answer to a question, attempt it but do not waste time; move quickly onto the next one
  • Don’t panic if you do not know anything about the subject of the text; all the answers can be found in the text

 

reading-video

 

 

 

One Easy Way to Improve Your English Listening Skills

Photo courtesy of Philippe Put (Flickr) www.ineedair.org

 

So Easy A Baby Could Do It! 

As babies, we’re bombarded with sounds that our brains begin to codify almost straightaway. It’s a skill that is in-built and helps us to adapt to real life situations and understand our environment. So, as adults we should approach listening comprehension in the same way, by relating it to real-life experiences.

 

It’s all about context

Babies associate familiar people ‒ such as parents or siblings ‒ with typical situations (e.g. feeding time, bath time, naptime, etc.) and the sound chunks that are frequently produced on these occasions. Listening to repeated utterances of these chunks makes it easier for them to understand the gist of what is being said.

Let’s now take this theory and apply it to language tests.

Consider the IELTS Listening test, which is divided into four parts: the first two focus on informal contexts, whereas the last two are set in more formal situations. Just being familiar with the context can help you predict the sort of language that will be used, which subsequently helps you identify answers.

 

Filling in the gaps

In some language tests, the context of a conversation becomes clear as soon as the instructions are given. In IELTS, for instance, we hear the voiceover set the context at the beginning of each part; for example: “Section 1. You will hear a conversation between a university student and the shop assistant at a book store. First, you have some time to look at questions 1 to 4.”

 

Take a few seconds and think about your own experiences of buying books: What questions did you have? What information did the seller provide? Then, look at the questions and think of the sort of language you are likely to hear when the speakers reveal the required information ‒ i.e. how to get details such as the title of a book, its author’s name, the publisher’s name, its cost, etc.

Here are some ways in which such information can generally be sought:

Title Author Published by Cost
·   What’s it called?

·   What’s the title?

·   We have an international bestseller called …….

·   Who’s it by?

·   Who wrote it?

·   Who’s the writer?

·   Do you mean the one by Prof. Derek ……..? Oh yes, that’s the one!

·   Who’s the publisher?

·   Who’s it published by?

 

·   How much is it?

·   Is it expensive? Not really, it’s only $ ……

·   Is it cheap?

·   What’s the price?

 

Sometimes, anticipating the language for a specific context prepares you to spot answers in conversations.

So the next time you attempt a listening exercise, do what babies do – use situations you know to your advantage.

 

Click here to try this technique on a practice IELTS listening test

 

Good luck!

 

P.S. We’re going to be posting every week on a Thursday. So, come back for more English language tips, experiences and insight into studying abroad.

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