5 Tips to Improve Your Listening Skills for the IELTS Exam

I am lost”, “I am confused”, “what are they talking about?”. Are these thoughts familiar when surrounded by English speakers? Do you panic? No worries. Just relax, sit down and take a deep breath. This article is going to provide you with 5 tips on how you can improve your listening skills for the IELTS exam.


When we start listening to a foreign language, we can often get stressed. Stress can make your brain smaller and we do not want our brain to suffer! Learn how to make learning fun. Fun is an inherent part of your learning because the brain learns better when you enjoy the process.

Remember as a child when you watched foreign cartoons and did not get stressed because overall you understood the main idea? You need to revert back to this childlike state and enjoy listening to foreign songs and watching foreign films and cartoons. Like a child, you too will start to pick up the language.  My daughter started to speak Russian at the age of 4 just by watching Russian cartoons. I was very curious and tried to understand why children learn a foreign language faster. What I learned is that they are not concentrating on every word; first, they understand the meaning, then the repeated words gain a separate meaning, and later they can be used in different contexts.

Do you think they try to learn the language with the intention of taking the IELTS exam? No. They have fun and enjoy what they are doing.  So, what goes wrong? Why do these enthusiastic learners grow up and get stressed when it comes to listening to a foreign language. They acquire a sense of responsibility. They crave results and high scores and become less confident when they are not achieved right away. Does this sound familiar?

Child watching TV - Simply Better English
5 Tips to Improve Your Listening Skills for the IELTS Exam – Simply Better English


1.Decide what your level is

We usually start the IELTS preparation course when the student is at the lowest point of the intermediate level.  However, you should choose the listening materials for the pre-intermediate level. If your level is upper intermediate, then choose the intermediate level audio and video materials, and so on. When you choose the material of a lower level, you establish the comfort zone; you relax and do not get stressed. The lower level provides an opportunity to manoeuvre in the level. After having listened to several audio materials, choose a listening task at your real level and see how you fare.

2. Pick up gap-fill exercises

Gap-fill listening exercises are good for practising your listening skills for IELTS. Usually higher level exercises have an interesting trick. The information around the word is paraphrased, but you have to fill in the exact word you hear. This is an extremely important skill for IELTS; you need to understand the information behind words rather than concentrating on separate words to be able to choose which is missing in a sentence.

You can also try to vary your gap filling practice. Start with a listening task where you have to fill in just one word, and then challenge yourself to fill in two words and finally, make sure you can listen to three missing words.

3. Listen to dialogues

Listen to dialogues and try to catch pieces to turn into sources of information. Listening to dialogue is a very useful technique because it helps you understand the speakers’ positions; you listen and understand how and when the speakers take turns. Statistically, people make fewer mistakes in dialogue listening exercises than monologue exercises.

Try to listen to dialogues between advanced English speakers and state the position of each speaker. Then listen more closely to the details of the speech. Make sure you listen to a dialogue more than once.

4. Listen to lectures

Lectures usually are more challenging than dialogue but you can overcome the challenge. Start by listening to any kind of lecture or speech longer than 3 minutes. You should also pick a lecture or speech with just one topic just one topic. Listening to lectures that tell us about one topic sets the scene for us and we are not met with the unexpected. We know what we will be listening to and are ready for it. If you are still uncomfortable, watch a lecture or speech so that you have some visuals aids to help you better understand.

Obama giving a speech - Simply Better English
5 Tips to Improve Your Listening Skills for the IELTS Exam – Simply Better English


5. Listen for fun

One day in a week, forget about the exam and just listen for fun. Listen to songs or watch funny series and clips. Try to get some news on the subject you are interested in. Surround yourself with English “noise”.

I hope you will find these tips for the IELTS listening exam useful. If you have any further tips, please share them in the comments below. Once you feel comfortable, check out our tips for the IELTS reading exam.

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