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The simple daily formula for improving your IELTS Listening score

In our post last week, we looked at 5 steps to improve your IELTS Reading score. If you haven’t read that post, I suggest you read it first.

Today we’re going to focus on Listening. Improving your Listening score is very similar to improving your Reading score, but with a few differences.

Before you start, you’ll need:

one section from an IELTS listening test (with audio file)
the answer key and tapescript for your Listening section
a computer / phone / mp3 player / CD player (for playing the audio)
a pen or pencil
a highlighter
a dictionary (for later)
5 – 10 notecards or pieces of paper (about 7×12 cm)
Step 1: Find an IELTS Listening section to practice with

The IELTS Listening test comes in four sections. For each practice you do, choose just one section. Section 1 is the easiest, while Section 4 is usually the most difficult. I recommend you start with Section 1. If this is easy for you, move on to Section 2 and practice it a few times until it also becomes easy. Then you can move on to Section 3, and finally to Section 4.

Again, the best place to find authentic IELTS Listening material is the Cambridge IELTS 6-10 series. These books are produced by Cambridge, which also helps make the actual IELTS exam. This means anything you find in these books will be the same format and level of difficulty as the real exam. If you can’t find these books, there are lots of good IELTS coursebooks as well. Just make sure that you have access to the audio (either on a CD or as mp3 files), an answer key, and the tapescript before you start!

Step 2: Play the recording and answer the questions

As always, practice just like you’re taking the real exam. Find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed. Turn off your phone and remove any other distractions.

Play the audio file and follow the instructions. Start reading the questions when it says to do so. Answer the questions as best as you can. Don’t pause or rewind the audio at any point. You won’t be able to do this on the real exam.

Play the audio one time only. (Note: A typical IELTS Listening section is around 7-8 minutes. Some may be longer or shorter.)

Step 3: Check your answers and listen again

When you’re finished, look at the answer key. Check your answers. Write the correct answer next to each incorrect answer.

How many did you get right? How many did you miss? Total up your marks so you have an overall idea of your ability. If you want to know how many correct answers you need for a 6 on the Listening test, check out the Reading and Listening Scoring Chart on the official IELTS website, IELTS.org. It’s about halfway down the page.

Listen to the audio again. Focus on the answers that you missed. Why did you miss them? Can you hear them this time? Why is their answer right and your answer wrong?


Step 4: Read the tapescript and listen again

Now look at the tapescript. Did you hear everything correctly? Find the answers to anything you still didn’t hear clearly. What else didn’t you understand?

Listen one more time while you follow along with the tapescript. This will help you to connect the words that you see on the page with the sounds that you hear on the audio. Listening can be difficult because words often sound very different than they look. Which words sound different than you expected?

Are there any parts you still can’t hear clearly? Go back and listen to them again—as many times as you need to. Repetition is one of the best ways to improve Listening.

Step 5: Make word cards for important new words

This is the same as what I recommend for the Reading section. Choose 5 or so important words from the listening. Look up their definition in the dictionary (I recommend Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary), and make a word card for each one. If you haven’t done this before, check out this great advice on how to make a word card.

Improving your vocab is the best way to boost your score on every part of the IELTS exam, including Listening. Keep your word cards with you, and review whenever you have a few minutes.


Step 6: Make listening a daily habit

Altogether this should take you between 30 – 45 min, depending on how difficult your Listening section is. If you do this every day, you’ll see big improvements in your listening skills in a short amount of time.

Even if you don’t have time to sit down and study for the IELTS every day, you should still take time to listen to something in English. No matter where you live, it’s easy to find high-quality, interesting things to listen to in English.

Podcasts are particularly helpful. You can subscribe to a podcast and listen to it on your way to work/school, while you’re making dinner, or when you’re working out at the gym. One of my favorite podcasts for learning English is the BBC’s 6 Minute English. More advanced students might like Freakonomics and The TED Radio Hour. Find a few podcasts you like, and listen to them for at least a few minutes every day. You’ll not only practice English, but learn something interesting.