How to Ace the IELTS Listening Section in 2021

Learn about the IELTS Listening Section and look at how we can keep our wits about us as we encounter what many wrongly believe to be a difficult section.

It’s 2021 and slowly but surely IELTS centres are opening up, more and more test takers are booking dates and destinations that had closed down are once again opening their doors. 

In the exuberance of seeing life going back to normal more and more are taking the plunge and booking an IELTS date. Unfortunately, just because centres are ready to conduct tests does not mean you are ready to take one. The rules haven’t changed – you still need to prepare well, strategize, and reach a level of consistent performance before you take the test. 

Today we will revisit the IELTS Listening Section and look at how we can keep our wits about us as we encounter what many wrongly believe to be a difficult section.  

The IELTS Listening Section has 40 questions to be answered in 30 odd minutes. On the pen-and-paper IELTS you will get an additional 10 minutes to transfer your answers to the answer sheet. These 40 questions are spread over 4 PARTS. Each part has a listening tape of around 6 minutes and a set of 10 questions based on the audio clip. 

Tip #1: Read Ahead. 

At the beginning of each audio clip you will be given 30 seconds to read questions. Use that time to read the questions, this helps you to know what you are looking for and thus pay more attention to that kind of information. 

On the IELTS Listening Section, the first 3 clips (Part 1, 2 and 3) will be split into 2 parts and you will get 2 instances of 30 seconds to read the questions. At the beginning, the clip will say, “Now you have 30 seconds to read questions 1 to 5.” Once that part of the clip ends you will hear, “Now you have 30 seconds to read questions 6 to 10.” 

This brings us to our next tip. 

Tip #2: Questions appear in order on the clip. So, if you miss one just move on to the next. 

The answer to question 1 will appear on the clip and then the answer to question 2 and so on. If you have marked the answer for question 7 and then suddenly find the answer to question 9 then you have missed question 8. You can’t get it back so don’t fret about the answer to 8 because in doing so you will likely miss the answer to question 10.  

This brings us to our next tip. 

Tip #3: Don’t leave blank answers, guess contextually. 

A blank answer and a wrong answer both get you no score but a contextually guessed entry might just be right (low chances but at least there is a chance) a blank entry is however never right. 

Tip #4: Learn vocabulary and spellings related to education and accommodation 

All four audio clips on the IELTS Listening Section are either about education or common everyday situations. Most everyday situations pertain to accommodation, household shopping, interaction with a seller or a prospective buyer and other domestic situations. Learning the vocabulary and spelling of common terms used in these situations will give you a sense of familiarity when you listen to the tapes.  

The next tip is closely related to the tip #4. 

Tip #5: Write your answers in capital letters or type font. 

Wrong spelling = wrong answer 

This ties in with the previous tip. If you are comfortable with words like tertiary, accommodation, subletting it will help you breeze through the listening tape. If you also know the spellings of these words then you can’t get the answers wrong. Here’s why writing in ALL CAPS or at least a type font is better: If your running handwriting isn’t clearly legible (and most of ours aren’t, thanks to always typing on computers) then a correct answer might be viewed as one with wrong spelling or simply marked U for UNREADABLE. Make it easy for the examiner. 

Tip #6: Write answers in the form they have been asked. 

What does this mean? 

It means if there are MCQs and they have asked you for the correct answer option (A, B, or C) then your answer has to be A, B, or C. Don’t write the answer just the option. 

Sample Question: 

What was the colour of Sue’s dress? 

A Green 

B Blue 

C Orange 

If the answer is Orange, then mark C on your answer sheet. Writing Orange instead of C will not get you the score. Your answer is technically correct but they asked for answer option not the answer. 

Tip# 7: Look out for grammatical form in questions 

This is closely connected to tip #6. Answers also have to be in grammatical form. For example, plural answers cannot be made singular. 

Sample Question: 

Jack was sitting ___________ away from Jill. 

The answer is “three rows” not “three row”. 


Sample Question: 

By the end of 1990 enrolments to the program had exceeded ______________. 

The answer is “two million” not “two millions”. 

Tip #8: Be prepared for synonyms. 

The IELTS Listening Section is quite easy up to the first two parts both of which are informal. However, as you move ahead you will find abundant use of synonyms.  

For example: 

The clip talks about cheap accommodation while the question says inexpensive housing.  

The clip talks about defence while the question refers to it as armed forces. 

Tip #9: Don’t use synonyms 

While the IELTS Listening Section is going to use synonyms quite abundantly, you cannot do the same.  

Do not unnecessarily substitute synonyms in your answer. 

Sample Question: 

Peter felt the supermarket was ________________. 

If the clip says “conveniently located” then write that, don’t unnecessarily change it to “easy to find” 

Both mean the same but the former is an actual statement in the clip and the latter could easily be a contextual guess.  

Sample Question: 

Mary didn’t do well on the test because she found the answers required ____________ calculations. 

If the clip says “complicated” then write that, don’t unnecessarily change it to “complex” 

Both mean the same but again they are testing your listening skills not your vocabulary. 

When is using synonyms OK? 

If the clip says James worked as a doctor in the armed forces and the question is 

Complete the sentences below. 

Write NO MORE THAN ONE WORD for each answer 

James worked for two years as a doctor in the ________ . 

Changing armed forces to ARMY works here. 

Tip #10: It’s a listening test, so LISTEN 


Yes, surprisingly listening intently is not a commonly found skill. And contrary to popular opinion it is not only men who are bad listeners.  

Don’t lose attention, because you cannot go back. If you have missed an answer you have missed it, don’t panic. Wait for the next one. 

Even when you are scribbling down or marking the answer to question 7 keep listening for the answer to question 8. Often answers come in quick succession. 

Listen for markers or indicators such as “NOW WE WILL SEE” or “NEXT WE FOCUS ON” 

Listen for corrections in the clip: “No I will not be going to Yorkshire, I will be going to Wembley from Yorkshire” 

Listen for hints: “My name is Ameena, spelt with double e.” 

I have already mentioned about reading ahead. Sometimes there can be 20 to 30 seconds of useless and usually heavy information between the answers to consecutive questions. Reading ahead helps you to listen for the right info. 

Wish you the very best for the IELTS. 

Happy Prepping. 

Recent Posts

Enrol for a free IELTS course

No payment, No credit card. This course is free. All you need is a computer and an internet connection to enrol for this course.
Registrations open from 1 August 2021