Good listening skills are an integral part of mastering any language. They are also an integral part of integrating into a society. Naturally, keeping this in mind, most language tests have a section dedicated to testing these skills in all candidates. In case of the IELTS Listening Exam, skills such as understanding accents and vocabulary, attention to detail, and focus and retention are tested.
The section has a total number of 40 questions, carrying 1 mark each, and it lasts for 30 minutes in duration. There will be four audio recordings, taken from different backgrounds to examine a candidate’s listening abilities in changing circumstances. The speakers in all the recordings are native English speakers.
The details about the audio clips are as follows:
The first audio will feature two people talking in a social context about a day-to-day issue.
The second one is a monologue concerning some local facilities, again set in a day-to-day social context.
The third sample will feature an academic conversation between people (up to four) set in the context of education and training. This could, for example, be a discussion between a teacher and pupils regarding assignments or an exam.
Sample four will be a spoken lecture on an easily understandable subject or topic. This will simulate a classroom lecture.
If we look specifically into the attributes that are judged in this section, we will see that they are pretty common to the reading and comprehension section. So, abilities such as grasping the main idea and basic factual details, understanding of the speakers' ideas and opinions, understanding of the purpose or context of a conversation, and ability to follow trains of thought are examined.
Important points to remember:
In the IELTS exam, these recordings can be heard only once.
The question paper is given beforehand for answers to be scribbled as the audio progresses.
The questions that follow each audio clip appear sequentially as the recording progresses.
The speakers are native speakers, so the accents that can be heard are British, Irish, Australian, New Zealand, American, and Canadian.
Candidates can take notes in paper form and even scribble answers during the audio.
They are allowed to redraft all the answers at the end of the audio clips and get 10 minutes of allotted time for the same.
The test has to be completed in 30 minutes with an additional 10 minutes given to draft final answers upon an answer sheet. This means candidates need to be really focused throughout the test and complete it on time, considering they will get less than a minute to answer each question.
An important point is that, despite knowing the right answer, one must also keep in mind using correct English while writing the fair draft from the notes, because there are penalties for poor grammar and issues such as spelling errors and incorrect vocabulary.
The IELTS Listening Test is scored by certified markers who work under regular monitoring to ensure that their quality and reliability of judgement are always up to standard. Moreover, the responses are further scrutinised by Cambridge Assessment English.
1. Multiple Choice
In multiple choice questions, each question is followed by three options. Out of these three, examinees are required to pick one correct answer.
Sometimes, a variation may be introduced. Examinees may be required to pick more than one correct answer from a bigger list of options. Such questions are generally tricky and should be attempted with a lot of focus.
These questions test many skills. More specifically, skills such as identifying main points, and understanding important ideas or facts from an ongoing conversation is tested closely.
In these questions, the examinees need to match a numbered set of items from the audio clip to another set of options available on the question paper. The two sets could have any logical connection; for example, names against people, or terms against definition, or names of cities against monuments, etc.
Basically, questions on matching test the ability to spot links or relationships between two things. In the listening test, this is to examine logical understanding of such things being said in a conversation, that is, in a fleeting moment.
3. Complete Labels:
This category is very much self-explanatory. Here, candidates need to identify and fill in labels, sometimes on a plan or upon a map or on a diagram, etc.
Answers are supposed to be chosen from a list of options.
These questions assess a candidate’s spatial sense, sense of directions, sense of identifying objects, places and missing links from verbal description and relate them to a visual representation.
4. Fill in the blanks:
In this category, candidates need to fill in the blanks in an extract from the audio text (part of it or all of it). The question in either form focuses on understanding the main points and/or main ideas and/or facts associated with the text.
In terms of form, this type of question can appear as the following:
Candidates may face both situations: choose the right answer from a list of options or write the answer as it arises in the audio. There may also be a word limit on certain questions and candidates are not allowed to change the words in the audio text.
To check the understanding of the main idea of the conversation.
For writing a summary or notes, or table, for example, one must know the variations in the type of word(s) that are appropriate for the given gap (for example, whether a noun is needed, or a verb, etc.).
Articulating appropriate vocabulary in its correct form is critical.
5. Sentence Completion
In these questions, examinees need to complete sentences by adding a specified number of words taken from a specified portion of the audio clip. These could also be taken from the full clip, if instructed. Instructions may be: ‘NO MORE THAN THREE WORDS AND/OR A NUMBER from the passage’; ‘ONE WORD ONLY’; or ‘NO MORE THAN TWO WORDS’.
There will be a penalty for not adhering to the minimum prescribed words.
These questions test the ability to find information and also to use appropriate vocabulary.
6. Short-answer Questions
Questions generally regarding some factual information or details are asked for a short reply. Alternatively, candidates may also be asked to answer certain questions by listing two or three points.
These answers also have a word count restriction.
To test the ability to find and understand precise information in the listening test and present them using suitable vocabulary.
Performing well in the IELTS Listening Test or, for that matter, any listening test depends upon a couple of basic skills: keen listening abilities and a good understanding of pronunciation in the English language.
However, besides these, there are many sub-areas that can be improved to ultimately master the broad areas and become a good listener.
Listen to a lot of English: Listening to a lot of English conversations, monologues, speeches, news items and even movies helps you get accustomed to it. It trains your ears for the language and becomes a part of your life. Listening to a lot of content also helps familiarise you with different accents, which is an important part of developing your listening abilities.
Listen to a variety of content: Listening to a variety of content gives you multiple benefits - you develop knowledge, improve vocabulary, and understand contexts. Furthermore, it gives you an idea about how to hold a conversation in various situations, thereby enriching your mind.
Listen passively to get the hang of pronunciations and to get an overview: Passive listening gives you the gist of an audio. It familiarises you with the speakers' accent and pronunciations. It trains you for the conversation/monologue beforehand so that there are no surprises!
Listen actively to understand meanings and contexts: Active listening is like having a magnifying glass. At this stage you need to keenly focus, having already understood the gist with passive listening. Active listening helps you see how the conversation is moving, easily identify the context or plot and sometimes, even guess the outcome in advance.
Listen intently for tone, expressions, hidden meanings and deeper contexts: As you master active listening, you should also practice focusing on behavioral aspects of the speakers revealed through their manner of speaking. The most conspicuous one is tone - this tells you whether the speaker(s) is/are happy or sad or angry, enthusiastic or disinterested, etc. On the basis of your vocabulary and knowledge, you will soon be able to identify general expressions, idioms, phrases and subject-specific words that will help you get better at understanding contexts and deciphering hidden meanings or unsaid connotations.
Practice is the key! At a mature level, every step happens almost simultaneously: Like every other skill, developing good listening skills requires practice; more specifically, practicing with clear goals in mind. Once these five steps become like a set process for you, backed by your growing grammar and vocabulary knowledge, you mature in learning the language. You also mature as a listener. Undoubtedly, once you start mastering the art, you will be able to decipher conversations for their gist and context, their tone and meaning, all at one go! Ultimately, that is the goal.