Overview of the IELTS Listening Test

Written by
Nicholas Wheeldon

Academic Manager at Milestones English Academy.


The IELTS Academic listening test is approximately 40 minutes in length and there are four sections. In each section there are 10 questions making 40 in total. Each section has a different context. See below:

Section 1 – a conversation between two people set in an everyday social context, for example: someone asking for information about renting a house.
Section 2 – a monologue set in an everyday social context, for example: a speech about joining a gym.
Section 3 – a conversation between up to four people set in an educational or training context, for example: a student and teacher discussing an assignment
Section 4 – a monologue on an academic subject, for example: a university lecture.

The actual listening test lasts for 30 minutes – you then have 10 minutes at the end of the listening to transfer your answers to an answer paper. This must be done!


One mark is awarded for each correct answer thus a total of forty marks. Your final mark is then converted to a IELTS band score from 1 – 9. This band is then averaged with the other 3 parts of the test (speaking, reading, and writing) which gives you your final IELTS band.

Below shows a converter guide which converts your listening score (total marks) to an IELTS band score. Of course, there is no guarantee that you will perform the same in the real test as all tests are different, but it can be a good guide.

IELTS Academic Listening Rough Guide Converter

IELTS Academic Listening Rough Guide Converter



(2 – 3)

(4 – 9)

(10 – 16)

(17 – 24)

(25 – 31)

(32 – 36)

(37 – 38)

(39 – 40)











As in all IELTS tests, the questions get harder as it goes on. You will see from your practice that the types of listening and questions that you encounter in Section 1 are more difficult in Section 2 and so on. This does not mean that by Section 4 they are impossible, but they are more demanding linguistically.

Listening Test Strategies and Tips

Know what the questions are: You have time to read the questions at the start of each section. Use this time (usually 20 seconds) wisely. You should have an idea of what the questions are in advance even before you hear the recording. This allows you to listen in detail for that specific question. At the end of the sections you also get some time to check your answers. Use this time to check through them and then turn ahead to read the next questions in advance.

Synonyms and key words: You only hear the recording once, so you have to be very quick and alert in order to get the correct answer. When looking at the questions on the paper, look at the nouns and verbs – these could be key words and the recording may use synonyms of these key words. You need to be aware of this and listen for the synonyms!

Predict: When you read the questions you can usually predict what will be in the answer. For example, in section 1, if you see that the question is asking for a telephone number, you know you will be listening for numbers and the word telephone (phone). In the later sections this becomes more complicated, but the same technique can be used.

However, beware of some questions which require a number as occasionally what you hear the first time may be repeated with a slightly different number as the first had an error in it. For example, in the conversation one speaker may ask the other speaker for their phone number, which is then given, but then later on repeated, ie: Speaker A – Yes, my number is 041 4724 762; oh hang on, that wrong it’s 041 4734 762. Be aware of this!

Understand the question: If the question asks for no more than 3 words, use no more than 3 words. Writing 4 words is wrong. You will not be asked to do it in 3 words or less unless it is possible. But again writing 4 is wrong!

Transferring your answers: At the end of the test you have 10 minutes extra to transfer your answers from the question paper to the answer paper. Some people put their answers directly onto the answer paper. Not really a good idea as if you make a mistake, it’s hard to correct and it takes the focus away from the question. It’s better to write the answers on the question paper and use the 10 minutes given at the end for the transfer. Writing the answers on the question paper allows you to keep your concentration on the questions and, if you make a mistake, it's not so difficult to correct.

Be careful with spelling: Despite being a listening test, good grammar and spelling are important. The grammar part is not so important as you cannot make many grammar errors in 3 words (the maximum you use in the listening test) but, if you spell something wrong, it will be marked as wrong.

Never leave a question unanswered; especially if it is only an A,B,C,D question or something similar. Guess if you really do not know. There are no marks taken away for wrong answers or even stupid answers. So, have a go! Logic, general knowledge or just luck might give you the right answer!

Next we’ll look at the six types of listening questions

Written by
Nicholas Wheeldon

Academic Manager at Milestones English Academy.

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