IELTS Listening Test

The IELTS examination is a four-part test that measures a test taker’s English proficiency. The test measures English comprehension and usage across the four different language skills: listening, reading, writing, and speaking.

Each language skill has its own sub-test. On the day of the test, the first test is the listening test.

The IELTS listening test assesses a candidate’s comprehension of spoken English. The test lasts roughly 40 to 45 minutes.

The IELTS listening test could be your opportunity to start the IELTS exam well. Doing so might just give you the momentum you need for the rest of the examination.

This article is one of four in our series on the IELTS exam. To learn more about the listening test, read on.

This article is about the IELTS listening test- what it is like and what you could do to work towards a desirable score.

IELTS Listening Test Format

The IELTS Listening test takes roughly 40 minutes. This includes the test proper and the 10-minute period wherein test-takers transfer their answers onto their answer sheets. The time also allows test-takers to look at the questions before the recordings. Test-takers may also check their answers during the said time period.

The listening test consists of 40 questions. These questions are about the four recorded sections. These recordings are usually monologues (lectures) or conversations.

casual conversation ielts listening test format canada

The four sections are:

Section One: A Conversation In A Casual Setting

The first section is a recording of a conversation. Usually, the discussion takes place in a casual setting and is usually about an everyday topic.

Section Two: A Monologue

The second section is a monologue. The topic of the monologue or speech is often about a non-academic topic like the facilities in a certain place or neighbourhood.

Section Three: A Conversation In An Academic Or Training Setting

The conversation in this section could be one that takes place between two to four people. The conversation may be about a topic in school. At times, it may be a conversation about a certain subject matter in a course.

Section Four: A Lecture

This section may be similar to section two. The only difference is the topic of the lecture or monologue. Often, the topic is about an academic subject of interest.

Question Types In The IELTS Listening Test

When you take the IELTS Listening Test, you could expect about six different types of questions.

Multiple Choice

Multiple choice questions appear in different parts of the IELTS Listening test. Multiple-choice questions can be answered by:

  • Selecting the right answer from a list of possible answers (after a question)
  • Selecting from a list of possible answers that complete a sentence


The question type involves matching detailed information from a recording that fits certain options on an answer sheet.

For instance, in a recording about penguins, certain behaviours that are listed may have to be matched to a specific type of penguin.


On an answer sheet, there may be an image or a diagram containing blanks on which you could put your answer. This is what diagram or chart labelling looks like.

Labelling requires you to place answers on blanks that annotate a map or diagram.

Completion (Form, Flowchart, Note, Table, Summary)

You may have to fill in missing information on a table, form, or flowchart. Most of the time, there is already a list of possible answers from which you could select your answer.

Sentence Completion

This question type is similar to the previous one. Instead of a form or table, you may have to complete a sentence. At times, there might be choices from which you could select. On the other hand, you may have to determine the answer without choices to which you could refer.

Short Answer Questions

These questions are characterized by the following instruction:

“No more than two words or numbers”

This instruction means that your answer should consist of only two words or less. Not more. A word could be:

  • A word in any form (e.g. noun, verb, adjective, adverb)
  • A hyphenated word (e.g. rat-infested, sign-off)
  • A number written numerically or spelled out

Some Tips For The IELTS Listening Test

To get a score of 6.0 on the listening test, you would need to get at least 23 out of 40 questions right. 

Although 6.0 does meet the language requirements for Canadian immigration, it may be safer to aim for a higher score.

Here are some things you could do to improve your chances of meeting the minimum language requirement for Canada. These tips may even help you get more than the required score.

Take note that recordings are not repeated. In other words, you will only hear the recordings once.

Write Answers As You Hear Them

Writing the answer as soon as you hear may benefit you in two ways:

First, it could help with time management. After all, you may only get a few minutes to transfer your answer.

Also, it may reduce the number of times you would have to guess. As a recording plays, it may not be a good idea to rely on your memory and write the answers all at once at the end of the recording.

Answer Based On The Recording

The listening test measures a candidate’s ability to comprehend spoken English. It is not a knowledge test.

There are times when test-takers tend to answer based on what they know. This might not be a good idea. In short, only answer based on what you heard from the recording.

Notice Sentence Structures

This particular tip might be useful for question types that require you to complete sentences or diagrams that are missing information.

When trying to fill in missing words or information, you can always go back to sentence structures to help you determine the right answer. For example:

Rockhopper penguins sleep _________.

In this example, the sentence has a subject (Rockhopper penguins) followed by an intransitive verb (sleep). Often, sentences following this sentence structure do not need words after the intransitive verb other than adverbs.

Hence, the missing word must be an adverb.

Be Aware Of Alternate Word Forms

This is related to the previous technique.

One of the things the listening test was designed to assess is a candidate’s vocabulary. The test does this by requiring answers in word forms that are different from the ones used in the recordings.

To illustrate, a recording might say:

“All penguins assume an erect posture even when they sleep.”

On an answer sheet, you might see something like this

“All penguins sleep _________.”

Knowing the sentence structure could lead you to the right word form. In this case, the required word form is an adverb. Hence, the answer would be “erectly”. This is the adverbial form of the adjective “erect”.

Areas You Could Work On

Here are some areas you could address to help you put the above tips into practice:


Working on vocabulary can help you with all of your tests in the IELTS.

For the listening test, one thing that may be helpful is knowing synonyms and alternative word forms. Having these two skills at your disposal can help you fill up missing words in a table or chart, label diagrams, and complete missing sentences.


Grammar is still useful for the listening test. As mentioned earlier, an awareness of sentence structures could help you determine the right word forms that may, in turn, lead you towards the correct answer.

Listening Skills

man on makeshit listening toy representing listening skills needed to work on for ielts listening test

More specifically, you could practice by listening to a television program in English. Once you have done that, a helpful practice might be to answer these questions:

  • What is the program about?
  • What are important details?
  • Who are the participants?
  • Where is the conversation or lecture taking place?

Besides, doing this could be a great exercise in paying attention.

Get Some Practice

The internet could be a good source of learning material. In fact, the British Council does have some free resources for future test-takers.

There are also other sites for practicing the listening test. Practicing the listening test allows you to acquire the skill as well as be familiar with the listening test format.

This could do a lot in calming your pre-test jitters.


The IELTS Listening Test is the first part of the IELTS exam. It lasts about 40 minutes and consists of 40 items.

As mentioned earlier, doing well in this part might be able to set the tone for the rest of your IELTS exam. You may be able to achieve this by combining your knowledge of the test’s question types and the tips in this article.

Feeling confident?

Good luck with your IELTS Listening Test!

Choose Canada Magazine

Each member of our team at Choose Canada Magazine has been in Canada for over five years, and has helped dozens of people worldwide find their life in Canada.

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