The IELTS Listening Paper

The IELTS listening section features a total of 40 questions in 30 minutes (plus an additional 10 minutes to complete the answer sheet). The listening paper is divided into four parts of 10 questions each. All questions have the same value, and the total listening paper score is reported on the band system of 0 to 9 in increments of a half-point. There is no difference between the academic and general training tests with respect to the listening section of the IELTS.

IELTS Listening Paper Exercises

Four exercises are included on the IELTS listening section, each of which is played only once via audio recording. The first exercise is described by IELTS as a "conversation between two people about a general topic with a transactional purpose." For example, test-takers may be asked to fill out a membership application for a club or complete a schedule of classes based on information in the recording. The second exercise is also general and transactional in nature, but it is a monologue rather than a conversation. Specific examples include a guided museum tour or a description of a social event. The third exercise is a "conversation between two or three people in an academic context," such as a discussion of a class presentation or a student meeting with a professor. The fourth and final listening paper exercise is an academic monologue, often a lecture on an academic subject at the introductory level.

IELTS Listening Paper Question Types

There are seven types of questions, or "tasks," on the IELTS listening paper. Each listening paper exercise will have no more than three associated tasks, but the student will not know in advance which question types will appear with which listening passages. The first task type is characterized by IELTS as "notes/summary/table/flow-chart completion," where the indicated items must be completed with "a suitable word or words within the word limit given." The second task type is multiple choice, of which there are two varieties: choose one answer among three options, and choose two answers among five options. Students will also see short-answer questions, which require word-limited responses; sentence completion exercises, which require the completion of sentences with optimal choices of words or short phrases; and labelling of a diagram, plan, or map, which requires choosing answers from a box. The final two task types are classification and matching. For the former question type, students are given three criteria to describe information. On the latter, test-takers must match statements to answers in a box.

IELTS Listening Paper Skills

Each listening paper exercise is preceded by a brief introduction that lists the speakers, topic, and purpose associated with the forthcoming passage. Test-takers are then given 30-45 seconds before the recording begins. Students must use this time to review the questions as carefully and completely as possible, so that they will be able to listen for the most important information. While listening to the exercises themselves, test-takers must be skilled at understanding speaker purposes and opinions, recognizing summaries and paraphrases, discerning factual information, and comparing and contrasting ideas. It is also important to pay attention to the implications of speaker tone of voice, word emphasis, and intonation, all of which can convey meanings that might not otherwise be obvious. Familiarity with the accents of major English-speaking countries will be helpful, since the listening paper includes a diverse array of speakers. Students are advised to prepare for the IELTS listening paper by using a wide variety of listening materials to develop all of the skills noted above.

Required IELTS Listening Scores at Universities

Most universities list their IELTS requirements in terms of total band scores, but some schools have sectional score benchmarks. For example, applicants to Oxford University who are not native English speakers must score at least 7.0 on all sections of the IELTS (including listening) in addition to receiving a total band score of 7.0 or higher. Some degree programs at the University of Manchester have minimum scores for each IELTS paper. Computer science majors are required to meet or exceed 5.5 on each IELTS section, while the standard for law students is 6.5 or higher per section. Full admission to the University of Maryland requires a score of at least 7.0 on three of the four IELTS papers, including listening. Among Canadian institutions, McGill University is an example of a school that expects sectional scores of at least 6.0 each, along with a total band score of 6.5. The same benchmarks apply to undergraduates at the University of Sydney, while the sectional minimums at Australian National University are 5.5 each along with a total score of 6.0.