IELTS Listening: Nine frequently asked questions

We have collated the nine most frequently asked questions candidates have sent us about the IELTS Listening test. You will find these answers useful in the Listening section and other parts of the IELTS test too.

1. Using capital letters

Question: Would my answer be marked wrong if I write in capital letters, for example, writing ‘seventeen’ as ‘SEVENTEEN’?

Answer: According to the official guide from IELTS, ‘You may write your answers in lowercase or capital letters.’

2. Academic vs General Training

Q: What are the differences between the Academic and General Training Listening tests?

A: If you only look at the IELTS Listening test, there is no difference — there is only one Listening test. There are, however, different papers in the Reading and Writing tests.

3. Using acronyms

Q: Can I write my answers in short forms / acronyms?

A: Avoid them if you can. There are several acceptable abbreviations you can use in all parts of IELTS, such as 10am / 10 a.m., 100m, 5kg, amongst some others. In a few cases, even some well-known acronyms are allowed, such as UK, US and — yes — IELTS. However, to avoid losing marks, you should always try to write the full form of a word if you can spell them (correctly). So if the answer is, for example, New England, then don’t simply write ‘NE’.

4. Spelling

Q: What happens if I spell a word wrongly?

A: You don’t get the mark. It’s as simple as that. There will be no half-a-mark deduction. Answers in the Listening test rarely involve long and difficult words but some candidates struggle with spelling names. You can try these exercises to practise and improve your spelling.

5. Listening to accents

Q: Can I choose which variety of English to be included in the Listening test? For example, I find Australian accents really difficult to understand!

A: Unfortunately, you can’t. And IELTS Listening tests always involve more than one accent, with varieties including Received Pronunciation (British), General American, etc. It is therefore a good idea to practise not just from one source, but instead multiple. If you want to improve your Listening and Speaking skills at the same time, take a look at Clear Pronunciation 1 and Clear Pronunciation 2, where you will hear a range of different accents from around the world.

6. Writing numbers

Q: I am afraid of the answers with numbers — I don’t know if I should write them as words or figures!

A: Either will work nicely: 2 or two.

7. Reading the question paper

Q: Will I have the question paper in front of me while listening?

A: If you are doing paper-based IELTS, then yes. First, listen carefully and note down the answers quickly in the appropriate slot. You will then be given time to write your final answers more clearly on the answer paper, at the end of each recording. If you are doing computer-delivered IELTS, then you will see the questions on the screen and answer them as you listen.

8. Writing in pauses

Q: Can I write during the pauses between section and section?

A: Yes, these are your golden opportunities to read ahead and highlight the keywords to get a gist of what the recording will be about. It is not an exaggeration to say that how you use these pauses will decide the band score you will get in the end.

9. Explaining the four sections

Q: What are the differences between the four sections?

A: The first two sections are about using the English language to get by in an English-speaking country. The first section can be about anything, ranging from getting a call from a car dealership to booking a restaurant table. The second section often involves a floor plan or a map which you will need to study carefully. The third and fourth sections are primarily related to academic subjects, with the last one generally harder than the rest.