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Using time wisely in the IELTS listening module

One student asked me this about IELTS (International English Language Testing System):

“I’ve been told I should transfer listening test answers to the answer sheet during the break at the end of each section. The reason given was I may not have enough time to transfer them all at the end of the test. Other people have told me to read the next section of the listening test instead. What should I do?”

Here’s my reply:

Unfortunately, the advice to transfer answers during the test was wrong.

The listening module has four sections with ten questions each. The test’s recording runs for about 30 minutes, and candidates have time to read the questions and to write down and check answers. All answers are written on the question paper while candidates listen to the recording.

Listening test breaks

Here’s when there are breaks during the test:

  •  Before each section. Candidates have time to look at and understand the questions in each section before the recording for that section starts. They’re also told which questions they should look at (e.g., “First, you have some time to look at questions 21 to 26”).
  • During each section. There’s a short break roughly halfway through each of Sections 1, 2 and 3. Candidates hear an announcement like, “Before you hear the rest of the discussion, you have some time to look at questions 27 to 30.” This break gives test takers a chance to study the remaining questions in those sections. However, Section 4 usually doesn’t have a break.
  • After each section. Candidates are given half a minute to check answers at the end of each section. If they prefer, they can start reading the next section.

When the 30-minute recording ends, candidates are given a further ten minutes to transfer their answers from the question paper onto a separate answer sheet.

Test takers risk losing marks if they try to transfer answers to the answer sheet during the breaks halfway through, or at the end of, each section. As the breaks before, during and after each section are only 20 to 30 seconds, they may easily rush and make careless errors. For instance, they may write answers in the wrong place on the answer sheet, make spelling errors or use the incorrect form of words.

Also, they aren’t giving themselves the chance to read the questions coming up. They therefore risk adding more pressure on themselves when the recording starts again.

Using breaks wisely

Instead of transferring answers during the listening test, use the breaks wisely. Here are my suggestions:

  • Read the instructions for each set of questions to find the word limit. Remember, any answer over the word limit will be marked as incorrect (and that’s even if the extra word is “a” or “the”).
  • Use the information in the questions to predict the situation. Who’ll be speaking? Why? What about?
  • Underline key words. These are the words which help you identify the information you need to listen for. Some examples are in bold in the box below to help you understand what a key word is. While the recording is playing later, look at the key words to help youconcentrate on what you’re listening for.