In this article, IELTS teacher Iffaf Khan offers practical tips and strategies to help students to improve their performance in the listening exam.


There are many things to consider when planning listening skills classes in preparation for the IELTS exam. You have to keep students interested in topics they might not connect with, help them learn more vocabulary so they can understand texts and familiarise them with different accents. While these are important motivational and linguistic aspects of listening practice, you may not have time to focus on everything leading up to the exam so you might have to prioritise. Familiarising students with different listening exam question types and what type of information to listen for is key. Practise of multi-skilling during the listening exam (e.g. reading the questions and listening to continuous audio while writing answers) and completing the answer sheets correctly at the end of the exam may go further in helping students achieve the band they need than focussing on the topics and language of a listening text*. The tips below will build on these ideas and offer some advice and exercises.

*See the article on vocabulary for development of topics and vocabulary. 

Tip 1: Familiarise students with all question types

Problem: Some students are confident with certain types of questions and nervous about others. They feel confident filling in blanks in tables but not labelling diagrams; they like questions about directions and maps but don't enjoy filling in blanks in paragraphs. Every teacher knows that students have their own ‘pet hates’ or questions types they prefer. However, they need to become familiar and confident with all question types prior to the exam.

Solution: At the beginning of your course, look at all the possible questions with your students. This helps remove the fear of the unknown. Go to the official IELTS website to learn more about the six main listening task types (each of which have one or two variations, equalling roughly 12 in total), before talking to your students. You can use IELTS Practise test books or you will find most IELTS preparation coursebooks (such as Ready for IELTS) cover the different question types from the listening exam.


  • Copy an example of each of the different listening questions types from your practice test book or coursebook. Check against the IELTS website to ensure you have an example of each.
  • Make only one copy of each question type. Do not make the photocopies double-sided.
  • Give each student a single question type from your photocopies. If your class is too big, make additional copies of some question types and divide amongst the extra students (if this happens, advise students to move on if they encounter the same question twice). Or if classes are too small, give stronger students two question types to explain.
  • Give them time to look at their particular question(s) but ask them not to look at anyone else’s question at this particular point. They should read it carefully and understand the instructions. Monitor and check each student has understood correctly.
  • Tell your students that they are ‘experts’ in a particular type of question or questions. Their aim is to share their ‘expertise.’
  • Let your students know that they are going to look at a wide range of questions. They must try and remember all of the instructions or types, without taking any notes.
  • Bring all of your students into the middle of the classroom or a wider, open space.
  • Ask them to mingle with every other student and show them their question.
  • Set a time limit. This will stop them from spending too much time with one person or on one particular question. They should give each question an equal amount of time.
  • Bring the students together at the end of the mingle.
  • Ask them to note down the question types and instructions they remember.
  • Give them a chance to ask other students again.
  • At the end of the class you could give each student copies of each question type for their reference. You could repeat this process and/or refer to the different question types frequently.

Tip 2: Practice reading, writing and listening at the same time

Problem: It can be a shock for students who do the test for the first time to realise that they have to multi-task. This means that they are reading the questions, predicting how they should listen after reading the question, listening selectively, writing a possible answer and listening and reading again. One problem is that not every student can write their answers quickly. They can also be so busy writing the answer that they then miss the next piece of information.

Solution: Practice listening and writing at the same time by getting your students to do running dictations. A running dictation is where one person runs to find the information, has to remember it and re-tell it to a partner, while their partner listens and writes down the information. The runner repeats the process until their partner has written down all the information or the time limit is over. Students must listen and write the data down correctly, with the correct punctuation.


  • Write two worksheets, with five pieces of data on each one. A worksheet might look like this: 

       Here are some numbers, addresses or times of day.

       Don’t write them down. Tell your partner and they will write them down.

      12 pm

      43 Lampton Street



      The second-right, after Lampton Street

  • Make several copies of one worksheet and stick them on different walls around the classroom. You don’t want your students looking at the same one, pushing each other.
  • Divide your students into pairs.
  • Explain what the runner has to do and then ask them to decide who is running.
  • Get them to run to the data and give their data to the writer.
  • Monitor to make sure they are not shouting out the answers. They should read their answers quietly and be close to their partner – you don’t want them to distract other students or give away answers.
  • End the activity when one pair completes the worksheet.
  • Show everyone the answers.
  • Put up worksheet two and repeat the activity, swapping the runners and writers in each pair.
  • Try making it even more exciting by turning it into a race. Which pair of students finishes first? Give them prize, if you think it’s appropriate.

Tip 3: Demonstrate the importance of the answer sheet 

Problem: Even if your students feel confident about answering 40 questions in 30 minutes, they may not realise that the test is not over. There is an all-important answer sheet that they need to fill in correctly at the end of the test. Students are often careless with their answer sheets and lose marks because they get the spelling wrong, forget hyphens with compound nouns (e.g. man made instead of man-made). This is a particular problem in sections one and two, where the speakers usually refer to times of the day, numerals and addresses. It is so important that you encourage your students to use the full ten minutes they are given in the exam, rather than hurrying through it.

Solution: Ask your students to be really careful with the answer sheet, and to get their spelling and punctuation right. Show some spelling and punctuation rules and then get your students to remember them at high speed, just like they would in the exam.


  • Put the following on the board and ask students what they know about them:

       : colon

       , comma

       . full-stop

       - hyphen

  • Cut out some important punctuation rules that students often forget or don’t know (e.g. when writing about years, months, or any other period of time use hyphens (e.g.We have a two-year-old child) unless the period of time (years, months, weeks, days) is written in plural form). You can use for this.
  • Stick them up around the classroom.
  • Get students to walk round and look at the rules without noting them down.
  • Take down the rules.
  • Ask students about what they remembered. Instruct them to give example words or sentences to demonstrate their rules.
  • Make a note of particular rules that certain students couldn’t remember correctly.
  • Repeat the activity at the end of class or in the next class and instruct particular students to try and remember the rules that they had previously struggled with.

Related resources

IELTS website: