Achieving an Excellent Result in the IELTS Exam Listening Component

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The IELTS exam listening component is quite challenging for many IELTS candidates.

There is plenty of material on the web for improving your IELTS listening skills, but there seems to be a lack of information on some fundamentals for understanding the underlying mechanisms, and even less regarding a more general discussion on what candidates can do to improve their listening skills as a whole.

An important issue is that those who are familiar with the Cambridge general exams FCE, CAE and CPE, should note that there are some important differences regarding the format. The general exams test to what extent you are e.g. an advanced or a proficient student, as is the case e.g. with the Certificate of Proficiency of English (CPE). This means that it is a segmented test that can either be passed or failed.

The IELTS is different. It is a general academically-oriented English test for students across many levels. It makes use of a 0 to 9 marking scheme (from novice to expert user). This particular characteristic makes a difference – one which is felt for the taker and for the evaluator as well.

Take for example the IELTS listening passage. It is played once only, whereas the CAE listening passage is played twice. This means that developing mapping skills and understanding the idea of triggers and distractors is different – you will need to train your note-taking abilities.

Common beliefs

There are several frequently seen beliefs when it comes to developing IELTS listening skills. Oftentimes people adhere to the idea that accent is the main problem. Although is it a factor and that different accents can complicate matters significantly, there are other more pressing factors. It so happens that when we are comfortable with a speaker, we anticipate and deduce content much more efficiently. This enables us to better acquire a general grasp of the information given. This said, many IELTS candidates developing their IELTS listening skills, unfortunately focus too much on comprehending individual vocabulary, when they should be focusing on meaning at sentence level. This can be a significant problem as a certain overflow of information takes place.

While the candidate contemplates meaning of one word of phrase, segments of the following discourse has been lost. Another pressing issue is that spoken language features some intrinsic characteristics that are quite challenging. Pauses, change of pace, etc. can also lead to difficulties on the part of the listener.

Mapping out a listening passage

Listening passages across most certificates such as the TOEIC, TOEFL, CAE, CPE, IELTS and others, all have some features in common. One of these is the flow of information or the distribution of such in the passage, and the use of triggers and distractors.

Triggers can be defined as keywords that lead up to the answer in the listening passage being played. Distractors are what the name suggests…keywords meant to distract you.

When preparing for the IELTS listening component, consider the passage a sine wave with highs and lows, the curve building up to the top. Triggers are found as the curve moves upward. On the very top you are likely to find the answer. By means of this analogy, you will understand that your full attention is not always acquired as answers come and go much as the highs and lows of the tide.

There is of course no easy formula, but here follows some tips to get you going:

Listen to and attempt to comprehend different passages and speakers. Play passages many times. Start by getting the general idea within the passage, then, as you listen again for a second, third and fourth time etc., more and more details will become clear. Practice this consistently, and more information you will be able to grasp the first time you listen. It is an arduous process, but it’s the only way.

Work and study a multitude of topics. The IELTS exam requires you to be comfortable with well over 10 key topics such as IT, environment, career and work, The future, family, money, shopping and many others.

Note-taking is essential when listening. Compare initial notes to the notes you take the second time around. Analyze the differences and learn from them. Don’t give up. Consider this going to the gym. No pain no gain.

Strike a balance between studying English and doing IELTS mock exams. No candidate has ever achieved a stellar mark ignoring one or the other.

Don’t forget: Train your ability to identify keywords, highs and lows in passages and when synonyms are used as triggers and distractors.

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