IELTS Listening is changing!

IELTS listening

It was recently announced that IELTS Listening is changing. To help you navigate these changes, we have summarised them and commented on how they will effect your test experience.

The IELTS listening test can be a formidable challenge. As we saw in another post, there’s a lot going on in this test and you need to stay on your toes. The test requires you to extract information, track a speaker’s attitude to the topic and see through “traps”. You only get one attempt and there’s no going back. All of this makes for a demanding test and you should get some practice tests under your belt before you register for the exam. Unfortunately, none of this complexity is going anywhere, but there are some changes to the test coming in 2020 and you need to know about them.

Four Parts

In the past, the IELTS listening test had four separate audio tracks, each with its own questions. Each one began with a title: “Section 1”, “Section 2” and so on. Beginning in 2020, the word “part” will replace the word “section”. This has no effect on the test itself, but it’s worth knowing, so that you don’t get a surprise. All of the practice material you have used will have had “sections”. It seems that this change is meant to bring the paper-based test in line with the computer-based one. The word “part” fits both contexts, while “sections” perhaps more readily calls to mind a paper booklet on the desk in front of you.

Page References are Gone!

In the past, the speaker in the audio would point you to the relevant pages of the document: “Now turn to page 3”. In an effort to bring the paper-based and computer-based tests into greater harmony, the test developers have scrapped this. Thankfully, the speaker will still refer to the relevant question number, so you will not be lost at sea. Make sure you listen intently to the question numbers, because you won’t be getting a page number to cross-reference.

No More Part 1 Example

If you’ve done any IELTS listening practice tests, you will know about the example. In past tests, the speaker on the recording would complete one question for you. This question did not form part of your assessment, but was simply a demonstration. The purpose of this was to make sure candidates understood what to do. It also helped the candidates to get used to the speaker’s accent. In addition, it gave stronger candidates a few extra moments to look ahead. We at Highway IELTS are sad to see this one go, but we will need to prepare our students to do without it. From now on, you will need to listen very intently from the moment the recording starts.

So IELTS Listening is Changing: Now What?

Thankfully, none of these changes are radical. The test will still be testing the same skills, in exactly the same format. The changes simply serve to make the paper-based and computer-based test more similar. That said, people who have taken time to prepare using old practice materials will have to adjust. Also, while IELTS Listening is changing, none of the other tests are. Fortunately, none of the advice we give for IELTS listening will change. I’ll repeat them here:

Don’t Leave Anything Blank

Your answer sheet, whether paper or computerised, has forty spaces. Your score comes from a tally of all the correct answers you give. There is no negative penalty for a wrong answer. In other words, there is no advantage to leaving an answer blank. There is also mounting evidence that short-term auditory memory contains a passive element. This means that when we listen to speech, we retain a certain amount of information even if we don’t mean to do so.

But you don’t really need scientists to verify what is a common human experience. We have all had the experience of “zoning out” of a conversation but still remembering some details, or catching words out of someone else’s conversations without really paying attention. If time is running out and you haven’t put an answer in a space, relax and allow it to come to you. If all else fails, use the context (the words around the space) to make a reasonable guess.

Stick to your guns

You are completely free to change your answers, right up until the moment the invigilator takes your paper, or the timer runs out on the computer. However, this is seldom a good idea. Again, there’s evidence in support of what we all know to be true.

Use the Context

Many of the questions will require you to fill in a space in a sentence, paragraph, table or diagram. For these questions, you have a wealth of context to guide you. Think about each possibility: does the answer here need to be a verb or a noun? Do I have to include any units of measurement or are those provided? Your brain can do a lot of this for you. Consider the word “bode”. It’s not a word that occurs often by itself, but the chances are that as soon you saw it, your mind offered you “well” to make the phrase “bode well” as in “this does not bode well”.

Summing Up

Now that IELTS Listening is changing, there will no longer be a practice example. “Sections” will now be “Parts”, but there will still be four of them. The speaker will not help you out by giving page numbers, but you will still hear directions to the relevant question numbers. These are not substantive changes, but it’s important that you know about them. For the time being, none of the other tests are undergoing any kind of change. We will continue to update you on the evolution of IELTS and we are ready to answer your questions.

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