Top IELTS listening mistakes students often make

Common mistakes students make in the IELTS Listening section

Common mistakes students make in the IELTS Listening section


  • Listening
  • Tips & Strategies

A lot of learners find listening to be the most difficult of all sections in the IELTS test. There are several reasons for that. 

First of all, listening itself is a complicated process as learners should mainly rely on the auditory channel of perceiving information and often there is no visual support. 

What is more, in the IELTS test, candidates hear the text once only, and they have no chance to re-listen. 

Apart from that, the format of some tasks can be really challenging and even confusing for test takers.

In this article, we will discuss what you as teachers can do to help your learners avoid the potential difficulties in the IELTS listening section and enhance their performance.

We can divide the main difficulties roughly into two groups: 

  • the problems which deal with the audio text itself,
  • the difficulties connected with the task format and the process of its completion.

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Difficulties connected with the audio text

I heard a lot of unknown words and was trying to understand them.

IELTS is an exam for all levels and both Intermediate and Advanced level candidates will hear the same text. Therefore, audio texts will include words that are unfamiliar to your learners. Trying to understand every word can be quite a misleading idea because it may distract your learners from completing the task and performing worse.

What is important to remember is that the listening section does not test the knowledge of all the words in the audio text, but listening skills. 

Thus, encourage your learners to focus on the task and all that can help complete it. It is worth concentrating on understanding the main points, recognising distractors, using special compensation strategies which help to deal with unknown words. 

While listening, I got lost and could not catch the answer.

Unfortunately, it is quite a common situation in the exam when a test taker is trying to catch the answer to the question and then realises that they have missed a lot and got lost in the text. 

To prevent such situations, make sure your learners analyse the task, and have a clear idea of what information they need to hear. 

Encourage them to underline the keywords and to catch them or their synonyms in the audio text. 

Apart from that, advise your learners to pay attention to signposting phrases which signal the shift between the parts of the audio text and linkers which show the connection between the ideas in the text.

I answered the question using my knowledge in this area because I did not agree with the speaker in the audio text.

This is the case when candidates' background knowledge can be a drawback instead of a benefit. 

Aim to explain to your learners that the task is based on the text and its facts, ideas and views.

Even if we think we know the correct answer, it may be different from the one in the given text. As a result, we can make mistakes. Therefore, it is essential for the learners not to become the co-authors of the audio text.

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Difficulties connected with the task format and task completion

I do not know how to do the task. / I have not done a task like this before.

The exam is quite a stressful event for candidates. When they come across a task they have not done before, the level of stress increases.

So to better prepare your learners for the exam, make sure you practise with them all the tasks of the updated exam format. 

To do the task, it is essential: 

  • to analyse the action plan,
  • to develop the necessary strategies for this task.

Then your learners will know how to approach the task even when being stressed which will definitely improve their performance.

I did not know the answer so I left the answer sheet blank.

Another typical situation test takers can find themselves. In IELTS, points are not deducted for incorrect answers. 

Therefore, encourage your learners not to leave the answer sheet blank if they do not know the answer or are not sure about it.

If they have several options, advise them to write one of them — the one they are more confident about; if there are no options, recommend them to guess. 

If the answer is wrong, the candidates will be penalised for that; but there is always a chance of guessing the answer. 

I did not have enough time to read the task attentively.

In the listening section, test takers are given some time to read the task. 

This time slot is usually from 20 to 40 seconds; the longest one is in Listening Part 4 — 1 minute and it is given to read all 10 questions.

Since candidates hear the test once only, it is crucial to analyse the task carefully. See if you do such practice during the lessons. 

Another great point here will be regular timed practice when learners complete exam tasks under the exam conditions. It helps them identify their weaker points and what should be improved. 

It was the first part of the text, and I got so stressed that I could not not focus on the task.

Stress and anxiety can play against candidates as there is no opportunity to re-listen to the text. 

What can help your learners reduce the level of stress is regular practice.

See if you include timed practice in your lessons and aim to follow the exam regulations, especially the original time slots and playing the recording once.

What is more, aim to organise a mock test for your learners at the end or after the course completion. It will give your learners a realistic picture of what to expect in the real exam.

We hope all the recommendations will be helpful for your learners and will help them maximise their performance in the exam and pass it successfully.

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Article authors & editors
  • Olena Bochkarova

    Olena Bochkarova


    DELTA, CELTA certified teacher of General & Business English, IELTS Prep, International Speaking Examiner



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