Although the web is full of both interesting an helpful material for improving IELTS listening skills, there seems to be little information on some fundamentals for understanding the IELTS listening paper and even less regarding a more general discussion on how to improve listening skills as a whole
First and foremost, many are familiar with the Cambridge general exams FCE, CAE and CPE. Here it is important to note the differences between IELTS and the general exams. The general exams test to what extent you are e.g. a pre-advanced student or a proficient student, as is the case with the CPE. This means that it is a segmented test that you can pass or fail.
The IELTS on the other hand, 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 also when it comes to developing your IELTS listening skills.
Different from the FCE, CAE and CPE, the IELTS listening passage is played once only. This means that developing mapping skills and understanding of triggers and distractors can take you only so far – you will need to train your note-taking abilities.
There are several myths when it comes to difficulties in comprehending spoken English. Mostly, people believe that accent is the main problem. True, different accents can complicate matters significantly. We all know that when we are comfortable with a speaker, we anticipate and deduce much more efficiently, thus, providing a better general grasp of the information given. This said, many IELTS candidates developing their IELTS listening skills, wrongly focus too much on understanding individual lexical items, instead of focusing on meaning on sentence level. This is a serious problem as a certain overflow of information takes place. While the candidate ponders the meaning of one word of phrase, parts of the following discourse has been lost. Another often overlooked 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.
TIP: Train your ability to get a general grasp of meaning when developing your IELTS listening skills.
Mapping out a listening passage
All listening passages across all major certificates such as the TOEIC, TOEFL, CAE, CPE, IELTS and others, all have some important characteristics in common. One of these is the flow of information or information distribution in the passage, and the use of triggers and distractors.
Triggers are keywords that lead up to the answer in the listening passage. Distractors are just that … keywords meant to distract you.
When working with your IELTS listening skills, think of the passage as a sine wave with highs and lows, the curve building up to the top. You will find triggers as the curve moves upward. On the very top you will find the answer. Using this analogy you will understand that your full attention is not always acquired as answers come and go in waves.
Bottom line: Train your ability to identify keywords, highs and lows in passages and when synonyms are used as triggers and distractors.
General tips for improving your IELTS listening skills
There is no easy formula, but here are some key tips to get you going: (all of these and more will be worked intensively in our upcoming IELTS complete video tutorial course to be released in 2011 – sign up for our newsletter – we will tell you when it is released.
Listen to many different passages and speakers. Play passages repeatedly. Start by getting the general idea, then, as you listen for a second, third and fourth time, more and more details will come your way. The more you train this way, the more information you will be able to grasp the first time you listen
Work with many different 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.
Practice taking notes when listening. Compare your initial notes to the notes you take the second time around. Analyze the differences and learn from them.
Strike a sound balance between studying English and doing IELTS mock exams. No candidate has ever achieved a stellar mark ignoring one for the other
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