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5 Things You Can Do Today to Raise Your Listening Score [by Hamid, Band 9 in IELTS Listening]

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Hamid is a 30 year old IELTS test taker, who got an Overall Band Score of 8.5 with two straight 9′s in the Listening and Speaking sub tests. When we asked Hamid what his advice would be to other IELTS candidates trying to raise their score, he invested a lot of effort and put together the following tips. Have a read, and see what you can change about YOUR Listening practice today, to get a big improvement:

Band 9 in IELTS“It’s generally believed there’s nothing candidates can do to elevate their score in a short period of time. I beg to differ and do believe that with enough dedication, practice, time allocation and directed guidance, getting a higher score in Listening is not so far-fetched.

Here are some tips that might help with this section.

1. First and foremost, make sure you LISTEN to the recording, do not just HEAR it. A simple distinction between LISTENING and HEARING is that the element of ATTENTION is missing in hearing. When answering questions, learners must listen thoroughly to the recording instead of reading the questions. Simply put, do NOT READ and LISTEN at the same time. Before the recording is played out for you, focus ALL your attention on your booklet. While listening to the recording, on the other hand, direct ALL you attention to the recording with a question in mind, in other words, LISTEN. I even sometimes ask my students NOT to look at the question, and instead to JUST LISTEN to avoid distraction.

2. Another important point you need to keep in mind is that you don’t need to answer ALL the questions to get a good score. If you manage to answer even 30 out of 40 questions, you can still get a 7, which is a high score. Remember that the level of difficulty of questions vary in the IELTS Test (in both Listening and Reading sections). As far as Listening is concerned, for instance, FIVE questions are so difficult that only those candidates aiming for a band 8, 8.5 or 9 can answer them. The tricky part is that these challenging questions are RANDOMLY and of course CLEVERLY distributed in order to distract test takers. A smart and successful candidate is one who does not let a difficult question make him/her lose the track of the audio. My point – if you miss one question, even two, do not PANIC. They are most probably WAY above your level. IMMEDIATELY RECOVER so you don’t miss the questions you are capable of dealing with. Don’t let difficult questions have a DOMINO EFFECT on your general performance.

3. In order to maximize your score and better your performance, you need to minimize your errors in Section 1. Many candidates, even with an acceptable level of listing ability, perform poorly in this section, simply because it is the VERY first section of the Listening test. To manage your anxiety, and in turn maximize your performance, do PLENTY of practice tests and mock tests. Practice NUMBERS and DICTATION. Develop a system. Find a list of words that are frequently used. I’ve come up with a fantastic and sure-fire system: PDM (Pronunciation, Dictation, Meaning). If you find a word challenging in terms of PRONUNCIATION, mark it P. In this case, when you later on refer to it, the P reminds you that you had difficulty pronouncing that word right. The same thing can be applied to DICTATION (D) and MEANING (M).

4. An insurmountable problem for the vast majority of candidates, regardless of their listening ability, is indeed Multiple Choice Questions (MCQs), which frequently appear in Section 3 of the IELTS Test. This type of question appears to be challenging for a number of reasons.

First of all, candidates do not have time for reading all the questions and their options. This gets even more challenging with questions with long answer options. The solution? MAKE TIME. Instead of wasting your invaluable time REREADING questions in Section 1 and Section 2, budget your time so you have enough time to read and re-read questions in Sections 3 and 4. Be at least one or two steps AHEAD of the recording, if you will. Use the time you are given at the end of each section to prepare yourself for questions in the following section.

A second reason why MCQs challenge candidates has again to do with LISTENING and HEARING. A colossal mistake many candidates make while answering this type of questions is that, while the recording is played out, they keep RE-READING the options. They feel they are listening to the recording, while, in reality, they are not; they are HEARING. Do NOT make the same mistake. Make sure you have already read, understood and underlined the key parts of each option. Wait until the speaker(s) is/are finished talking about a question and THEN decide which option fits better. A classic mistake is that candidates try to decide on the correct option, while the speaker(s) is still giving information about a question. Wait till he/she is done and then decide quickly.

Remember that a sure-fire way to arrive at the correct answer is by eliminating other options. The options that we do NOT want are

  • the ones which are too obvious and easy. Do NOT choose any option simply because it contains a word you heard on the recording. Most questions in Section 3 are INFERENTIAL, meaning that they are not DIRECTLY mentioned. So watch out for too easy and obvious options. They are most probably the ones you won’t need.
  • the ones which are in direct contradiction with the recording. In almost all cases, one or even two options out of three are REJECTED, so by being on the lookout for such options and eliminating them, you can maximize your chance of finding the correct answer.
  • the ones which are mentioned at the same time. More often than not, two out of three options in MCQs are mentioned in the recording, using a connector (AND, ALONG WITH, etc.) Just be aware of the fact that when it happens, for example answers A and C are mentioned one after the other with a connector, be sure that neither of them is the correct answer.

5. One more thing: watch SERIES and LISTEN TO ENGLISH music. It WORKS WONDERS. The instructional value of watching series is far more than that of watching movies for some simple reasons:

  • Many movies contain a lot of background noise, which some learners find distracting.
  • There are more dialogues in series compared to movies.
  • Watching series creates a feeling of SUSPENSE in the viewer, which encourages learners to follow the other episodes of their favorite series. This will in turn result in more learning opportunities.
  • After watching a specific series, viewers develop a sense of empathy with some characters and get accustomed to their state of mind. This feeling of understanding and bonding can result in better comprehension.

I hope you find these few tips useful. I’m sure with enough dedication, active listening, awareness and guidance, your listening score can easily be improved.”

Is IELTS Band 9 impossible for non-native English speakers?

IELTS Band 9 is the holy grail of IELTS test takers, it’s often thought of as impossible, but it really is not. Of course it’s not easy to achieve, but… Emiliano from Uruguay is a living proof that you can still get Band 9 in IELTS, without being a native English speaker (his mother tongue is Spanish). We learned about Emiliano’s success when he emailed his IELTS results to participate in our monthly competition. When he won, and we asked him what was the secret behind his beautiful score (straight 9′s in Listening, Reading and Writing, and 8.5 in Speaking) – here is what he said:

Band 9 in IELTS“I’d recommend doing some recreational reading in English, I think it really broadens your vocabulary and it reminds you that you can actually enjoy yourself while improving your English (as opposed to only studying for the test, which is important of course!). I did a bit of reading while I was studying for the test, and it proved not only useful but also entertaining! I believe a wide range of authors and styles is the way to go, so I went from Jack London and Arthur Conan Doyle to George R.R. Martin and Paul Auster.

Regarding more specific tips, I think time management is of the essence, particularly in the Writing test. I’d recommend to start the test by planning the answers to both questions before starting to write any of them. That is: when the test starts you’re at your best (you’ll grow increasingly tired and stressed with every passing minute), so you should take advantage of that moment of relative clarity and plan your answers (I stress: both of them). I guess you could allow yourself ten minutes to do so. Once the answers are planned, all you have to do is follow the plan, and that makes it much easier, because you can think of every paragraph as a small task rather than look at the whole essay as a big scary task.

Finally, I think it’s important to speak English whenever you have the chance (sounds terribly obvious, I know). But in case you don’t have someone to speak English with, you could just speak to yourself (when you are alone, I mean… you wouldn’t want people to think you have some sort of multiple personality disorder.. and you should also avoid saying “my precious”, that sounds really Gollum-like). Joking aside, I believe that just trying to think and speak to yourself in English helps a lot. Maybe also reading out loud. Of course, you might feel embarrassed at first, but it is great for your pronunciation and it will certainly improve your performance in the speaking test.

Thanks again and let me know if I can do anything else to be of assistance to other candidates. And by the way congratulations on your blog, it’s wonderful.”

P.S. IELTS results competition runs every month, and everyone is welcome to participate. Learn how to enroll here.



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