The real purpose of the IELTS Listening test is to determine a candidate’s preparedness to deal with actual situations in the study-abroad contexts that require accurate hearing of English. Accordingly, the test is in four sections, all of which represent actual kinds of conversation, public speech, and lectures that a foreign student doing advanced study abroad might encounter. They are:
– A social situation. Typically a conversation between two people about an everyday-life matter, such as travel events, planning to spend time together, making personal introductions, going to a restaurant, and the like. This section tests ability to hear key words, comprehend descriptions of locations and spoken directions about how to reach them, how to recognize and identify other people from physical descriptions, and comprehend ordinary language. Particular challenges are hearing English in a variety of accents, spoken quickly, and the speakers changing their minds and using slang.
– A single speaker in a nonacademic situation. Typically a talk by a school or other administrator about a program or service; sometimes an interview in which only one of the speakers provides information. Particular skills tested are the accurate hearing of information about things such as times, places, dates, names, and particular aspects of policy and the ability to complete forms.
– Multiple speakers in a nonacademic situation. Typically a campus tour or the orientation of new students to a particular campus facility; sometimes a simulated radio news report. Particular skills tested are the ability to hear information in a variety of accents and acoustical settings, hear key words, note phrases the change the meaning of other words heard, and comprehend information given from multiple points of view.
– A single speaker in an academic situation. Typically a portion of a lecture. The subject matter is not highly technical and requires no prior knowledge. Even so, candidates must demonstrate the ability to hear key word and concepts accurately, to distinguish between true and false statements and facts and opinions, and to recognize reported speech and other qualifiers that change the meaning of some phrases.
The four sections or the IELTS Listening test tend to increase in difficulty, but careful preparation is recommended. Some candidates find the first section hardest, simply because of the extensive use of slang and their difficulty in understanding words in unfamiliar accents. Some of the best preparation is free: extensive listening to radio and TV news on channels such as BBC, which naturally report news in British and Commonwealth accents. British, American and other English foreign movies and TV shows also give good exposure to English as spoken by natives and slang speech.
Svend Nelson is a university lecturer and Internet entrepreneur. He is director of UniRoute Limited, a Hong Kong based company with offices in Bangkok and London providing IELTS online preparation and a free online application service to study abroad in UK including courses like tourism management. Svend lived and worked in various countries across Latin America, Europe and Asia and currently lives in Thailand.