IELTS Listening: Intention of the questions


I've seen many students in Australia that can totally understand what does the native speaker talk about, and when they go to the movies without any subtitle, they still can understand 80% of the content. Even after the IELTS test, they are confidence with their listening part. However, the results are always disappoint them. I believe the reason is most candidates don't know the intention of the questions maker.

Now let's compare one listening question in TOEFL and IELTS, see what are the differences.

Listening scripts:

  • MAN: You should hand in your paper now!
  • WOMAN: Sorry, I haven’t finished it yet. Could you give me a one week extension?

TOEFL question:

What’s the possible relation between the man and the women?

  • A. husband and wife
  • B. brother and sister
  • C. Professor and student


IELTS question: (no more than THREE words)

  • The student asks for____________________


What's the difference of the intention of the question?

The purpose of most Listening Test is to test the candidate "Do you understand?" or "Do you get the main ideas?"

So, in the TOEFL question, most students can select the right answer which is C, once you understand that the man is asking for something, but the women haven't finished yet and wanna more time to complete it. So basically, once you get the main ideas, you are able to do the questions.

Yet, in the IELTS question, you may know this dialog is between a teacher and a student when you read the question. And the answer is "one week extension" or "a week extension" or "week extension", the others are all considered incorrect, which means if you write more than 3 words, or misspell the word "extension", or miss "a/one/week", or answer likes "more time", you will loss mark.

So, what is the listening part testing for?

You must understand the key words, be able to catch the detailed information and correctly spelling. You must focus on the recording.

This is a really example. A student came to me one day, and said "Jeffrey, I feel very confident today, coz I did 8-hours listening practice at home yesterday". I said "Wow, you were wasting your time, coz, 8-hours, you definitely cannot focus on the content, not to mention the detailed information. It's like you  listen to music or something. What did you get from the recordings are just main ideas — just like what we did when we watch movies." Then how would you be able to answer the questions correctly?

QUALITY NOT QUANTITY. Don't try to make your listening score from 6 to 7 with an 8-hours practice, and you will also waste the practice material. That's why I always have students come to me and ask for more listening practice materials.

I've finished all of the Cambridge books. What should I do next?

My advice is to do them again! This time, don't use the books for testing. Study and analyse the questions and answers carefully, use a dictionary to look up new vocabulary, try writing essays without a time limit, and record yourself answering the speaking questions. There is so much that you can learn from past exam papers.


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