ielts listening section strategies to try

IELTS Listening Section – Find Strategies via Trial and Error (4 Strategies to Try)

In this Part 2 of how to improve your IELTS Listening score include the following topics

  • Importance of Mindeset
  • IELTS Listening section strategies
  • IELTS Active vs Passive Listening
  • Tracking your practice tests scores
  • Work extra hard to improve the scores in weak question types

Read the Part 1 of this IELTS Listening section – How to Improve IELTS Listening Score (Part 1)

Experiments with IELTS Listening Section

Now, you have data points collected (refer to Part 1). Next steps would be improve the IELTS Listening section score by trial and error. I call this the “IELTS Listening Section Experiments”.

Non-Risk taking part my inner voice says “Stop messing around! Raghu, you are going to score 8.0 to 8.5 for sure, why do you want to change the strategy that’s working. There are 1000’s IELTS test takers who be at top of the work to get an score of 8.0”.

Risk taking part of my inner voice says, “Raghu, go for it. Find way to get the perfect bank score of 9.0 in IELTS Listening”.

And I listening to the “Risk Taking” voice and here’s various IELTS Listening strategies I tried and found out the best strategy that worked for me.

IELTS Listening Question Types and Mindset

As soon as I the open the test booklet, I would scan the 40 questions. I see a section with Multiple Choice questions or Maps, my heart would sink – Negative thinking!  And it impacted my scores specifically on those two question types.

ielts listening section multiple choice questions type

I knew my weakness with IELTS Listening questions and I haven’t found a workable strategy yet!

I think the primary reason for scoring 6.5,  7.0 or 7.5 in IELTS Listening section during the practice tests was the state of my mind during the test. It was not due to the lack of skill.

When I scanned the types of questions that are going to appear in the test and even before the first section begins, negative thinking kicked in and  I would miss 6 to 8 questions and most of them would be from Multiple Choice questions.

Strategy 1

  • What I realized: The weakness started messing my mind.
  • What I did: I would not scan all 40 questions for IELTS question types at the beginning of the test.
  • Result: I still had to scan the questions just before the speakers would start speaking a specific section. And this had the same impact and this strategy did not help.

Strategy 2

  • What I did: Aggressively scan the questions and highlight the keywords to give extra time to tackle multiple choice questions or the map
  • Result: I got back to my regular score level 8 to 8.5, but I’m looking for perfect score of Band 9.0 in the Listening section.

Strategy 3

  • What I did: Highlight only the questions within Multiple Choice with longer sentences as answer choices
  • Result: This strategy did not produce any improvement in the scores.

I  found the solution to tackle the Map/Diagram type of questions in the IELTS Listening section by being an active listener.

Until the day of the test, my experimentation continued and it did not get the results I was hoping for to tackle the Multiple choice questions type.

Find The Strategy That Works for You

So far, you have collected data points for various factors (see Part 1 of this article series).

Identified your weakness in IELTS Listening Section

Now, how do you find a strategy to overcome a weakness?

I was fortunate enough to find a solution for Multiple Choice questions in the Listening Section on the day of the test. I was not going to let the IELTS Test makers beat me in the Listening Section.

Likewise, there will be a strategy that works for you. You have to find that.

I realized that each person has a base level English skill. And there’s always room for improvement by dedicated practice. Some of you might choose to hire a tutor or an online course or opt for self-study for the test.

Do what you feel comfortable with and in the end, you need a custom strategy to see another 0.5 band level score boost.

In the end being an active listener worked for me.

IELTS Listening: Active vs Passive

  • Passive Listening:
    • Listen to the speaker
    • Identify the answer
    • Select the answer
    • Activities Includes – Listen and Select Answers
  • Active Listening:
    • Test sheet should have several markings to track the speakers
    • Words highlighted for context switch
    • Mind shift from listening mode to answering mode only to mark answers
    • Activities Includes
      • Before Speakers begins speaking
        • Writing, marking or scribbling
        • Understanding of keywords and the context
      • After Speaker begins to speak
        • Track the listener by marking words
        • Identify keywords when speaker mentions
        • Pay attention to transition words
        • Select the answer and move to Active listening mode

In this trial and error approach, I was focussing on figuring out what works for me based on my specific weakness. That’s something you should try as well.


  • [Weakness] What question types are you struggling with?
  • Try multiple strategies and it may take 2 to 4 tests to validate if that strategy works
  • You should be willing to take risks and try it out.
  • During the trial and error, scores could drop
  • When trying out new approach, try one change at a time

IETLS Listening Section Series:

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