Don’t miss out on my new Patreon exclusive essays here.


Testing vs Developing

The IELTS listening test is designed to test, not improve, your listening. One common mistake that many of my students make is trying to use practice tests to improve their listening skills.

Testing your listening is what you do when you take a practice IELTS test. You listen once and find out how good your listening is.

This does not improve your listening very well. In the long-term, it does. Over years and years but it is a slow way to improve.

Read here more about two question types: labelling a map and multiple choice questions.

The 3 Keys

The other option is to develop your listening using the 3 keys:

1. Listen to something short.

2. Listen again and again.

3. Write something while you listen.

The difference between testing and developing your listening is like the difference between playing a game of football and practicing one skill.

If you play a game you are focusing on tons of different skills at once. You will improve but it will take a long time.

If you want to improve one specific skill, for example shooting, you should practice shooting again and again. This will quickly develop your shooting skills.

Listening is the same – practice one skill again and again and you will improve your listening for IELTS quickly!

Key #1: Listen to something short.

Don’t used a full practice test! Instead, listen to part of it (less than 1 or 2 minutes long). Or find a clip on youtube from BBC One Minute World News or Ted Ed.

It should one be 1 – 2 minutes maximum.

Key #2: Listen again and again.

The reason why you should listen to something short is so that you can listen to it again and again.

And why does listening to something again and again improve (not test) your listening?


1. You will hear the same sounds repeatedly and get better and better at recognising them.

2. You will hear new sounds and words each time and begin to recognise them as well.

That’s the whole reason why you should listen to something again and again to improve your listening!

Key #3: Write something while you listen.

The IELTS listening test tests 3 skills – Listening, reading and writing.

You have to read the questions. Listen to the answers. And write them.

This means that when you are developing your listening you should do some writing. It will improve your ability to listen and write at the same time and also will focus your listening on one particular skill.

Simple Listening Activities

Here are 10 simple activities for improving your listening:

1. Listen and write down the keywords.


2. Listen and write down a 1 sentence summary after you listen. Then listen again and make your summary more detailed.


3. Listen and write down words with difficult sounds (for example, all words that end with ‘s.’ words that end with ‘y’ and ‘een’ like 50 and 15).


4. Listen and write down every word. If you’re using Ted Ed you can check with the tapescript.


5. Listen and pause – then write down the last sentence or last 5 words your heard.


6. Listen and pause in the middle of a sentence – then write down how you think the sentence will end. Listen to the rest of the sentence and check.


7. Listen and try to write down the unfamiliar words. Then look them up in the dictionary and fix your spelling.


8. Listen and draw a picture of what they are talking about.


9. Write down the question words ‘Where,’ ‘When,’ ‘Why,’ ‘Who,’ ‘How,’ and ‘What’ and try to answer while you listen.


10. Listen and make a mind map of the topic.

For all of the ideas above you should listen multiple times – at least 5 times.

If your listening is only 1 minute long that will only take 5 minutes!

Do this at least once a day and I promise your listening will improve more quickly than any other method.

Here’s a video from our YouTube Channel explaining the fastest ways to improve your listening!

Now it’s your turn! Put your answers in the comments.

Do you have any links to interesting listenings on YouTube?

Recommended For You