In IELTS the listening comprehension is designed to assess your ability to understand spoken English and is the same for all candidates. There is a pre-recorded tape which lasts for about thirty minutes. There is a total of about forty questions. There are four sections in the test. Each section may contain two or three linked passages of two to three minutes each, or one longer passage of about five minutes. The passages get more difficult as you progress through the tape.
The earlier sections use situations in which you may find yourself on first arriving in an English-speaking country, when you need 'survival English'. These include finding your way around, following directions, giving and taking down information, making arrangements etc. Section 1 is always in the form of a dialogue between two or more speakers, while section 2 is a talk or some information given by one person at a time.
In the later sections the topics usually concern education and training. Here you may have to do the kind of thing you will need to do in an academic environment - listen to pre-recorded information, listen to lectures, pick out relevant key information from a dialogue and so on. Again, section 3 is a dialogue or discussion, while section 4 is a single voice giving a talk or lecture.
So you will hear monologues and dialogues. You will hear male voices and female voices. You will also hear a variety of accents. You will hear the passages once only, as in most situations in real life.
You are given a booklet. This contains all the instructions and questions with space to write your answers.
As in the reading test, there is a wide range of question types. Much of this may be in the form of graphics, such as tables. This applies also to multiple-choice questions, where you may have to choose between a numbers of pictures or mark a point on a plan. Spelling is important, especially where it is clear from the tape that accuracy is required, such as filling in important details on an application form. Errors in spelling and grammar are only accepted on very uncommon words. Answers require notes, letters or numbers rather than complete sentences.
You will be given time to check your answers between sections, and at the end of the test, as well as time to read the questions before each section. Instructions are recorded on the tape. They are clear and you are sometimes given examples of what you have to do. At the end of the test you are given ten minutes to transfer your answers to an answer sheet.
You are listening with a purpose - to identify what the question requires, find the information efficiently and answer accurately. It is not necessary to understand every word that is spoken.
Since you will hear the information once only, it is particularly important that you prepare yourself properly before you listen and anticipate what you will hear. You must read the question, understand it, follow the recording, recognise the answer and write it down - so you must use the time you are given to read the questions before each section to build up an idea of what the recording will be about, the topic, the situation and the characters.
You must know what specific information you are listening for: is it a time or a place, a fact or an attitude, for example. This means you must analyse the questions to find out what information you are listening for and read the instructions carefully. Then you can listen for key words and phrases. Don't worry if you don't understand everything - you should try to guess the meaning from the context.
Remember you must write your answers down as you hear them, but keep listening for the answer to the next question while you are writing. This will be easier if you have analysed the questions properly before listening.
Finally, check your answers. You are given a short time at the end of each section and at the end of the test to check your answers. Look over your answers - and make sure you have followed the instructions correctly.