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How to stay focused during the IELTS listening test

You should also look at this page for other tips and hints for IELTS listening

Unfortunately, losing focus during the IELTS listening test is very common, even for very high level candidates. Many people find that after the listening test has started, they realise that although they have been ‘listening’ to the recording and waiting for an answer, they haven’t actually heard what is happening and can no longer follow what the speaker or speakers are saying.

So what’s the problem? Why won’t my brain stay focused?

The main problem relates to ‘question paralysis’, where you are so focused on listening for an answer to a specific question that your normal listening skills are lost. The best technique here is to keep in mind that you need to follow the recording, regardless of the questions. Of course you need the answers, but most of your focus should be on listening to the flow of the conversation or monologue, considering what the speakers are saying.

This can often be achieved best by not constantly staring at the questions – read them in the time given before the recording begins, and causally glance at them, but for the most part, you should find that your eyes are unfocused and slightly glassy and that you are staring at a point on the wall or on the desk in front of you. You should return to the question paper (or screen) only when you need to double check a question or to write an answer/glance at the next question.

Active listening

You should also be using a technique referred to as ‘active listening’. As the name suggests, this mean that you are not casually sitting back and not paying attention – you are focused and listening carefully. Here are two tips to help improve your active listening:

  1. Mentally repeat the main points of what the speakers are saying. Of course, this must be done in your head and not out loud!
  2. Stay in the moment. Don’t play with your hair, pick at your fingernails, make doodles on your question paper. React in the same way that you would react if the speaker was right in front of you – nod, smile, shake your head (but don’t say anything out loud!)

So how can I practice?

One of the most effective (although boring!) ways of practising your active listening is to listen to a short recording and then transcribing (writing down) what you hear. To begin with, focus only on the main idea, but as you being to improve you will find that you will be able to listen to a longer piece of audio and transcribe almost everything you hear. You can practice this using the listening practice tests, then compare the notes you have transcribed with the transcript given.

Click here to go to the IELTS listening practice tests.

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