The IELTS listening exam is comprised of four sections, and they are each more difficult than the previous. That means section 1 is the easiest, and section 4 is the hardest. Fortunately, the content is quite predictable. Sections 1 and 2 are in a general/everyday setting, while sections 3 and 4 take place in an academic context. Section 3 features several people (usually students) talking about something (usually a lecture or presentation). Section 4 is almost always a lecture or presentation, although the exact content could be anything from history to philosophy to biology.

Question Typessection 4 questions

There are ten questions in each section of the listening exam, making a total of forty questions. In section four, you will likely encounter two different question types. These commonly include table completion or sentence completion, as well as multiple choice. At this stage in the test, you may need to write down several words for each answer, or write down a word which is quite difficult to spell.

Tips for Section 4

Here are some ideas to help you with IELTS listening section 4:

  1. This section will almost certainly contain some difficult vocabulary. However, understanding the questions and answers will not require you to understand these hard words. Remember, you never need specialist knowledge to do well in IELTS. A key skill here is being able to follow the main idea and listen for specific details, thereby ignoring the difficult vocabulary. In a sense, you need to avoid being distracted by confusing words, and focus on the task at hand.
  2. Think in terms of synonyms. That means you should read the question carefully, circle or underline any important vocabulary (including phrases), and listen for synonyms or paraphrasing. It is almost certain at this point in the exam that you will hear words in the listening passage that have the same meaning as those in the question, but which are different.
  3. Pay attention to structure, as academic talks are likely to have a straightforward structure. Unlike conversations, the speaker will probably use some signpost language, and may even begin with an introduction that explains the content of the lecture. This can help you follow the talk, and move from one question to the next.
  4. Take some time to read the questions carefully, and try to predict the answers. Look at the context (such as other categories in a table) and guess what the answer would likely be. Here is an example from the British Council IELTS website. Number 31 sounds like it could be the opposite of “positive”, right….? 🙂

section 4 ielts listening


My next tip is to practice listening often. I always tell my students to take a two-fold approach to IELTS practice, which means doing some general and some exam practice. You should work on your English skills as well as your IELTS skills during your spare time. Listening can be fun… even watching movies is technically practice! Obviously, I would also suggest using TED talks to boost your listening skills. You can find loads of them on this website. Just check the homepage.

However, you do need to work on actual IELTS listening exam skills like the ones I mentioned above.

In order to do that, I recommend you take some practice tests. You can find those on Amazon, but I highly recommend you trust the Cambridge ones most. There are online tests that you can take, which are really useful. Search “IELTS” on YouTube and you’ll see loads of practice listening tests that are updated almost daily.

Here is one practice that is specific to section 4 of the IELTS listening exam. Guess who made it. 🙂