Predicting Answers on the IELTS Listening Test


Hi folks. Please note that for this lesson I've added an audio version in case you'd rather listen to it, or if you'd like to practice listening while you read. Find the player on the left-hand side of the page.

In this lesson I will share the single most important strategy for the listening test: predicting answers. I will explain why it’s important, and how to do it.

After that I’ll show you a video of someone using this strategy to achieve a high band score on the Listening Test. Let’s go!


Predicting Answers: The Most Important Listening Strategy


"What is predicting answers?"

On the IELTS Listening test, predicting answers means reading the questions carefully and thinking about what kinds of answers you will need, before you listen to the audio script. For example, look at the question below:

ielts listening sample question


What kind of answer do you think #11 will be?

It's probably a time, right? How did you know this? Well, a few things can help us here: the “p.m.” after the answer, the preposition “at” before the answer, as well as the overall context.

And if we know that #11 is a time, then it will be very easy for us to hear it when it comes up in the listening audio! (...of course, not all IELTS Listening questions are as easy to predict as this one. If only it were that simple!)

Predicting answers is a way to prepare your mind to hear answers on the listening test. On the test, you are given a short time to read through the questions before each group of questions, and this is when you should predict answers.


"Why is Prediction so Important?"

It's important for two reasons. Firstly, it’s important because you only get to hear the script once! So you need to do what you can to make sure you hear the answers.

Secondly, it’s important because the IELTS audio is played without any visual help. You don’t get to see the people speaking, their facial expressions and other context clues that help us in real life.

So it is really important to do a good job predicting answers before we listen, to prepare our minds for what we will hear in the audio.


"How do I Predict Answers?"

Simply read through the questions (quickly), and use their context, overall structure, grammar, and any other clues to help you predict what kinds of answers you will need. Note that you might not be able to predict exactly what kind of answer, but that’s okay! Any information you can get will help.

Let’s try it together. Take a look at the following questions, and try to predict the types of answers you will need:

prediction practice

Click to show answer

  • We can use the second column “NEEDED” to see that #1 is probably a number, just like the others in its column.
  • #2 is obviously some kind of school supply, just like the others in the “ITEM” column.
  • #3 is also a school supply, and we have an extra hint here as we can see it is something that can be used for recording answers (like a pencil or pen!)

Good job. If this was a real IELTS Listening Test, you would have a very easy time hearing the answers to these questions, because your mind would be prepared to separate them from the rest of the information in the audio!



  • The above examples are from Section 1 of the Listening Test. Answers from Section 1 and 2 are easier to predict, because they are usually details like numbers, dates, locations and names.

Answers on Section 3 and 4 are more abstract and more difficult to predict, but it is still really important to practice prediction on Section 3 and 4! You might not be able to predict exactly what kind of answer you need, but as long as you know you’re looking for a noun, or an action, or some kind of idea related to some particular topic, then the listening will be easier for you.

  • Prediction does not work on multiple choice questions. Don’t try it! For these question types, we need a different strategy (see Question Type Strategy: Multiple Choice lesson for help here!)


Let’s Watch Someone Use Prediction on an IELTS Listening Test:

Let’s watch someone complete some questions from the IELTS Listening Test using prediction strategy. We will look at question from Section 2 and Section 4, to give you an idea of how this strategy works on later sections of the test.

Now it’s up to you to try this strategy on your practice tests. Remember, learning strategies won’t help unless you practice them. So find a practice test, and think about predicting answers as you go.

Good luck!