Strategies for IELTS Listening Section 3 – Conversation between 2 or more speakers

Section 3 of the IELTS Listening module involves 2 to 4  people discussing an academic topic. This section requires more careful attention to the conversation or argument being expressed because of the academic topic.

General listening test strategies:

  • Preview the questions – look at any pictures, diagrams and read the questions. This will help you to familiarize yourself to what you’ll be listening to. By being prepared with some knowledge of what to anticipate, you will know what to expect and what to listen for.
  • Read the directions carefully for each question. Fill in the gaps questions require you to write a limited number of words (i.e. “No more than 3 words or No more than 2 words”).

Some tips:

  • Because there are  two or more speakers, it’s important you are able to distinguish between the different speakers from the very beginning (know who they are) as well as understand what they are saying.
  • Remember to check which speaker is focused on in each question.
  • Questions usually follow the order in which you hear the information

Here’s a sample listening task from along with sample test questions.

Here’s how I approach answering those questions:

1. I read the directions that tell me I am completing sentences and can use only up to 2 words.

2. I read each sentence to get an idea of what the conversation will be about and who might be talking.

From skimming these 4 questions, I’m expecting a conversation  about an Open University course. I know it’s about balancing work and studying and that one of the speakers is a woman named Rachel  who overall enjoyed it. I already know a lot about the conversation without even hearing the recording!!

3. I  quickly identify  (underline) key words to listen out for that indicate that I will hear the answer very soon.  You can also guess what could go in the blank to finish the sentence. For example, an adjective or noun, or a specific name or time period or place, etc.

4. You may not  have much time to do all this thoroughly, but it will give you a head start. Also remember, the questions follow the order of the recording, so you can also analyze questions as you’re listening to the recording.

** Now, I’d like you to take the time now to listen to the recording and to answer the 4 sentence completion questions here. Listen to it ONCE only. Check back here to see how you did!**


Now I’ll go over my answers to the example questions for the  recording:

Studying with the Open University demanded a great deal of 27 …………………… .

I’m listening out for a noun (great deal of ….)  that students must have in studying with the Open University. I can anticipate  a word like “time”, “effort”, etc. What I hear Rachel say is, “I needed to maintain a high level of motivation. . .”. This fits nicely. Also note: a great deal of … is similar to a high level of

Studying and working at the same time improved Rachel’s 28 …………………… skills.

I’m listening  out for when Rachel (the woman) speaks and what she has improved in. I hear her say, ” Another thing was that I got very good at time-management because I had to fit time for studying round a full-time job.” This fits nicely. Also note: got very good at is similar to improved.

It was helpful that the course was structured in 29 …………………… .

I’m listening out for a description of the course. “Structured” refers to how it’s organized – usually weeks, months, terms, semesters, years, or something similar to that. I hear ” What makes it easier is that the degree is made up of modules, so you can take time off between them if you need to. ” Although I was expecting a time period, “module” refers to a part/unit of something – like the 4 modules of the IELTS exam.  So “modules” fits nicely. Also note: degree is similar to course; and was structured in… is similar to made up of

She enjoyed meeting other students at 30 …………………… .

I’m listening out for a place where she enjoyed meeting students, because the sentence uses the preposition “at“. I hear her say, ” from time to time there are summer schools. They usually last a week. They’re great, because you meet all the other people struggling with the same things as you…” This fits nicely. Also note: “all the other people struggling with the same things as you” refers to other students.

So to recap, it’s really important to:

  • preview and familiarize yourself with the questions as much as you can
  • identify key words to help you listen out for your answer
  • either guess or think of the kind of words you expect to fill the gaps
  • be aware that you won’t hear the exact same words as written in the question. You’ll hear similar expressions and phrases.
  • listen actively and take clear notes as you’re listening.




I'm an English teacher specializing in IELTS preparation - especially writing and reading. If you have any questions, please ask! You can also sign up for weekly tips and lessons for IELTS and English!

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