Losing focus during the IELTS listening section is very common, even for very high-level students. Many people find that after the listening section has started, they realize 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.
What’s the problem? Why won’t my brain stay focused?
The main problem is ‘question paralysis’, which means 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 by NOT constantly staring at the questions – read them in the time given before the recording begins. You should return to the question paper only when you need to double-check a question, write an answer, or glance at the next question.
You should also be using a technique referred to as ‘active listening’. As the name suggests, this means 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:
- Mentally repeat the main points of what the speakers are saying. Of course, this must be done in your head and not out loud!
- Stay in the moment. Don’t play with your hair, pick at your fingernails or make doodles on your question paper. React in the same way that you would react if the speaker was right in front of you – a nod, smile, shake your head but don’t say anything out loud!
So how can I practice?
One of the most effective ways of practicing 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 begin 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.