Don’t just sit back and listen: feedback on listening with the Macmillan IELTS Skills app


This week we take a look at the final skill area on the app, having previously focussed on reading, speaking and writing. Listening takes centre stage this time round as we find out what our students and teachers make of the app’s contribution to this often tough to teach aspect of the IELTS exam.

As anyone who has been teaching IELTS for some time knows, the listening section is as much about developing effective exam strategies and having a good range of vocabulary, as it is about actually listening and understanding the texts. The app reflects this as it places the onus very much on training students to develop good technique and prepare themselves prior to hearing the listening input.

But how did this approach go down with our learners at Bellerbys College? Pre-Masters student Putra from Indonesia shares a few of his thoughts in the short video below:

Putra’s insightful comment that “listening is not only listening, but also reading and writing” highlights how using the app has helped him to take a more holistic approach to the listening exam. It is good to see this kind of approach explicitly expressed in IELTS materials as it is something I am always stressing to my classes – namely, that things like developing their range of synonyms and using their time effectively is the real key to success.

Here are some of our other student comments:

• ‘It’s very good to know how to use the words already there to help us to find the answer’
• ‘There is a lot of good advice about how to use time better and prepare for questions’
• ‘It’s useful because there are specific exercises which allow to practise skills like paying attention on details of conversations’
• ‘It is useful because the examples are just like the test and we can practise in any place’
• ‘I didn’t know there were so many different skills and things to work on!’

As this feedback indicates, our students were pretty positive about the app’s approach to listening preparation. And preparation really is the key here – as teachers I think we appreciated how the tips and activities on the app can help students prepare a mental schema for questions prior to listening. In IELTS listening exams, they only get to hear texts once of course, so this kind of skill is absolutely essential to develop. Instructing them on how to use content words in the questions to focus their listening, and getting them thinking about which might be the tell-tale keywords to highlight are valuable ways to aid the development of their IELTS listening skills. 

Each part of the listening exam is focussed on in some detail and students are familiarised with how the questions are formatted and how the texts work. For instance, students are sensibly advised that they need to maintain concentration since answers are often bunched together in a listening text. After each section is explained, the app provides sample exam practice opportunities for learners to try out the recommended approaches. This helps to ensure that while sub-skills are focussed on in detail, the students are constantly reminded of how these skills will be operational in the context of a real exam scenario.

What I personally most appreciated as an IELTS teacher was the practical nature of the tips offered to students. Things like using headings and subheadings to navigate their way through texts in part 4, and finding their way clearly through maps by quickly figuring out the starting point and visualising the speaker’s journey through the terrain in part 2 map tasks.  Even the most proficient native speaker listener would need to pay attention and adopt these kinds of strategies to get top marks in the listening exam.

The app doesn’t provide a full listening practice exam, but in focussing on the development of the wider skills needed to do well, it makes a positive contribution to the learners’ preparatory repertoire. As Putra says, when it comes to IELTS, “listening is not only listening”.

Be sure to join us next Monday for the final summary of the IELTS Skills app series!





The IELTS skills (complete) app is now available for just £3.99 (was £9.99) and is available for download here.

Let us know your own thoughts on the app in the comments section below.

Read more in this series here:


Reading between the bus lines…

Role-playing reality…

Break it down to build it up…

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