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Filling out the IELTS listening answer sheet – some common problems

This lesson looks briefly at some common problems in filling out the IELTS listening answer sheet. The golden rule is of course READ THE INSTRUCTIONS. It is quite easy to go wrong though – mostly because of careless mistakes. Before you go on, try this quick test.

Test your skills on filling out the IELTS listening answer sheet

The pass mark here is 100%.

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Some common problems


Certain types of questions (forms/tables/notes/sentence completion) ask you to fill in words. When you do this you must make sure that the final note/sentence is grammatically correct:

an ________ form

Here you cannot write “apply” because “an apply form” is not good English. You need a word like “application”. Be particularly careful with plurals and articles here. In this example you cannot use a singular countable noun by itself:

to collect data from ______

You need a word either in the plural “interviews“, an uncountable noun “research” or a countable noun with an article “the interview“. Interview by itself must be wrong because the grammar is wrong.


Bad spelling is probably the reason why most marks are lost in listening. Always check the spelling. Note that there are sometimes different variations of words and that both US and UK spelling is fine, so:

center and centre

are both good. Also note that some words have optional hyphens:

coordinator and co-ordinator

these are both good

Capital letters

You can write in capital letters or not without penalty. If your handwriting is poor though, I suggest that you do use capitals.


There are lots of different ways to write dates. All these would be acceptable:

25 October

25th October

October 25th

October 25

No more than three words type questions

Note that “little words’ such as “a” and “the” do count as words. So

a capital city

is three words. Note that if you get a question like this, you can write:

one word

two words

three words

for your answer. You do not have to write three words.

No more than two words and/or a number type questions

When you get a question like this a number counts as one word. So

25 October

one word and one number = 2

To give another example March 31 is one word and one number. This is fine if the question asks one word and/or a number. Why? It includes one word AND a number.

Select the letter type questions

If the question tells you to select a letter, then write the letter in your answer sheet. You may be ok if you write the words instead, but it is a risk

Do not guess more than one option

When  you do not know the answer you cannot write in two options hoping one will be right.

Alternative answers

Sometimes you get questions when there is more than one possible answer. Write down only one answer. So when the possible answers are  half hour and 30 minutes, write either

30 minutes

half hour

Not half hour/30 minutes

General advice

Use your 10 minutes to check spelling and grammar.

The words you need to write down are words you hear. Make notes as you listen.

Guess answers in the 10 minutes at the end. You may guess right and it sill stop you putting the answers in the wrong place.


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48 Responses to Filling out the IELTS listening answer sheet – some common problems

  1. Vahid November 11, 2014 at 8:23 am #

    Please give me examples of “three words and/or a number”.

    It is a bit confusing! Thanks

    • Dominic Cole November 11, 2014 at 8:42 am #

      You typically get this when you may need to fill out time or date. So

      1. William and mary agreed to meet on ___________.
      2. Elizabeth and George agreed to meet at __________.

      You can guess that the answers here may be times or dates. So you listen for these. The answers may be

      1. May 25
      2. 6 pm

      The answers may be a combination of words and numbers or just numbers.

  2. Vahid November 11, 2014 at 8:41 am #

    Hi Dominic,

    Could you clarify “no more than three words and/or a number” with some examples. It is a bit confusing!

  3. Vahid November 11, 2014 at 9:07 am #

    Thanks for your comment

    In this lesson quiz, your correct answer for one question is “25-10-1965”, but another answer (incorrect) “october 25 1965” is a combination of words and numbers. So, I suppose we can use one number in combination of words and numbers.

    • Andy November 11, 2014 at 3:13 pm #

      Hi Vahid,
      I think the answer “octobre 25 1965″ was incorrect because of bad spelling not for the three word/number rule.” October-octobRe”

      • Dominic Cole November 11, 2014 at 3:59 pm #


      • Vahid November 11, 2014 at 7:56 pm #

        Thanks Andy. It confused me when I was answering this question!

  4. From Hanoi November 17, 2014 at 7:59 am #

    Dear Dominic,

    I am confused with this guideline:
    “No more than two words and/or a number type questions

    When you get a question like this a number counts as one word. So

    25 October

    one word and one number = 2”

    If you refer to Cambridge 9, Test 2, section 1, Question # 2, you’ll see that the correct answer in the answer sheet is “March 31” while the question asks you to “Write one word and/or a number” for each answer.

    The other time, in Cambridge 6, Test 3, question # 2, they set the same requirement “Write one word and/or a number” and the correct one is 27.1.1973 (for date).

    Is there any flexibility in the way we can write the date? I don’t want to lose marks for this kind of mistake.

    Thanks so much,

    • Dominic Cole November 17, 2014 at 8:27 am #

      Okay one word and/or a number can mean One word AND a number i.e. two. I’ll add this to the post to make it clearer.

      The answer is that you won’t lose any marks if you write down the correct answer and the correct answer is what you hear on the tape.

  5. Robin July 24, 2015 at 11:22 am #

    if in the listening ,they speak 17 feb 1976 …
    Can we write feb instead of full febraury ?

    • Dominic Cole September 11, 2015 at 8:25 am #

      No. You should write the word out in full.

      • B June 5, 2016 at 6:29 am #

        Hello, I just wonder if the word I have to write as the answer, is at the beginning of the sentence should I write it starting with a capital letter and than lower case or is it not matter? Cheers

  6. Farha August 2, 2015 at 7:21 am #

    I wrote Vitamin-A instead of Vitamin A in listening. Is it wrong to use hyphen here?

  7. Theofilos August 30, 2015 at 11:48 am #

    Congrats fot the amazing job you have done so far! i want a clarification regarding to this kind o task, when you say that we hear the word do you mean in the correct form or you have t alterate it? P.s During the conversation the word “bankruptcy” is mentioned, is it possible tha the right word to fill the gap is “bankrupt”.

    Thank you in advanc

    • Dominic Cole September 4, 2015 at 2:00 pm #

      You write down the word you hear is what I mean. The only time you could vary this is if it were in a capful type question and it did not fit grammatically. But that should not happen.

  8. Gauri September 13, 2015 at 11:54 am #

    How accurate should be the answer?

    Would it be wrong if the answer is once a week and we write once per week

    • Dominic Cole August 24, 2016 at 6:11 am #

      Both these answers would probably be considered correct.

  9. Tushar September 30, 2015 at 11:32 am #

    Hi Dominic,
    First of all thanks for this wonderful website! appreciated!

    I have a question here on listening part:
    In examination hall, do we get some “uncountable time” to read the questions between each sections? Or do we have to listen all 4 sections in on go in fixed 30 minutes without any break, and write answers (roughly) simultaneously on question paper?

    • Dominic Cole August 24, 2016 at 6:10 am #

      The timing is not fixed to 30 minutes.

      There is a recording and on that recording there is time for you to read the questions.

  10. Amanpreet Singh October 29, 2015 at 11:13 am #

    Thanks for the nice tutorials. It will surely going to help me in my upcoming exam. However, I need some advice regarding making notes while listening and How to approach the Section-3, where we generally have MCQ.

    Thank you in advance.

  11. Anonymous November 24, 2015 at 1:34 pm #

    if i put all answers in capital letters in listening ….is it wrong or right ???
    please reply…it’s very confusing for me

  12. Nurzhan March 14, 2016 at 3:21 pm #


    I have a query regarding numbers. There are some questions where answers relate to number of years. Example of such question: “What’s the life span of black bears?”. I answer as “25 years”. However in answer sheet of the book I’m using for preparation it says “twenty-five years”. Are both answers correct? Or do I need to spell out specific numbers in the test?

    Thank you

  13. Bhavik March 25, 2016 at 6:51 am #

    Hii dominic! You are doing excellent work..
    I have confusuion in 4th section so do you provide me any strategy so i can get good score..
    Thank you

  14. alfad May 21, 2016 at 2:42 am #

    Hey in one word/one number can I write just 14 instead of January 13??

    • alfad May 21, 2016 at 2:43 am #

      Sorry i mean January 14??

    • Dominic Cole August 24, 2016 at 6:14 am #

      If you are asking whether you can write 14 instead of fourteen then the answer is yes,

  15. In-In July 8, 2016 at 7:43 pm #

    This is really helpful, i did not pass the quiz, since I got two incorrect answers. But i knew which need to improve atleast. Thanks for this.

  16. Natasha August 14, 2016 at 7:53 pm #

    Hello Dominic,

    is it necessary for our answer to be exactly similar to the inbuilt feeded answer of system?

    • Dominic Cole August 24, 2016 at 6:16 am #

      In fact thee is often some variation allowed.

  17. minal August 25, 2016 at 10:40 pm #

    i have my exam on 3rd september.still i am too confused to solve objectives nd multiple choice questions.
    and also i cant understand map properly…what to do to improve it can u suggest me ..

  18. Anonymous September 3, 2016 at 4:41 pm #

    Mr Dominic will reply u better

  19. Saimon September 13, 2016 at 12:12 am #

    Such a handy web page. Great articles. Thank you have much for your work. I’m taking the exam next December.

  20. Gurman September 17, 2016 at 3:29 pm #

    I was doing practice tests from Cambridge IELTS 9 book and following questions and answers in the answer key have caused confusion in me as to whether my answers are correct or not.

    Could someone throw some light here? As my answers do not match exactly with the answers in the answer key, but they are the exact words that were spoken (I confirmed from audio scripts). Really appreciate any help in clarification as I have my test next week.

    Write NO MORE THAN THREE WORDS AND/OR A NUMBER for each answer.

    Question: How did the students do their practical sessions?
    My answer: in small groups.
    Answer key: groups.

    Question: In the second semester how often did Kira work in a hospital?
    My answer: every second day.
    Answer key: every 2 days.

    Question: Having completed the year, how does Kira feel?
    My answer: much more confident.
    Answer key: confident.

  21. Daksh kukreja September 29, 2016 at 3:09 pm #

    Hello sir, can u expain the multi choice question like a b c d, specially when they talk about all answers.. its very confusing
    For eg
    Maslow university…
    A is 11 kms from B was established after
    the city centre Riversdale university
    C was established D was bulit next to maslow
    In1866. Teacher’s college
    The ans is b

    • Daksh kukreja September 29, 2016 at 3:11 pm #

      Maslow university…
      A is 11 kms frm the city centre
      B was established after riversdale university
      C was established in 1866
      D was built next to maslow teacher’s college
      The ans is b

  22. jahangir ayyub October 5, 2016 at 10:59 am #

    on answer sheet if we write the answer word always starting with capital letter and then as usual.for example Water,Resident.then answer would be correct or wrong

    • Dominic Cole October 6, 2016 at 4:49 am #

      Capital letters should make no difference

  23. Atmiya amin October 14, 2016 at 10:45 am #

    Yesterday in my listening test i got two question was no more then one word or number price:?$_____. I wrote. $99 is it correct to write symbole

  24. Shivani March 30, 2017 at 6:04 pm #

    U made me in dilemma…as the concern is what if they had written no more than three words or a number so 14 days is a correct way to write or not

  25. Ashish April 6, 2017 at 7:41 pm #

    Hello Dominic,

    Thanks a lot for the details. However, I have a basic doubt here. I tried listening test practice from the official IELTS DVD Audio. In that, in one of the tests, i found that exact words which were there in Answer Key were not present anywhere within the audio passage. Example – there was a monologue in which the narrator explains about negative effects of usage of pesticides, and answer to one of the blanks was – “pest-resistance”, which was not present anywhere in the audio, though the narrator talks about increased resistance of pests towards the insectides over time.

    Please Advise.

  26. Ashish April 6, 2017 at 7:42 pm #

    Do we have to write exact words from the audio passage only ?

    • Dominic Cole April 7, 2017 at 10:15 am #


      Typically you get to write down words that you hear. There are though sometimes alternative answers available and you may write down “explanation” – i.e. words in a different format. Be careful particularly with questions that state how many words you can use.

      What is the source for the example you gave? What book did it come from?

  27. Gracie April 9, 2017 at 2:48 pm #

    Hi Dominic,
    If I wish to answer in capital letters, Should I have to write all answers in capital letters ? and Can I write this way in the Listening answer sheet only and write in lower case in the Reading answer sheet? Thank you!

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