Top Tips for IELTS

How to listen for numbers

Part 1 of the listening is supposed to be the easy part. You need to get as many of these right as possible as the questions get harder as you go along. In practice, however, many candidates lose marks here when they should not. This post looks at one way to avoid this. You will find one of my videos explaining how to deal with a very common problem and an interactive online quiz to test your listening skills.

To remind you: the idea is not just to practise, but to practise intelligently.

Dealing with numbers

The number questions should be easy, but sometimes they can cause problems. Let me try and explain how to avoid these problems with some simple tips.

1. Don’t spell, write figures

The number questions can be easy as you don’t have to spell any words – figures are always OK. So, why try to write “eight” when “8” is good enough? Make life easy for yourself.

2. Identify which questions need number answers

Part of your exam strategy should be to identify what type of answer each question needs. Normally, it is quite easy to do this with number questions. Typical number questions include:

  1. a telephone number
  2. an address
  3. a price
  4. a time

So, if you see a question asking “What is the cost of the ticket?”, you should automatically think you are going to be listening for a number.

3. It may not be the first number you hear

One extremely common mistake is to write down the first number you hear. IELTS examiners are tricky. They often like to give you several numbers and you need to identify which number answers the question. This is perhaps where most mistakes are made: candidates fail to read the question.

A truly terrible piece of advice is to listen just for key words. You need to listen for the whole question, because until you have listened there is no way you can know what the key words are. Here is an example:

Q: What is your address now?

Most candidates would focus simply on the word “address“. But it may be that the address has changed and the key word is “now“. Or it may be that there are two addresses: one for you and one for your family. Be careful. Read the whole question. Read the whole question. Read the whole question.

4. Know what numbers you will need to write down – 18 and 80

Here is the special tip. Typically, and that does not mean always, the numbers you will need to write down is a “-ty” or a “-teen” number. Why? Because they cause problems. This can cause problems for native speakers too, but there is a way to help yourself here and I explain more in this video.

Briefly it is to do with how words are stressed. We say eighteen but eighty. Listen to my video where you also get some advice on dealing with big numbers.

The free practice

Here is some listening practice for you. It is not in exact IELTS format, rather it is intended to test the specific skill of dealing with numbers. Some of the questions contain traps just like the exam. Be careful and focus on the wording and the meaning of the question.

practice test


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10 Responses to How to listen for numbers

  1. Victor Mejia March 6, 2010 at 11:53 pm #

    Hey Dominic,

    I didn´t know where to reach you so I used this comment box. I have a huge dilemma here with answers in Listening. For example, If the complete answer in the recording is a date, a birthday let´s say (July 25 1977) Will JULY do as an answer?

    I´ll be exprecting your reply.

    Thanks beforehand!


    • Dominic Cole November 14, 2010 at 5:53 pm #

      No, July will not be enough if you need to write the full date.

  2. Maros February 5, 2011 at 5:04 am #

    Hi dominic,
    Could you please give me some advice? I usually get some mistakes like “door” instead of the right one “doors” written in answer key in the Listening task. Will i lose total point of the sentence because of this. I’m looking forward to your reply. Thanks in advance

    • Dominic Cole June 26, 2011 at 10:11 am #

      It will depend slightly on the question – sometimes both plural and singular are possible, typically though only one answer will be correct. One tip is to make sure that your answer fits grammatically.

  3. bet May 31, 2011 at 8:43 am #

    Hi Dominic,

    I was looking for tips on listening to numbers and came across your page.

    I’ve just listened to the 7 tracks for practice and I’ve got a query about track #3: I don’t understand why the answer is 15th of July. Can you look into this, please?

    Thanks in advance!


    • Dominic Cole June 18, 2011 at 4:55 pm #

      Whoops. Thank you I have corrected it now.

  4. Lydia September 13, 2012 at 4:17 pm #

    Hi, Dominic! I’m from China. There is no way to watch your video here. Help!!!

    • Dominic Cole February 23, 2013 at 8:20 pm #

      Sorry but Youku is too complex for me!!

  5. arsalan April 18, 2013 at 5:42 pm #

    i m new at your blog and its really usefull. one of my teacher using this website in british coucnil for acadameic ielts. so i copy from him

  6. Joi November 26, 2013 at 10:59 pm #

    Hi! Dominic,

    I’m very confused with the article! In what cases should I add an article?

    Many thanks!

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