Before you listen: Predicting answers

Unit 4: Before you listen: Predicting answers

Multiple choice questions

To help you predict answers to Multiple Choice questions, you need to look at the key words in the answer choices to identify:

  • similar answers
  • less likely answers.

Before we do this, let’s review what we learnt in Step 3 about underlining key words.

Key words in Multiple Choice questions

Reading the key words in Multiple Choice questions will give you important clues to help you listen for the correct answer.

Key words are usually:

  • nouns (e.g., dog)
  • adjectives (e.g., green)
  • verbs (e.g., to run)
  • adverbs (e.g., quickly)
  • question words (e.g., who, what, why, when, where, how)

Key words are usually not:

  • articles (e.g., a, an, the)
  • conjunctions (e.g., and, but, or, because)
  • prepositions (e.g., with, in, at, through)

Let’s look at the key words in the following example question. The key words have been underlined.

1 What is Jane worried about happening in the city?

The words What, Jane, worried, happening, and city are key words for the following reasons:

  • What tells us that the answer will be a thing or a situation
  • Jane is probably the name of one of the speakers
  • worried tells us that we are listening for a negative reaction from Jane
  • happening tells us that we are specifically listening for a situation occurring now or in the near future
  • city is the place where the situation is occurring.

Let’s look at another example question with its possible answer choices.

2 What does Jane decide not to bring with her to the city?
A her swimming costume
B a warm jacket
C a guide book
D an umbrella

Make sure to notice if a question has the word not as this can change the answer you choose.

Predicting answers to Multiple Choice questions

Now that we have identified the key words in the questions, we need to look at the key words in the answer choices to help us predict the answers.

To do this, you will need to look for:

  • similar answers
  • less likely answers.

In this section, we will look at similar answers. In particular answers with:

  • similar sounding words
  • one word differences
  • differences in time and tense.

Let’s look at these in detail.

1. Similar sounding words


In English, certain words sound very similar. This is often the case with numbers. Look at the example question and find the two answer choices which will sound similar.

1 In what year was the school founded?
A 1940
B 1914
C 1932
D 1910

Answer choices A and B will sound similar when spoken: nineteen fourteen (1914) and nineteen forty(1940). By reading the answers first, you can predict that you will need to listen carefully to hear the difference.

As well as dates, similar sounding numbers could include prices and quantities. Let’s listen to examples of this.

  1. $70.10 – Seventy dollars and ten cents
  2. $17.10 – Seventeen dollars and ten cents
  3. Fifty cups of coffee
  4. Fifteen cups of coffee

Predicting less likely answers in Multiple Choice questions

The second strategy for helping you to predict answers to Multiple Choice questions is determining which answer choices are less likely. After reading the key words in the answers you can guess which answers are less likely to be correct.

Predicting less likely answers will help you to listen more closely for the answers that you think are correct. However, it is important that you do not eliminate or ignore the less likely answers because they might be correct.

How can we predict which answers are less likely to be correct? Look at the example below.


In the listening passage, two students, Tony and Jane, are discussing their plans for a morning of sightseeing in the city.

Look at Question 1 and decide which answer is less likely to be correct.

1 What does Jane bring on her sightseeing trip?
A her swimming costume
B a warm jacket
C a guidebook
D an umbrella

Jane is unlikely to take her swimming costume on a sightseeing trip to the city so we can guess that A is less likely to be correct.

To go sightseeing, Jane is more likely to take a warm jacket, a guidebook or an umbrella, so answers B, C, and D are more likely to be correct. We should listen for one of these answers.

Here is Question 2 from the same listening passage. Which of these answers is unlikely to be correct?

2 What does Tony want to do in the city?
A go to the museum
B visit Chinatown
C go to a popular nightclub
D go shopping for shoes

Because Tony and Jane, are discussing their plans for a morning of sightseeing, we can guess that C might not be the answer: he is not likely to go to a nightclub in the morning. He is more likely to go to the museum, Chinatown or shopping, so we should listen for these answers in the listening passage.

Completion questions

Remember that Completion questions ask you to fill in a missing word or word group.

Let’s look at an example set of Summary Completion questions.

Hemp can be a source of food and health products. It can produce 1………….. containing a higher level of protein. It has many applications in the home. Paint made from hemp is 2…………. It grows well under 3……………. conditions. It is an environmentally-friendly solution to many problems.

To help you hear the answers to Completion questions, there are two prediction strategies you should use during the 30-second break:

  • identifying parts of speech
  • predicting possible answers from context.

Predicting parts of speech for Summary Completion questions

Below are two different kinds of Summary Completion questions you might find in an IELTS Listening test:

  • Summary Paragraphs and
  • Summary Notes
Example 1: Summary Paragraphs

When you read a Summary Paragraph, you can decide which parts of speech are missing by looking at the words before and after the blank space.

Here is an example Summary Completion question about salinity.

Look at the words in bold to help you decide which parts of speech are missing, then click on the Feedback button to find out the answers.

SalinitySalinity is the greatest 1……………. facing Western Australia. The area of salt affected land has already had a serious impact on biodiversity, 2……………. , and agriculture. Salinityalso 3……………. people through loss of business and increased health problems due to stress on families affected by change. One way of monitoring salinity is to measure 4…………….


It is not always possible to predict the specific answer to the missing words in a table but we can predict what type of answer we expect to hear by using the table headings as the context. Examples of types of answers are: name, time, place or type of lesson.

Look at the karate timetable below and notice the headings at the top of each column. Predict the type of answer you might hear for each question. Then click on the Check button to check your answers.

Name of Instructor Type of lesson Day Time
Robert private 15……………. 7.00 – 9.00 pm
Daniel group for adults Thursday 16……………..
Bruce 17………………. Wednesday 6.30 – 8.30 pm
Sophie special training group Saturday 18……………

Short Answer questions

When predicting the answers to Short Answer questions, you should look for key question words such as Who, What, Why, When, Where, How. Similar to table headings, these words give clues about the type of answer you should be listening for, such as a name, a time or a reason.

Think about what type of answer you should be listening for when you see the following question words. Then roll your mouse over the key word to check if you are right.

If the question begins with “who” …


If the question begins with “when”, …


If the question begins with “why”, …


If the question begins with “how many”,…


If the question begins with “how much”,…


If the question begins with “how long”,…


If the question begins with “how often”,…


If the question begins with “where”,…


A place name question can also begin with “In what…”

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