IELTS Listening Sentence Completion

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Sentence completion questions are a common choice for the second or fourth section of the IELTS listening test. They can be tricky because there are often ‘distractors’. Further, the layout of these questions can make it more difficult to follow the recording than with a form or table.

On the paper (or computer), you will see a number of sentences that have some part of them missing. These sentences are paraphrased from the recording and therefore will not be exactly the same in the recording. The sentences will however be in the same order as the recording.


As with all IELTS listening tasks, you will have time to look at the questions first. By using this time wisely, you will improve your chances of getting a better score.

Step 1: Read the Instructions

As with listening form completion questions, there is one part of the instructions you need to read first. Have a look at the example instructions below:

Questions 1-4
Complete the sentences below.
for each answer.

You need to know how many words you can write, and whether that includes a number.

Step 2: Read the Questions and Predict

The remaining time before the recording you should spend reading the questions. In particular, you should note two things:

  1. For questions 2 onwards, any key word which you are likely to hear.
  2. For all of the questions, what type of word you are listening for.
Identifying Key Words

Although the sentences you will hear will be different to the ones in front of you, the recording may include some of the same words. This can help you to keep track of the recording. This is important because if you miss one question, you shouldn’t let it cause you to miss the next few questions as well.

When identifying a key word, we are looking for something which will be low frequency and is of central importance to the question. Any word marked on the paper in ‘quotation marks’ well be a good key word as it is being quoted from the audio.

You don’t need to identify a key word for the first question. You should be listening for the answer to this question from the beginning.

Predicting the Missing Word

While looking for key words, also look at the gapped word in the sentence. What can you tell about this word from the other words around it? Among other things, you can probably at least tell the word class (e.g. noun, verb, etc.).


Read the sentences below and identify the key word. What can you tell about the missing words? Then check your answer.

Paxton Nature Reserve
  1. Paxton is a good place for seeing rare _____ all year round.
  2. This is a particularly good time for seeing certain unusual _____.
  3. Visitors will be able to learn about _____ and then collect some.
  4. Part of the _____ has been made suitable for swimming.
  5. It takes about _____ minutes to get to the reserve from Burnham by bus.
  1. Paxton is a good place for seeing rare (an animal – probably birds) all year round.
  2. This is a particularly good time for seeing certain unusual (type of bird/animal).
  3. Visitors will be able to learn about (some type of plant – maybe mushrooms) and then collect some.
  4. Part of the (lake/beach) has been made suitable for swimming.
  5. It takes about (number) minutes to get to the reserve from Burnham by bus.

Keywords are underlined. Anticipated answers are in brackets.

Step 3: Listen and Write the Answers

Now is the time to listen and write the answers. While doing this make sure to move to next question when you hear the key word.

  1. birds
  2. flowers
  3. mushrooms
  4. river
  5. 20

Step 4: Check Your Answers

After each set of questions, the recording will tell you that you have some time to check your answers. However, that isn’t really possible. You will not see the correct answers, so how can you check? Instead you should check that you have answered all of the questions, then go to the next questions and start reading.


The listening audio and sentence completion questions used here are taken from Cambridge Academic IELTS 11, which can be purchased here.

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