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Listening, Reading, Secrets of the Bands

How NOT to lose marks in the IELTS listening and reading papers

This is a guest post from an IELTS clerical marker.

I’m not an IELTS examiner, I’m an IELTS clerical marker. Let me explain the difference. Examiners do the speaking interviews and grade the writing. Clerical markers mark the reading and listening papers.  Clerical markers aren’t allowed to be examiners and examiners aren’t allowed to be clerical markers.

It’s difficult being a clerical marker because we can only mark things right if they are EXACTLY the same as the answer key. Sometimes the candidates almost get the answers right, but we still have to mark them wrong. We can’t accept any similar answers as right and there are no half marks.

Every time I mark the listening and reading answer sheets (we call them OMRs), I see a lot of students who lose one or even two bands because they have made tiny mistakes or they’ve filled their OMRs in wrong.

Here are my top tips so that you don’t lose any marks.

General points

  • Fill in the reading answer sheet as you answer the questions. You have 10 mins to transfer your answers to the answer sheet at the end of the listening, but NOT at the end of the reading.
  • Don’t leave any answers blank in the reading/listening. You won’t be penalized for incorrect guesses. Make sensible guesses, though. Don’t guess ‘c’ for a true/false/not given question.
  • Double check that you have transferred the answers to the correct row in the answer sheet. It’s easy to get this wrong, especially if you’ve missed some answers. Even if I can see that you have the answers correct, if they’re not in the right place I have to mark them wrong.
  • Don’t spend too much time trying to answer a very difficult question. Every answer is worth one point, no matter how difficult it is. Come back to difficult questions at the end if you have time.
  • Listen carefully. In the listening, if you are listening for a specific item, such as a date or money, you will normally hear a lot of different alternatives discussed. The speaker(s) may correct themselves, or change their minds.

Fill in the blanks / short answer questions

  • Check your spelling. If you misspell a word in the listening or the reading, it’s marked wrong. Students often misspell the names of all English-speaking countries, months of the year and days of the week. Even very strong candidates can lose marks because they misspell these words. Don’t worry though, both American and British spellings are both acceptable.
  • Check your handwriting. In the listening and reading, if your handwriting isn’t clear (e.g. if I can’t tell if a letter in a word is be an ‘o’ or an ‘a’), I have to mark it wrong. Some students write a letter in an unclear way because they’re not sure of the spelling. This isn’t a good strategy. Some other students have bad handwriting. They can lose a lot of marks because of this.
  • Don’t write down too many words. Pay attention to the number of words you can write in listening/reading answers. If you exceed the limit, your answer is automatically wrong – even if your answer is correct.
  • Make sure your answer is detailed enough. In the listening, if the speaker says “4.00 pm”, then only “the afternoon” is wrong and only “4 o’clock” is also wrong. You can write 4 pm, 16:00 hrs (using the 24 hour clock) or “4 o’clock in the afternoon.”

True/false/don’t know questions

  • Don’t use ticks & crosses instead of writing ‘true’/‘false’ or ‘yes’/‘no’. We have to mark ticks and crosses as automatically being wrong.

Multiple-choice questions

  • Don’t write down more than 1 answer. If there is only one correct answer, then only write down one letter or number. Some students put down more than one answer if they’re not sure. Make sure that you don’t do this. We have to mark these wrong, even if one of the answers was right.
Image (c) Grant Cochrane

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