Listening to IELTS Maps and Diagrams

Today, we will look at how to listen to IELTS Maps and Diagrams and explore what to listen for in the exam.

Most of us are familiar with maps, either using google maps to find the nearest supermarket or relying on road signs to identify the nearest car park or hospital. This lesson will look at icons and common phrases to use when describing and labelling maps.

How many of the symbols do you already know?

These are the most common symbols that you will see on maps in the IELTS exam. You don’t need to memorise them as they are all slightly different, but you should get familiar with the standard symbols that appear.

How Do I Explain Where it is?

We use specific language when describing directions. You will be scored for your accuracy, demonstrating your vocabulary in directions and showing a better understanding and familiarity with English.

On/at the
corner of…

On the next

When you
reach the …

…on the
right/left-hand side…

At the bottom

Across the


…past the

At the
intersection of…

Near the…

Turn left,
when/before you reach…

…at the end
of the street.

So, let’s explain where the post office is on the map below. Can you find it first?

Continue straight past the school, and you will find the post office on the left-hand side of the road.

What would you find helpful if you were looking for the post office? There are always other ways of explaining the location of a place. If they are close relevant, you can continue describing where it is related to other sites and help somebody find it.

If you turn left near the gas station, continue straight and take your first right. It will be on your left-hand side. It’s actually behind the gas station, on the next street over.

Providing Directions Vs Following Directions

In the IELTS Listening paper, you may need to follow directions to find the labels for the map.

When you provide instructions, we often use the imperative:

Turn right at the end of the road. Go straight ahead, and it will be on the left-hand side.

Directions can also use the second person singular form:

When you reach your destination, you’ll know because you will see a large blue sign for the town.

Modal verbs are also used.

At the roundabout, take the first exit, and you can either go straight to the town, or you could take the scenic route and see the beautiful countryside too.

Now, it’s your turn. Can you create a sentence using the same examples we demonstrated to describe the location of the shopping centre?

  • A recap of the steps needed to attempt this…
  • Locate the icon that represents the ‘shopping centre.’
  • Look at where it is in relation to other places on the map
  • Use one or more of the prepositions above to create your sentence

Labelling a Diagram

For diagrams that show actions and processes, there are special types of language you need to be aware of.

First, you need to understand what you’re looking at so that you can label the different parts or steps and the phrasing to describe movement, such as adverbs and prepositions.

Listening For Specific Information

When listening to the recording, you will need to listen out for keys words and names, even if you don’t know the process, vocabulary or topic. The speaker will always discuss the process in a logical manner. Remember the IELTS exam is a English test, not a general knowledge test. The speaker will deliver the information in a sequence or logical order. For example, they will signpost using language such as ‘firstly, afterwards, then, soon, let me return to’ to navigate describing the process.

Understanding the Topic

Try to look for clues in the process or diagram for the topic and general gist. For example, you might have no idea about a design process and why should you? It’s an English test! But, we can use our previous vocabulary and tools to look up phrases in the preparation stages.

So we know it’s about design. Let’s start there, what synonyms do we know for design?

Design – graphics, marketing, designer.

You can then do this for each of the steps. Try to understand as much as the process or what’s talking about before the recording starts.

If you had to paraphrase these sentences, could you do it easily? This is a good test as the recording will most definitely paraphrase themselves or the text to distract you.

By researching the topics, you can expand your vocabulary so that you are prepared for the IELTS exam, regardless of the topic.

Need more help?

If you need any more help or would like to guarantee your IELTS results, sign up for our Intensive Course below to ensure a high level and improve your listening skills!

If you want further practice listening to IELTS maps and diagrams, try out some previous IELTS Listening papers on the British Council’s website here.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.