Listening Section of the TOEFL

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The Listening Section of TOEFL evaluates the candidate’s ability to understand conversations and lectures in English. In this section of TOEFL, the candidates are required to listen to the recordings in which the speech sounds are natural and answer questions related to the same. Candidates can take notes during the listening to the audio. There are two types of listening items in this section. They are lectures and conversations, both are based on campus language. After each lecture or conversation completes there will be a set of questions which you need to answer based on those recordings.

  • There will be 3 to 4 lectures, each 3 to 5 minutes long, with 6 questions of each lecture
  • There will 2 to 3 conversations with 2 speakers, each 3 minutes long, having 5 questions of each conversation

You will have 20 minutes to answer questions. It does not contain the time you listen to the recordings. The whole TOEFL Listening Section will take about 60 to 90 minutes to complete.

Components of the Listening Exam Syllabus

The TOEFL Listening section generally consists of  two components, they are:

  • Academic lectures

The academic lectures in the TOEFL iBT reflect a typical conversation that occurs in the classroom and is usually given by a professor. These conversations could be of different kinds.  Lectures may include monologues or any academic discussions involving one professor and multiple students.

It involves a broad range of subjects such as business, anthropology, botany, biology, psychology, archaeology, chemistry etc. Normally, the lecture continues for about 4-6 minutes and is followed by 6 questions. You can not see the questions until the lecture finishes. 

  • Academic Conversations

TOEFL listening conversations include the exchange of dialogues between two people. One person is always a student. Another person may be another student, a university administrator, a teaching assistant, a librarian etc. The conversations in the TOEFL iBT test covers conversations that take place in an administrative office or during a conversation about any service with the staff of the university. 

The conversations generally encompass academic topics and information related to course requirements, registering for a class, housing payment, or requesting information at the library. You will be shown a picture which shows the two people having a conversation in a particular environment. Normally, the conversation will be of 2-3 minutes and then you have to answer the asked questions. You will not be able to see questions until the conversation gets over.

TOEFL Listening Question Types

The types of question asked in the Listening section of the TOEFL are:

  • Purpose questions

This kind of question asks you about the purpose of the conversation or lecture, not the content. These questions will generally begin with “Why”. For example “Why is the lecturer asking the student about …...?”  or “Why is the student talking about the topic…” etc. The answer to these questions may be indirectly given in the recording, or it may be directly stated by the speaker.

  • Specific Detail Questions

To answer these kinds of questions you will have to remember particular information. You will need to take notes while the audio is going on in order to answer the questions later. Although they look straightforward, these questions can occur at any difficulty level.

  • Function Questions

Function questions are like mini purpose questions. This kind of question won't ask you what does the word mean, but it asks you why the speaker says what he says. Many times, the speaker uses idioms, slang or says things that are not directly relevant to what the question asks. Your job is to find out what that seems to be irrelevant information in that conversation.

  • Attitude Questions

The attitude question asks about the attitude and intention of the speaker when he or she talks about a specific topic in detail. To answer these, you will have to use implied information to decide what the speaker’s thoughts or feelings are at some point in the scene. The information you need may not be verbal but you will have to understand the tone of voice is to answer these questions correctly.

  • Organization Questions

These kinds of questions ask you to understand how the information or details are organized in the conversation or in the lecture. It is one of the most difficult questions in the listening section you have to answer. In order to answer this question correctly, you need to understand the arrangement of the lecture and also the main theme and purpose of the conversation or lecture. Knowing only the organization of the lecture may not be enough to answer these questions correctly.

  • Connecting Content Questions

Connecting content questions ask you to present your understanding of the relationships among different ideas in a lecture or conversation. It may require you to fill in a chart or table or maybe to answer regular multiple-choice questions. Again, taking notes would help you to answer this question.

  • Inference Questions

You could say that inference questions are a sub-element of questions which are found in the function, attitude, connecting content and purpose questions.  An Inference question requires you to understand the indirect meaning of a sentence stated in a lecture. This type of question requires you to look further than the surface and literal meaning of the speech, ideas, or sentences to find the correct answer. The keyword for this question type will likely be either “imply” or “infer”. In both the situations, the information you will be in need will not be directly stated, which makes this question a little harder to answer.

TOEFL Preparation Tips for Listening Section

Candidates looking to score well in the TOEFL test should follow the below guideline to be able to score well in their TOEFL iBT Listening Section. The guidelines are as follows:

  • Listening to English frequently and reading a broad variety of academic materials will help to increase vocabulary and also improve listening skills.
  • Watching movies, television shows and listening to the radio are also excellent resources to build your listening skills
  • Candidates can also take the help of recorded books, lectures, and presentations which help you to better your listening abilities. Candidates can find them on the Internet and take advantage of it.  
  • Beginners are advised to listen to the different topics starting from short and easy then gradually increase the topics which are lengthy and difficult.
  • You can start with recordings on familiar topics and slowly progress to topics that are unknown to them.
  • If you are new to this process then you should start preparation from the recordings with English subtitles first, then, after some time, move to the recordings without subtitles.

TOEFL Listening tips for the exam

  • Take notes while you listen to the recordings. Only the important points will be tested, so do not write down each and every detail, write what you think is important and will help you to answer later.
  • Pay more attention to the tone of voice of the speaker. For example, whether the speaker sounds sad, excited, confused etc which can help you answer questions which are about the attitude or opinion of the speaker.
  • While listening to a lecture or conversation, make a note of the way the lecture is organized or arranged as well as the way the ideas in the lecture are connected to each other. At the time of the answer to the overall organisation, these notes will be very helpful.
  • If you are not sure of the correct answer, try to figure out which choice is most consistent with the main idea of the conversation or lecture.
  • You should not spend too much time on one question as you may potentially miss easy questions and not complete the listening section on time, so if you find the question very hard then give a guess and move on. 
  • Questions in the Listening section are compulsorily answered in sequence. Once you submit your answer, you cannot go back to a previous question. So answer the question correctly once after thinking.

So, now you are totally informed about the Listening section of the TOEFL and also we have mentioned all the tips and tricks you can take advantage of and crack the listening module well and score high.

All the best..!!​​​​