The TOEFL listening test is tricky, especially if you’re unsure about what to listen for in the audio recording.
This article from E2Language will explain the components of the TOEFL listening test and provide samples of the types of questions you may encounter on test day!
There are two components to the TOEFL listening test:
The conversations you will hear take place on a university campus and relate to student issues. These could be conversations between two students about a recent class, an upcoming assignment, or a change in university policy.
Or, you might hear a conversation between a student and a professor related to a student query.
You might also hear a conversation between a student and the registrar regarding administrative issues like changing courses, applying for a student loans, or asking about student accommodation.
The lectures are all related to academic topics. But don’t worry. You don’t need to be familiar with the topics of the lectures. Everything you need to answer the questions will be in the audios. The lectures could be about anything from history, art, psychology, sociology or zoology.
All together there are between 6-9 audios (2-3 conversations and 4-6 lectures). Each audio goes for 3-6 minutes. There are 30 questions in total and the listening section goes for between an hour and an hour and a half.
You will hear the audio, take notes, and after the audio finishes, there will be a series of questions related to what you just heard.
To move from one question to the next, you will click a “next” button. There is no going back once you have answered a question and clicked “next”.
Once you have answered all the questions for one audio, you will hear the next one. You will only hear each audio recording once.
You need to listen out for the following:
- The purpose or main idea: why a conversation takes place, or what a lecture is mainly about
- Detail: specific points from a conversation or lecture
- Function: why a speaker says something, rather than what they said
- Opinion: what the speaker thinks about a topic or idea
- Inference: what a speaker means by something he or she said
- Organization: how a lecture is organized
- Non-standard format: identify correct or incorrect details by checking boxes in a table or chart.
For each audio recording, you will be able to take notes using a pencil and scratch paper provided. You should listen out for what the speakers say, as well as how or why they say it.
Context vs Content Questions
Many of the TOEFL listening questions are related to context rather than content. Content questions are related directly to a point mentioned in the conversation or lecture.
For example, you might hear a student talking to a professor about submitting a late assignment. The professor may say “You can submit your assignment by email next Friday before 2pm”.
A content question might ask: What must the student do by 2 o’clock on Friday?
- Send an email
- Meet the professor
- Hand in an assignment
- Attend a lecture
The answer to this question would be C. In this case, you will answer using information directly stated in the audio and you will be able to refer to your notes to find this specific point.
However, a context question relates to how or why a speaker says something and what they mean by it in the context of the lecture or conversation.
For example, a student might say: I found the topic quite interesting, but I just wasn’t able to grasp the theory. The professor replies: Well, it would have helped if you actually came to class.
A context question might be: Why does the professor say “it would have helped if you actually came to class?”
- To show his irritation with the student
- To explain to the student that everything they need to know is covered in class
- To prove that the student he is willing to help
- To give the student a second chance
The answer to this question would be A. In this case, the answer is not directly stated. Rather, you would need to consider the context of the conversation and how the phrase was said (tone of voice) to determine the answer.
Another content question might be related to how a lecture is organized. In this case, the lecturer will not clearly state this. You will have to refer to your notes to deduce the answer.
For example, if a professor is explaining a historical era, and mentions certain events chronologically, you will write each event and the year it took place in your notes.
If the question asks: How does the professor organize the lecture?
- From most important to least important event
- From least important to most important event
You will be able to look at your notes and see that each event was mentioned by year. So, the answer in this case would be B.
After some practice on the TOEFL listening test you will be able to tell the difference between context and content questions!
For TOEFL preparation tips and strategies to get you started, check out the E2Language blog post here!
Learn from my experience as an IELTS teacher by checking out my TOEFL Reading Tips here!
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Written by Jamal Abilmona.