Thursday, April 3, 2008

TOEFL Preparation - The Listening Test

TOEFL Listening Test

The Listening section of the TOEFL includes lectures and conversations and is about 60-90 minutes in length. It contains about 34-51 questions overall. Its goal is to measure the test takers’ ability to communicate in an academic setting. Even if the test is computer-based, test takers may take written notes throughout the entire test.

The format of the listening test is in two parts: Conversations and Lectures.


The test will include about 2-3 conversations. Each conversation is about 3 minutes long and will have 5 questions related to it.

Examples of conversations in an academic setting would be: a meeting with a professor or instructor or a conversation with university staff or other students. For each conversation, pictures of the scene are shown so you can visualize the setting and participants.

In most cases each verbal exchange will be heard only once, but you may take notes while listening and refer back to those notes at any time during the exam.


The test will include about 4-6 lectures. Each lecture is 3-5 minutes long and has about 500-800 words. Each lecture will include 6 questions.

The lectures you will listen to in the exam are samples of the kinds of communication that occur in an academic setting. They generally include a professor speaking. In some of the lectures, there is dialog between the professor and students. In all the lectures, a picture will be shown of the people involved and the setting. You do not need to have background knowledge on the subject of the lecture to complete the test.

As with the conversations part you will be able to take notes and refer back to those notes to answer your questions.

How to Prepare for the Listening Exam

As with all TOEFL test preparation, the student should prepare for the Listening exam by practicing as much as possible. Practice is the most productive way to prepare for the exam. There are many practice tests that can be found by searching online. I have found a free TOEFL Listening Lecture with sample test questions as well as free TOEFL Listening Test online.

Click here for a link to sample test questions for all sections of the exam. (For the Listening section, this sample test shows a transcript of the spoken parts rather than an audio recording. However, it gives good examples of the types of questions asked.)

In addition to taking practice tests, I highly recommend listening to a variety of talk radio programs, such as those on NPR or the BBC to gain more practice listening to spoken English. A good exercise to do would be to listen to a portion of a broadcast and write down the conversation as you listen. Then listen to the broadcast again and check to see if you understood the words that were spoken.

Since some of the questions may require the listener to draw conclusions about the speaker’s feelings toward what is being said, it may also be helpful to think about this while listening to broadcasts. It may even be useful to listen to English lectures and speeches. Click here for a link to a great site with a wide variety of video speeches.

General Tips and Information for the Listening Exam:

For many people, the Listening section is the hardest part of the TOEFL test. Be sure you practice and prepare adequately.

Take notes on the conversation while you are listening. Practice note-taking during your test practice sessions as well.

There may be a question that measures your understanding of a speaker’s attitude toward what they are speaking about. This requires you to listen to voice tones and inflection to deduce how the speaker feels. Be sure to keep this in mind during your practice.

Some questions will refer back to a particular part of the lecture or conversation. In this case you will see a headphone icon, and that part of the conversation will be replayed for you.

You will hear the questions on your headphones and see them on the screen at the same time.

There is not a time limit for each question, but there is an overall time limit for the section. Keep this in mind when answering questions.

You must answer each question as it appears.

You cannot skip a question or go back to previous questions.

Resources for Test Preparation

There are many resources available online for preparing yourself to take the TOEFL test. I encourage you to use a variety of resources. In addition, working with an experienced TOEFL teacher can help you receive advice on how to improve your listening skills.

If you are looking for more help preparing for the TOEFL exam, I do offer private tutoring for TOEFL preparation. I am a qualified ESL tutor and have successfully coached many English learners. I would also be happy to give you some personal tips on how to prepare for success on this exam.

To schedule your free introductory lesson, contact me today!