TOEFL Listening Exam - Advice


The Listening section is an important part of any recognised language test. This is because the ability to listen to spoken English, and the ability to correctly comprehend and offer proper responses are among the essential skills needed for immigrating to an English-speaking country or working in an English-speaking environment. Good listening skills are also an essential requirement for individuals looking to join an academic institution where lectures and instructions are going to be in English. Besides, good listening skills are always a boon to one’s candidature as a student or a professional in any multicultural set-up.

The TOEFL Listening exam aims to identify and measure a candidate’s ability to comprehend lectures and conversations in English. The questions asked after each sample further explore interpretation skills and capacity to draw proper inference.


This section in the TOEFL exam is divided into two parts:

  • First one comprises of sample lectures. In this part, there are three to four brief lectures, each having a duration between three to five minutes. During play, the candidates can take notes as they please to help answer the questions. Each audio clip is followed by six questions.

  • Second one contains sample conversations. Here, there are two to three sample conversations between two speakers, each of which is three minutes in duration. Each of these conversations is followed by five questions.

The nature of the content in both the parts is academic. Total time available for completing the section is between 41 to 57 minutes.

Types of Questions:

Question Types



These questions ask for the main idea or purpose of the conversation. That also means identifying the topic of conversation.

Gist-content questions require the examinee to identify the main idea.

Gist-purpose questions are based on inference - they ask, ‘why is something happening or why was something said?’


Such questions ask examinees to spell out any detail or specific fact within the conversation. At times these questions will ask for some conceptual detail explicitly understandable from the conversation.


In this category, questions require examinees to find the contextual meanings of statements. It is important to understand the context or the plot behind the conversation and respond accordingly. Statements have their literal or surface meanings; however, this changes under many circumstances. The task is to elucidate this.


These types of questions need examinees to understand the speakers' feelings or thoughts or attitude when they say something. They require identification of tones and emphasis on one hand, and choice of words or vocabulary on the other.


Such questions ask candidates to identify the structure of the conversation or lecture. It invites candidates to understand how parts of the spoken lecture are logically connected for some purpose. These questions typically look like: “Why does the professor mention______?” or “Why does the professor discuss _____?”

Connecting Content

These questions are designed to test knowledge of relationships or connecting ideas in a speech. The questions are likely to be fill-in-the-blanks type or complete the chart or table type. The main identification areas are classification, cause and effect, steps in a process, or even making a prediction or forecast.


Inference based questions ask examinees to deduce what is left unsaid from the lecture or the conversation. It asks them to identify what is implied rather than explicitly said.

Tips for attempting the TOEFL Listening Exam: How to improve your listening skills

Performing well in the TOEFL Listening Test or, for that matter, any listening test depends upon a couple of basic skills: keen listening abilities and a good understanding of pronunciations of words in the English language.

However, besides these, there are many sub-areas that can be improved to ultimately reach mastery over the broad areas and become a good listener.

Prepare for:

  1. Listen to a lot of English: Listening to a lot of English conversations, monologues, speeches, news items and even movies helps you get accustomed to it. It trains your ears for the language and becomes a part of your life. Listening to a lot of content also helps familiarise you with different accents which is an important part of developing your listening abilities.

  2. Listen to a variety of content: Listening to a variety of content gives you multiple benefits - you develop knowledge, improve vocabulary, and understand contexts. Furthermore, it gives you an idea about how to hold a conversation in various situations, thereby enriching your mind.

  3. Listen passively to get the hang of pronunciations and to get an overview: Passive listening gives you the gist of an audio. It familiarises you with the speakers' accent and pronunciations. It trains you for the conversation/monologue beforehand so that there are no surprises!

  4. Listen actively to understand meanings and contexts: Active listening is like having a magnifying glass. At this stage you need to keenly focus, having already understood the gist with passive listening. Active listening helps you see how the conversation is moving, easily identify the context or plot and sometimes, even guess the outcome in advance.

  5. Listen intently for tone, expressions, hidden meanings and deeper contexts: As you master active listening, you should also practice focusing on behavioral aspects of the speakers revealed through their manner of speaking. The most conspicuous one is tone - this tells you whether the speaker(s) is/are happy or sad or angry or enthusiastic or disinterested, etc. On the basis of your vocabulary and knowledge, you will soon be able to identify general expressions, idioms, phrases and subject-specific words that will help you get better at understanding contexts and deciphering hidden meanings or unsaid connotations.

  6. Practice is the key! At a mature level, every step happens almost simultaneously: Like every other skill, developing good listening skill requires practice. More specifically, practicing with clear goals in mind. Once these five steps become like a set process for you, backed by your simultaneously growing grammar and vocabulary knowledge, you mature in learning the language. You also mature as a listener. Undoubtedly, once you start mastering the art, you will be able to decipher conversations for their gist and context, their tone and meaning, all at one go! Ultimately, that is the goal.

 A synopsis of the above is depicted below:

Steps for Improving Listening Skills.png

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