Listening section of the TOEFL

The TOEFL® test is designed to measure the level of English language of non-native English speakers. It assesses four skills: listening, reading, speaking and writing. 

In this article, I’ll cover the Listening section.

General information

Listening section exercises are delivered by audio recordings with pictures on the computer screen clarifying the context and the number of speakers. They include such native-speaker English accents from North America, the U.K., New Zealand and Australia. 

There’ve been some changes made in the Listening section of the test. Here is the summary of the changes according to ETS.

Listening section of the TOEFL

Each lecture and conversation is about between 2 to 7 minutes. There can be an additional experimental conversation, 2 additional lectures and 17 questions, which aren’t scored. The timing will be increased if extra experimental questions are included.

Both lectures and conversations are based on real speaking and academic situations that students can face with in the university context. There can be a lecture that is interrupted by a conversation between a student and a professor. There can be bad introductions, repetitions, mistakes and slips that are corrected further. Speakers do not read, they speak naturally, make pauses, but they do not get off the topic. Each listening section task is played only once, but examiners are allowed to take notes and use them when answering the questions. Once an examiner submits an answer, they cannot go back to it, so they cannot skip questions.

This is an example of a talk about the greenhouse effect.

Conversations

All the conversations correlate with the topics students may deal with at universities. 

There are 2 types of conversations in the TOEFL test: 

  • Office hours

An example of office hours can be an appointment in a professor’s office. The topic of the conversation can be based on the topic of the course the professor delivers (academic content) or it can be about some tasks (non-academic content). For instance, a student can ask his professor to postpone the deadline or to ask to clarify the topic or lecture’s details once again. 

  1. Service encounters

An example of service encounters is registration on specific courses, questions about tuition or payment for the accommodation.

Lectures

Lectures in the TOEFL test are also examples of academic speech, university life. The audio extract may include both a professor’s speech and a conversation between a professor and students (e.g., survey). Lectures themselves are based on materials that are given on general courses, they cover common knowledge. Examiners do not need to have specific knowledge in the sphere. 

This is the list of topics are taken from a variety of academic subjects. These are some examples of topics that can be used in the Listening section.

Listening section of the TOEFL

Categories of questions

There are 3 categories of questions in lectures and conversations: 

Basic Comprehension Questions

This category includes three question types: gist-content (cover the broad content), gist-purpose (ask about the primary reasons) and detail questions (include factual information).

Pragmatic Understanding Questions

This category includes two types of questions: understanding the function of what is said (the speaker’s motive) and understanding the speaker’s attitude, preferences or feelings. It also tests the ability to understand the tone of voice or intonation to identify irony, disapproval, or sarcasm.

Connecting Information Questions

This category includes three question types: understanding organization questions (e.g., choose answers that reflect the structure of a task or the purpose of statements), connecting content questions (includes explicit or implicit relationships between ideas, charts, tables), and making inferences questions (e.g., draw conclusions from the statements). 

All these questions can be:

  • multiple-choice questions with four answer options and one correct answer
  • questions with two or more correct answers
  • questions that require categorising objects in charts and tables
  • questions that ask students to order events or processes. 

The performance

The score range is divided into three levels:

0-13 — Low

14-21 — Intermediate

22-30 — High

Follow the links above to read pieces of advice for each performance.

These are also good steps to tell students to follow.

Listening section of the TOEFL
Source: BestMyTest

Practice materials

Here you can find the list of official practice materials you can use to prepare the students. And here you can find some sample and mock tests. These are also useful books to prepare for the TOEFL: Oxford Preparation CourseTactics for the TOEFL iBT, Cambridge Preparation for the TOEFL test and Longman Preparation for the TOEFL iBT.

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