Exams Know-how

TOEFL Listening Section: Structure, Tips & Question Types

Rohan Deshmukh

If you are reading this blog, you definitely know what TOEFL is, right? You’ve also probably started some research into it and are trying to know more about the different sections of the exam. Well, then today is your lucky day. Stay with us as we take you through the entire structure, content and other things in the TOEFL Listening section.

The TOEFL Listening section is the second section of the TOEFL exam, and it tests your ability to listen and comprehend English at an academic level. The section consists of 28 questions based on two types of passages: conversations and lectures. Each passage is played once, and you will be granted the time to take notes while listening.

Though Indian students have been shown to perform better in the TOEFL exam, aspirants face several challenges in the listening section due to the fast pace of recorded passages, difficult vocabulary, and multitasking by taking notes while listening. However, there are several tips and strategies that you can use to improve your performance in this section.How? You will have to read this blog until the end to figure that out. 

In this blog post, we aim to provide a comprehensive account of the most effective tips and strategies for success in the TOEFL Listening section. We will also provide some TOEFL practice questions to help you test your skills and identify areas where you need to improve.

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Table of Contents

TOEFL Listening Section: An Overview

The listening section is scored on a scale of 0 to 30, and it accounts for 25% of your overall TOEFL score. This makes it the second most important section of the exam, after the reading section.

Check out some TOEFL sample papers here.

Total Number of Questions

28-39 questions

Time Duration

41-57 minutes

Score Range

0 - 30 (Scaled Score)

0 - 34 (Raw Score)

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How are the Questions Delivered in TOEFL Listening section?

In the TOEFL Listening Section, the questions are delivered through an audio recording. In addition to the audio, you will see a picture on the screen that indicates the context of the question and the number of speakers. 

You are required to listen to the audio clip and answer the questions that follow. Since you will be allowed to listen to the audio clip only once, you will have to remember the relevant chunks of information. A good way to do this is to focus completely on the audio with an uncluttered mind and write down quick notes.

As somebody attempting the TOEFL listening section, do not worry about understanding the audio and taking notes at the same time. The reason is that the speakers in the listening excerpts talk slowly, and you will be easily able to grasp the information.

So, you can make notes of the important words or phrases and jot them down simultaneously. You might get a chance to hear snippets repeated in the questions, but you must pay attention to the recording during the first hearing itself. Also, don't panic if you miss something or don't understand the meaning of a word or sentence. Just note down what you hear and stay focused.

Structure of TOEFL Listening Lecture & Conversation

The TOEFL Listening section consists of two types of listening excerpts,that is, lectures and conversations. Each lecture and conversation will consist of its own set of questions, whose types are discussed in the next topic.

Question Types in TOEFL Listening Section

The TOEFL Listening section tests your ability to understand conversations and lectures in English. There are eight different question types, each of which tests a different aspect of your listening comprehension skills.

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1. Gist-content and Gist-purpose questions

Gist-content questions test your ability to understand the main idea of what you have heard in the audio clip. Gist-purpose questions test your ability to understand the main purpose of the audio clip.

  • To answer gist-content questions, ask yourself: "What is happening?"
  • To answer gist-purpose questions, ask yourself: "Why is this happening?"

2. Detail questions

Detail questions test your attention to detail and your ability to pick out key facts discussed in the audio recording.

To identify detailed questions, look for phrases such as:

  • What is...?
  • According to...

3. Function questions

Function questions test your ability to understand the real meaning of a statement in the given context.

To identify function questions, look for phrases such as:

  • What does the professor mean when he says...?
  • Why does the student say...?

4. Attitude questions

Attitude questions test your ability to understand the intention and attitude of the speaker.

To identify attitude questions, look for phrases such as:

  • What is the professor's attitude?
  • What does the student think about...?

5. Organization questions

Organizational questions test your ability to understand the main theme and purpose of the lecture or conversation.

To identify organization questions, look for phrases such as:

  • Why does the professor mention...?
  • Why does the professor discuss...?

6. Connecting Content questions

Connecting Content questions test your ability to synthesize information from different parts of the lecture or conversation.

To identify connecting content questions, look for phrases such as:

  • Fill in a table or chart.
  • What is the likely outcome...?
  • Make a prediction.
  • Steps in a process.

7. Inference questions

Inference questions test your ability to understand the meaning of a specific phrase or sentence that is not directly stated in the lecture or conversation.

To identify Inference questions, look for phrases such as:

  • What does the professor imply...?
  • What can be inferred...?
  • What are the implications of...?

Next, let’s check out this video that covers the actionable tips and tricks to score well in the TOEFL listening section.

Tips & Strategies for Mastering the TOEFL Listening Section

If you have a good plan of action to approach the different question types, then it becomes relatively easier to solve them. A few strategies are being shared below that can be referred to as you prepare for the TOEFL listening section.

  • Focus on the important points. You do not need to understand everything to get a high score. Understanding the important points will largely help you in answering the questions accurately.
  • Identify the question type. This will help you know what information you need to focus on while listening to a particular piece and then answer accordingly.
  • Note down the relevant key phrases. It is impossible to remember everything that has been said, so it is important to take good notes and write down the points or key phrases you think are relevant to the question.
  • Manage your time effectively. The recording will only be played once, so you need to balance the time you spend listening, taking notes, and answering the questions. Try to condense your notes into keywords or shorthand.
  • Sharpen your listening skills. Listen to a variety of English-language audio resources, such as podcasts, audiobooks, and videos. Watch English news, films, and web series, and listen to English music. This will help you get used to different accents and speaking styles.
  • Expand your vocabulary. Learn university-related vocabulary and phrasal verbs and idiomatic expressions. This will help you understand the context of the conversations or lectures.
  • Take practice tests. Taking as many Listening practice tests as possible is a great way to improve your score. Solve last year's TOEFL Exam question papers and sample papers, as well as the free practice tests provided by ETS.

How can I improve my listening skills in TOEFL?

You need to have good listening skills to crack the TOEFL Listening section. You can improve your listening skills by following these points: 

  • Listen to a variety of E-books 
  • Listen to podcasts 
  • Watch the news in English 
  • Watch English movies and web series 
  • Also, listen to English music more than your native music.

TOEFL iBT Free Practice Test

TOEFL iBT Test Listening Practice Sets

From the Desk of Yocket 

Note-taking is a critical strategy for success in the TOEFL Listening section. Make sure to take neat and clear notes that you can easily refer to while answering the questions. You should also listen to a variety of English audio content to develop your listening skills. Finally, put the tips and strategies discussed in this blog post into practice by taking practice tests and getting feedback from a qualified tutor or test preparation course.

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Frequently Asked Questions by students on TOEFL Listening

Is TOEFL listening hard?

How long is the listening section in TOEFL?

How can I practice TOEFL listening?

How do I make notes for TOEFL Listening?

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