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TOEFL iBT Listening Skills

The Listening section of the TOEFL, which lasts about 40-60 minutes, measures your ability to understand the English spoken in academic settings in North America. There are 6-9 listening tasks, which  include the following:

  • A minimum of 2 questions between two people - such as two students or a student and a professor, a librarian, a counsellor, etc; followed by questions
  • A minimum of 2 lectures, followed by questions
  • A minimum of 2 lectures, with student comments and questions interspersed, followed by questions

You will need headphones for this portion of the test. You can adjust the volume during the test. You may also take notes at any time and use your notes to help you answer the questions. Your notes will be destroyed before you leave the exam hall.

Each question in the TOEFL iBT Listening section must be answered before you can go on to the next question. You are not permitted to go back to previous questions once you have left a question.

TOEFL iBT listening questions fall into three different categories:

  • basic comprehension questions
  • pragmatic understanding questions
  • connecting information question

There are 6-7 different types of questions, as shown below:

  • identifying the main idea
  • determining the purpose
  • understanding detail
  • determining attitude
  • understanding implication
  • making inferences
  • connecting content

Most of the academic lectures featured in the TOEFL listening section are at a first-year university level. Though the topics can cover a wide range of subjects, the typically fall into four major categories: arts, life science, physical science, and social science.

Arts lectures may include architecture, music, literature, photography, urban planning, crafts, and industrial design.

Life science could include public health, animal communication, conservation biochemistry, medicine, bacteria, nutrition, and animal behaviour.

Physical science could include climate, geography, landforms, environment, pollution, astronomy, optics, physics, technology, mathematics, and computer science

Social science lectures could include anthropology, linguistics, education, history, business, psychology, and mass communication.

To improve your listening skills, tune in to the radio and television news, interviews, and discussions. Listen to various academic talks, lectures, and educational documentaries.

Begin a systematic vocabulary improvement program to expand your vocabulary. Books such as Barron's Essential Words for the TOEFL and Longman's North Star series, Building Skills for the TOEFL iBT are particularly helpful.

One of the best TOEFL resources for improving your listening skills is Longman's Learn to Listen, Listen to Learn by Roni S. Lebauer. By working through this book and tape set, you will pick up some valuable strategies for the TOEFL iBT test and for life.

In addition, most TOEFL guidebooks include audio CDs, which provide practice in listening exercises. However, if you are weak in this area, you may wish to select a guidebook which includes several CDs and plenty of listening practice. For example, Barron’s TOEFL iBT guidebook comes with 10 CDs, for a reasonable price, and provides great value for the student.