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Meet the TOEFL Listening Section

Announcement! As of August 1, 2019, the TOEFL Reading, Listening and Speaking sections will be shortened. The TOEFL will also make changes to its prep materials and scoring system. Because of this, some of the info in our blog posts may not yet reflect the new exam format. We cover all the changes here.

The listening section is made up of four to six lectures, each accompanied by six questions, and two or three conversations, each accompanied by five questions. Depending on whether you have an experimental section, the entire section will last either 60 or 90 minutes.

The lectures can come from any academic discipline that can show up on the reading section—in short, almost anything a freshman could take a class in, except math or mathematical sciences, like physics. The conversations are either conversations between a student and a professor during office hours, or conversations between a student and some member of support staff/university administration. Often the second kind of conversation deals with topics like course registration, graduation requirements, and financial aid. It helps to become familiar with the language and structure of university administration so you don’t get stuck on a listening passage that takes place in a place you’re unfamiliar with, such as, say, a registrar’s office.

Whereas the reading section features very sterile, academic language, the listening section is designed to mimic natural speech. This means that the speakers will pause, change sentences or topics abruptly, and occasionally say something incorrect or forget what they were talking about. You may be asked questions about these imperfections, so a familiarity with unrehearsed speech is essential to doing well in the listening section. Unlike in the Official Guide, no part of the listening test will ever be transcribed for you. It’s important to do plenty of listening practice questions without looking at the transcripts!

After a recording is finished, you will see five to six questions on that recording—five for conversations, six for lectures and classroom discussions. You will not know the questions while you listen, and you will not be able to listen again to the full recording to check your answer. That means a good memory and good notes are key! You cannot change your answers after they are submitted—your only choice is to answer and go forward to the next question. Sometimes, a question will deal with a particular part of the recording, and the test will replay a small audio clip for you. This is only for certain questions types, usually 0-2 per recording. After a set of five or six questions is finished, the next recording will start automatically.

Many of the question types on the listening section will look familiar from the reading section, but a few will deal with the unique ability of speech to convey information without words—through intonation and stress, for example. In upcoming posts, we’ll take a more in-depth look at the questions that you’ll encounter on the listening section.

Lastly, if you’d like to learn more about the TOEFL Listening section and get some free practice in video format (bonus: it’s great for your listening skills!), you can watch the video below:

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