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TOEFL Listening: Numbers You DO Need to Know

In my last post on TOEFL Listening and numbers, I talked about scientific facts and figures. Generally, you won’t be questioned on specific scientific numbers you hear in TOEFL Listening lectures. In fact, if you focus too much on those kinds of numbers, you can be distracted from correct answers and proper note taking. There is another type of number in TOEFL lectures that should appear in your notes. Historical numbers that mark the years of events are often important in TOEFL Listening. Numbers related to years can be central keywords in the question itself, as seen in this listening question (taken from Official TOEFL iBT Tests):

25. The professor mentions an experiment done five to ten years ago on the wind speed necessary to move rocks. What opinion does the professor express about the experiment?

Questions like this are common in TOEFL Listening. They ask you to understand what happened during a specific time period in the past. Some time periods can be estimates, such as “five to ten years ago.” Speakers may also mention specific years or dates. Often, a TOEFL Listening lecture will include several different dates and time periods. When this happens, any of the years or time periods can come up in the questions.

Keeping track of all of these years, decades, and eras can be tricky. It can be helpful to make a timeline in your notes. Set aside one part of your note-taking sheet just for years and dates. Whenever the speaker mentions years or time periods, write down the historical information and years in your timeline. That way, you’ll have all the potentially important dates in one place for quick reference.

To show you how this method works, I’ve uploaded a sound clip for you . This clip features parts of a lecture on economics from . I have selected only the parts of the lecture where the professor mentions years. As you listen to the lecture, look at the “timeline” section of the notes:


Here’s what the whole page of notes looks like:


With a set of notes like this, you’re ready to answer any kind of question, including questions about historical times.

For this particular lecture, there was one TOEFL question involving years:

10. What were some factors that contributed to the tulip craze in the Netherlands in the seventeenth century? Choose 3 answers.

[A] Wealthy gardeners liked to compete for rare plants
[B] The number of people with disposable income was growing
[C] Tulip bulbs were initially cheap and easy to obtain
[D] Tulips in the wild bloomed with unusual color combinations
[E] The tulip market was not regulated by the government
[F] The professor mentions the practice of trading promissory notes in the     1630s

The correct answers are A, B, and E.

My timeline confirms A, B, and E. These events appear under “17th century” in my notes. The year-related notes also eliminate C and D, which do not appear in the timeline. F does appear in the timeline, but can be ruled out by carefully reading the question. Trading promissory notes was a result of the tulip craze, but it didn’t cause the tulip craze.

The “timeline” note-taking method can help you keep track of important dates as you listen. Not all timelines will look like the one above. Sometimes a lecture will mention just one or two dates, and the timeline will take up a small corner of the sheet. Other times, dates may dominate a TOEFL listening track, as they do in the economics lecture seen above.


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