TOEFL Listening Section Tips

  • Listen to as much English as possible, be it movies, TV, lectures or audio recordings. These will all help you prepare for the listening section
  • Pay attention to and keep organized notes on facts, details, opinions and structure.
  • You are not expected to have any knowledge on the lecture and conversation materials, so do not feel overwhelmed if you are given a topic you are unfamiliar with.

Sharpen Your TOEFL Listening Skills

Below we have compiled some of the most useful tips for those of you looking to take the TOEFL sometime soon.

  • Listen to English-language videos and music. When you rent a DVD from your local video store, challenge yourself by turning off the English subtitles or captions. Try your best to understand each person speak by watching his or her mouth move; sometimes, you might want to close your eyes and attempt to decipher whatever you can. It never hurts to challenge yourself.
  • Listen to a book on tape in English. There are many books on tape of various subjects nowadays. In fact, you can rent books on tape from your local library for free. This is a great way to practice your listening abilities by listening to a topic of your interest. Also, podcasts are a great way (and often times free) to test your listening skills. Podcasts are available online and can easily be transferred from your computer to your mp3 player or ipod.
  • Listen to English-language recordings that come with transcripts. We recommend you listen to each recording three times. The first time, take notes about the main ideas you hear. Then, the second time, read the transcript and listen for the ideas you might have written down the first time. Then, on the third, listen specifically for any words or phrases you don’t know and look them up. Transcripts are often available online of popular recordings or even come with the recording itself.
  • Finally, we recommend that you attend educational lectures in English whenever possible. Now, this might not be easy to do, but many colleges or universities might allow you to sit in on a class, if you can arrange it well in advance. Also, if you have a friend enrolled in an English-speaking class you might be able to tag along and listen to the professor, should there be a lecture given that day. Regardless, when you do go, it might be a good idea to bring a tape recorder with you so you can play the recording over and over again later on for further practice.

Remember: when you listen to lectures, pay close attention to facts, details, opinions and overall structure. Challenge yourself, even – if science lectures are difficult for you, try your best to attend a lecture in a science class.

Achieve a Higher TOEFL Listening Score

Not getting your ideal score on your listening section and looking for concrete ways to improve it? The listening section on the TOEFL exam can be overwhelming for many students with its complicated lectures and at times lengthy conversations. Here are 5 proven tips to up your score – guaranteed!

1. Keep it simple. Remember: you don’t have to write everything down. The TOEFL listening section does not want or expect you to write down every single detail – such a feat would be impossible, even for a native speaker. When taking notes for conversations, differentiating by columns what the male speaker says versus the female is quite useful, as there will more than likely be questions regarding opinions and statements from each speaker.

With lectures, make sure to write down key words and not get bogged down with too many details. You don’t want to lose track of the lecture or conversation because you’re so concerned with specifics.

2. Organize your notes. It’s always a smart idea to number or letter your notes by section, particularly if the speaker gives examples. Be aware that when any sort of process is described in a lecture or conversation there will be questions later on in the test regarding what order the process comes in.

Organizing your notes as you hear them will save you time later and be invaluable when answering "rhetorical function" questions, which are very common on the listening section.

3. Listen to academic audio recordings. If you can, go to your library or search online (iTunes U is a good place to start) for academic lectures; specifically, history, science, philosophy or the arts. The lectures presented on the TOEFL exam are lectures that would be typically heard by freshmen or sophomore students at a university. Challenge yourself by seeking these types of audio recordings out so you can be familiar with the structure and language.

If you can’t find academic recordings, then try listening to the news online, which is usually spoken in Standard American Dialect and uses advanced vocabulary words, all of which are applicable to the TOEFL.

4. Watch TV. Yes – believe it or not, you’re being given advice to watch TV to study for the listening section on the TOEFL. Not just any type of TV program, either: sitcoms and hour-long dramas. Why? These are useful to the conversations presented to you in the TOEFL listening section because they are spoken in dialogue and deal, ultimately, with problems and solutions.

When watching a sitcom or hour-long drama, take notes and make sure to identify the problem and the solution. Research any idioms or slang you might hear – this will also come in handy, as many rhetorical function questions deal directly with idiomatic expressions.

5. Listen to less music and more spoken words. Download news articles from the BBC or Business English from iTunes and try to listen to them instead of music for thirty minutes a day. Pick topics that interest you – there are a wide variety of podcasts to choose from. This will sharpen your listening skills and expand your vocabulary, not to mention make you more well-informed.

Remember, listening skills can be improved just as your reading, speaking and writing skills. And keep in mind – the TOEFL does not expect you to have a preconceived knowledge of any of the material based in the lectures or conversations, so don’t feel overwhelmed when you are given a lecture on cellular division in plants or the geographical history of a particular nomadic tribe.