The TOEFL Listening section consists of six listening activities, each 3–5 minutes in length.This section involves listening to two conversations and four academic lectures or discussions. The lectures may involve student participation and do not require specialized background knowledge of the subject area. Each conversation and lecture is heard only once. Each conversation is followed by five questions, while the lectures have six. The questions aim to measure your ability to summarize the main ideas, pick up on important details, and understand the speaker’s tone and purpose.

The Listening section is structured similarly to the Reading section.



How to Ace the TOEFL Listening Section

The Listening section of the TOEFL consists of:

Length Number of questions
4 to 6 academic
3-5 minutes each 6 questions each
2 to 3 conversations 3-4 minutes each 5 questions each


As always, knowing the format of the exam and preparing in advance are key to your success on the TOEFL. If you want to do well on the listening part, master the following strategies: 


  • Find the main idea or purpose: At the beginning of the lecture, the reader may introduce the main idea by using specific phrases, such as “I want to talk about” or “I wanted to look at,” etc. Work on identifying these introductory keywords to locate the main idea or topic.


  • Focus on the structure:  In addition to listening to the content, you must also think about the structure of the conversation or lecture. For example, why is a certain detail mentioned? Is it meant to support or to contradict a previous point?


  • Listen for tone or attitude: The tone of the speaker’s voice will shed light on the overall purpose of the conversation or lecture. Is the tone neutral, confused, upbeat, etc.? In a lecture, tone can explain how the professor perceives a question posed by a student, or why a student disagrees with a certain point. Figuring out the attitude of the speakers will help you to form a deeper understanding. 


  • Pay attention to transitions: Take note of the words that organize the conversation or lecture. You’ll know to expect a list with “first,” “next,” “last,” and so forth. Certain words including “on the other hand” or “however” signal a change in opinion or a counter-argument. Also, take note of relationships and correlations marked out with “x leads to/causes y” or “x impacts/affects/influences y.”


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