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Five Tips to Improve Your TOEFL Listening Score!

The TOEFL Listening portion is a tricky one. You are required to listen to four to six lectures, which each have six questions, and two to three conversations, which each have five questions. It will take a total of 60 minutes for the shortened version and 90 minutes for the extended version, with a total of 34 to 51 questions. If you receive the extended section, the extra lectures and conversations do not count towards your score (sorry!). It is just there to help the TOEFL company prepare questions for next year. Unfortunately you cannot predict which questions are the extra questions and you should do your best on all of them!


So what are the types? According to research papers from ETS, the company that makes the TOEFL, they have identified 5 types:


lecture: a monologue delivered in a formal academic setting, usually by a professor
interactive lecture: a lecture delivered in a formal academic setting, where students may ask questions for clarification or the lecturer may ask students questions

consultation: a group of speakers discussing academic or class-related material (e.g., a student asking a professor questions during office hours)

group discussion: a group of speakers discussing academic material in an imposed structure (e.g., students in a study group or students performing a classroom activity assigned by the professor)

conversation: a group of speakers talking about class-related or campus-related material (e.g., a student looking for a book on reserve in the library).


Now, in keeping with the theme of 5, here are the 5 best pieces of advice you can have to score well on the TOEFL test.


1.Take Notes

Taking accurate notes quickly is the most important skill on the TOEFL. It is both a mental and physical skill. It is physical because by moving your hand faster and writing faster, you can write more notes than another person can. Additionally, it is mental because you need to summarize sentences, shorten words, identify the most important parts of a sentence and throw out unnecessary statements.

Write down:

– Main points that the lecture has said

– Details about main points

– Facts that are difficult to remember, but can be asked about (often in the conversations there is one question about an inconsequential fact from the beginning)

Do not write down:

– Function words (like ‘the’ or ‘a/an’)

– Words signaling the organization of the passage (‘The first reason the Maldives are beautiful is…’ or ‘The main idea is..’)


For example, here are my notes for this listening passage:


Grenhous fct

First no neg, b4 glob warm

Was pos, trouble no

Day heat, night rad back space

Surf below 0

Grnhs gas, absrb heat, then release

Like blanket, trap heat

Reduce heat rad to space

Like glass walls grnhs, hold heat

If grnhs overheat, worry

Enhanced grn fct

As long stay same, equal, but upset, bad

Evid alrdy upset, warming century

Cause? Too much gas atmo, c02 (human, nrg use, petrol, meth)

Expect grow signif, world warmer

Quant? Unsure. Var factors affect, oceans, absrb, 1k X atmo

Study, oceans warm, absrb more 50yrs

Warm good +bad

hope not happen – extra heat ocean – slow glob warm

ocean evap? – unknown, 0x vap grnhz

vap = warm earth, but clouds block sunlight

delay, but also vapor, no known net affect

For more information on Note Taking, check out this document from the TOEFL company on the effects of Note Taking. Skip down to page 55 (page 67 in the PDF) on the document. The company has affirmed through their research that just reading these 4 pages will improve your TOEFL listening score.


2. Know the Organization

Another important aspect of the TOEFL Listening is to know the organization of the Lectures. ETS has even listed the types of organization on its website.

First, there are two main structures:

Lecture or Presentation where there is a clearly defined Introduction, Body and Conclusion, and

Narrative where there is a Beginning, Middle and End.

In the Greenhouse Effect Listening above, we saw a Lecture/Presentation type where the idea of the Greenhouse Effect was described, then it was described more in detail with differing versions (pos + neg), then its actual effect in the world was detailed.

Then we look at the different styles of organization:

  • Theory and Evidence
  • Cause and Effect
  • Steps of a Process
  • Comparison of Two Things


As you might have guessed, our Greenhouse effect lecture was the Theory and Evidence type.

When you are listening, remember to listen for the General Ideas (like the Greenhouse effect and the enhanced greenhouse effect) as well as the details: Facts, Examples and Opinions (like the fact that the ocean absorbs heat, the study that showed it was warming and the opinion on whether we know if it is bad or good).


3. Listen to Audio

An important way to practice for the TOEFL Listening is to actually listen to audio all around you. The television is good, specifically documentaries or channels like Animal Planet and National Geographic.

Additionally, seek out audio sources like news programs. Here are some of my favorites:


Remember that these lectures and conversations ready you for the Standard American Dialect. While listening to the BBC is helpful, you may want to stick to an American accent.


4. Signals

We may have mentioned it above, but signals are very important to pay attention to when you are listening to a TOEFL conversation or lecture.

ETS lists words that signal type of information in the phrases below:

  • Opinion (I think, It appears that, It is thought that)
  • Theory (In theory)
  • Inference (therefore, then)
  • Negatives (not, or words that begin with ‘un’, ‘non’, ‘dis’, or ‘a’)
  • Fillers (non-essential information like uh, umm, or er)


Additionally, keep an eye out for conjunctions and signal words like:

  • reasons (because, since)
  • results (as a result, so, therefore, thus, consequently)
  • examples (for example, such as)
  • comparisons (in contrast, than)
  • an opposing idea (on the other hand, however)
  • another idea (furthermore, moreover, besides)
  • a similar idea (similarly, likewise)
  • restatements of information (in other words, that is)
  • conclusions (in conclusion, in summary)


Remember that often the speakers will use pauses and changes of speed to provide clues as to how to organize and group information.


5. Practice, Practice, Practice

Most importantly, remember to practice. The TOEFL listening section is a very quick and tricky section. Even native speakers need to train themselves for this section because it does not come naturally. So the best way to get better at it is to practice a lot.

Free Resources:


A little more expensive:


Waste of your money:

  • Online TOEFL courses (usually the instructors just do not have their hearts in it)
  • Just taking the TOEFL over and over again.


Efficient use of your money:

  • Our classes! You can register for one here, or attend a free Information Session here.


So see you soon at ICON+! Adios!


ICON+ is Singapore’s leading test preparation specialist with over 20 years of experience. Book your FREE diagnostic test now and have a chat with our consultants on how to best achieve your learning goals. Take your first step to higher education today!



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