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toefl listening

General Information

  • It is made up of Reading, Listening, Speaking, and Writing sections.
  • It will take you about four hours in total from start to finish.
  • For the Speaking section, you speak into a microphone and your responses are digitally recorded and sent to the ETS Online Scoring Network.
  • For the Writing section, you will type your responses, which are sent to the ETS Online Scoring Network.
  • Human raters, trained and certified by ETS, rate the Speaking and Writing responses.
  • The test is not is not computer adaptive.
  • You can take notes throughout the whole test.


  • There is no stand-alone Grammar section.
  • Grammar is tested wholly within the four skill areas.
  • In comparison to previous versions of the TOEFL, the addition of a speaking section and expansion of the writing section requires students to communicate in original English.
  • New integrated-skills questions test ability to learn, to integrate information across multiple tests.
  • They are more difficult and more reflective of actual academic English.

Reading, Listening, Speaking, and Writing

  • The Reading section consists of about 3–5 passages (About 700 words each), with 12–14 questions each section.
  • There are about fifty questions in the whole section, and it will take you about 60-100 minutes to complete.
  • The Listening section consists of 4–6 lectures with about 6 questions per lecture, as well as 2–3 conversations with 5 questions per conversation.
  • The Speaking section sees you doing two independent tasks and four integrated tasks, two of which are reading/listening/speaking while the other two are just listening/speaking.
  • The Writing section requires you to do one integrated writing task and one independent writing task.


  • TOEFL iBT provides five scores: four sections scores for Reading, Listening, Writing, and Speaking and a total score.
  • Each section is on a 0-30 scale.
  • The total score is the sum of the four section scores.
  • The range of total scores could be anywhere from 0-120.
  • It is valid for two years.
  • You may take the TOEFL iBT test only once in any seven-day period, even if you took the test and canceled your scores.
  • The normal fee to take the TOEFL test is US$110. However, it varies based on country.
  • To register for your test, please visit www.ets.org/toefl.

Posted on October 28, 2011 by Manhattan Review

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If in-person or online TOEFL tutoring through Manhattan Review is not a possibility for you, study guides for this exam are critical.  Many students often are confused as to what medium to pursue in regards to a TOEFL study guide: textbook, audio CDs, Internet practice program or computer-based practice tests and quizzes.

It’s highly recommended that you get some practice with this exam on a computer, since most of you will be taking the iBt version, which is solely computer-based.  After all, reading an academic article on a monitor is a very different experience from reading on regular paper.  Often times, it’s easier to get lost in our reading when we read on the computer, in addition we tend to slower.  Even if you are just reading encyclopedia articles online, it will be useful practice for you in the long run.

In regards to TOEFL study books, here are some options for you with comprehensive breakdowns to help you find your way in the bookstore!

Manhattan Review’s Integrated Study Guide: Turbocharge Your TOEFL

By Joern Meissner & Tracy C. Yun

This study book, published through Manhattan Review, not only breaks down TOEFL question types and the test itself, but also focuses on common American idioms, useful vocabulary, grammar review, accent reduction, in addition to special sections on the use of articles and prepositions.

Longman Preparation Course for the TOEFL Test

By Deborah Phillips

This book is a unique two-for-one deal, as the 2nd edition (preferred) comes with a CD-Rom, so you are able to get your practice both on the page and on the screen.  This book is broken down in our test sections (reading, listening, speaking & writing), first with a broad overview with general suggestions, and then complete breakdowns and subsequent exercises with skills.  Also included are two complete, full-length TOEFL tests, in addition to three appendixes: Cohesion, Sentence Structure and Error Correction.  In the very back of the book, in addition to a very clear answer key, is a final section about diagnosis, assessment, and scoring.  Please note, the audio CD for this textbook is sold separately, so keep that in mind when purchasing this book.

Delta’s Key to the Next Generation TOEFL Test: Six Practice Tests for the iBt

By Nancy Gallagher

While this is a practice test-only book, Delta publishes some great material about the TOEFL that is used all over the world.  In particular, many students claim the Delta TOEFL exercises are somewhat harder than the actual TOEFL exam, so in many ways it sets the bar high prior to test day.  (Please note, Delta publishes an “Advanced Skills” book, as well, for advanced students.)  CDs for the listening, speaking and writing sections must be purchased separately, but are well worth it, as the lectures make great additions to your mp3 or i-pods to buff up your listening skills.

What’s the ultimate advice when it comes to practicing for the TOEFL at home?  Practicing every day is certainly important, but keep in mind that you don’t want to burn yourself out.  Students can sometimes grow overwhelmed very quickly with the academic listening and reading material this tests contains, so too much of this work all at once can have an adverse affect.  Also, focus on a skill-by-skill basis, devoting so many hours a day to reading, writing, speaking or listening.  (However, feel free to add some variety by warming up your study session with independent speaking questions or outlining independent essays.)

Posted on October 25, 2011 by Manhattan Review

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Next to studying all four TOEFL test prep skills (reading, listening, speaking & writing), there are other aspects of the test and what to expect on test day you should keep in mind.  While the following suggestions may be somewhat alternative for test-takers, keep in mind these elements are not to be ignored when taking in mind your TOEFL test prep.

1)   IMPROVE TYPING SKILLS: While this may be a surprising suggestion, your typing capabilities are not to be overlooked.  Most people take the TOEFL iBT which is solely Internet-based; your typing skills are insurmountably important for achieving a high score on the writing section, in particular.  Did you know the TOEFL independent essay should be a minimum of 300 words?  Were you aware the integrated essay has a minimum of 150?  Many students might feel frustrated they are not able to get their ideas on the computer screen as fast as they’d like and it can ultimately end up hurting their score.  Practice typing for so many hours as week, particularly if you have the luxury of studying for the TOEFL 2-3 months.  Practicing typing might prove to be a welcomed break from studying the four skills!

2)   WEAR COMFORTABLE CLOTHING: When it comes to test day, make sure you are dressed comfortably.  After all, no one performs his best when wearing constricting clothing.  While the TOEFL certainly tests your speaking ability, keep in mind it does not test your appearance, so wear whatever you like so long as you are comfortable sitting down for the duration of the 4-hour exam.  It might be a good idea to layer, as you never know if a room will be too hot or too cold.

3)   EAT BEFORE THE TEST: Most TOEFL exams are given in the morning or by 12 PM.  Make sure you eat something filling so you won’t be distracted during the test thinking about what you’re going to eat afterwards.  It might be a good idea to bring a very light snack for your ten minute break in between the listening and speaking sections.  Many brain researchers say fruit is the number one food that will get your mind working – so an apple a day will not only keep a doctor away, but it might help your TOEFL score, too!

4)   REWARD YOURSELF: After the test, make sure you do something nice for yourself.  After all, you have just prepared for a very difficult exam and deserve to enjoy yourself afterwards.  Treat yourself to a night out or dinner with friends – your hard work will certainly pay off!

Posted on August 3, 2010 by Manhattan Review

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Fretting over the TOEFL speaking section?  No need to worry – here are five practical tips to help keep you grounded:

1) Remember – it doesn’t have to be immaculately perfect. Each speaking question is graded on a scale of 0 – 4, with a 4 being the highest possible score.  Even with the highest possible score, it is still acceptable to have minor pronunciation errors.  In other words, the TOEFL graders are well aware you are speaking into a microphone in a room full of others, who are also doing the same and they take into account both your situation during the test and the stressful impact of the time.  Aim for the best you can possibly do but remember – a few minor mistakes won’t rule out a score of a 4. 

2)    Don’t take risks. The TOEFL speaking section is not the time or the place to experiment with new vocabulary words and/or complex pronunciations that might confuse the grader.  Try to expand your horizons with moderate-level adjectives but, as a whole, play it safe with your choice of vocabulary and particularly your choice of topics on independent questions.

3)    Don’t go over the time allotted. Keep in mind that for all independent speaking questions you have 45 seconds to respond, and for all integrated speaking questions you have 60 seconds to respond.  It’s important to give concise responses that do not exceed the allotted speaking time.  If you get 7 or 10 seconds until the end of your response time and you aren’t finished, it’s best to complete the thought and/or sentence you’re currently responding to or go to a conclusion right away.

4) Take notes. Some students do not take notes on the speaking section of the TOEFL and this is a major mistake.  Taking notes is crucial not only for the factual information you need for the integrated speaking but also to serve as a “guide” for your response.  With the stress of having to speak into a microphone with a room full of other people doing the same, it’s easy to get lost in your response or stop speaking altogether.  Take notes not only to help you deliver a complete response, but also provide you with keywords from the lecture and conversation to impress the graders.

5) Make the grader’s life easier. Last but not least, you should always keep in mind your job is to make the grader’s life easier.  Graders have to listen to many responses within the time span of one hour and if they have to replay part or all of your response because they happen to question what you were saying, it can only count against you.  Speak clearly, concisely and comfortably in order to make their job of giving you a high score easier than they anticipated.

All in all, the best way to improve your speaking is to practice, practice, practice!  Hopefully these hints will help you as you tackle what some students say is the most challenging part of the TOEFL examination.

Posted on July 27, 2010 by Manhattan Review

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While the Listening section on the TOEFL doesn’t have as many question types as the reading section, it’s still important to know the types you might encounter.  As with the reading section, when you are able to identify a listening question type, it very well might help you move through the section faster.  Keep in mind: the listening section on the TOEFL exam has 34 questions total with 6 main question types.

* Topic/Main Idea: When identifying the topic or main idea of a lecture of conversation, questions along the lines of: What is the subject of the conversation/lecture?  What is the topic of the discussion/academic talk? Keep in mind these are general questions needing general answers.

* Details: These questions are asking for particular pieces of information, as stated by the speakers.  Note-taking is essential for these types of questions, as well as a good memory!

* Attitude/Purpose: These questions types are not always easy to answer, as they are not details found specifically in the lecture or conversation.  The purpose of a lecture or conversation is its primary function, whereas the attitude of a speaker is his/her feelings, thoughts and emotions.  Remember – tone of voice is key to finding the attitude of a speaker.

* Inferences/Predictions: Similar to the reading section, the listening has quite a few inference questions, which require you to come to a conclusion about a statement not directly stated.  Inference questions require a sharp eye for interpretation, often involving the words “infer” or “imply.”  Prediction questions aren’t quite as common as inference questions, but they require you to determine what will more than likely happen in the future, based on what a speaker says or doesn’t say.

* Categorizing: Also like the reading, the listening has several categorizing question, which often come at the end of a series of questions.  These types of questions often take longer to determine and requires a test-taker to filter through his/her notes.  Pay close attention to any categories, types or divisions when taking notes on the TOEFL listening section.

* SUMMARIZING: When you encounter a summarizing question, you are asked to put a series of actions in order.  This occurs through the “drag and drop” process on the computer, so it enables you to see the sentences in order right in front of your very eyes.

Above all – the most important skill you can do on the TOEFL listening section is to take notes.  In the meantime, familiarize yourself with these listening questions so you can answer them with ease on test day.

Posted on July 13, 2010 by Manhattan Review

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When writing either your independent or integrated TOEFL essay, keep in mind there are certain words that will make your writing come across as more academic and intelligent.  Coherence is essential for getting a high score on the writing section. Often times there are specific words you can try to incorporate in your essay that will make your essay easier to read.

Perhaps the most difficult thing on the integrated essay is connecting ideas. After all, you are connecting ideas from both a reading passage and an academic lecture.  As we know, sometimes the information from both sources is contradictory and sometimes similar.  Several hints and corresponding words for your integrated essay would be:

1)    Always tell the reader where your information is coming from. For instance, is the information you are comparing or contrasting from the reading or listening?  It’s important the grader knows that you know which is which.  When presenting information from either, keep in mind you should add some variety to your citations.

“According to the lecture…”

“The reading states…”

“According to the speaker/lecturer….”

“The reading made the point that….”

Remember to alternate how you quote your sources. Otherwise your essays can get repetitive and come across as not very sophisticated.

2)    When showing examples, keep in mind variety is also key. After all, examples are the bulk of your information. So when presenting them in your essay, don’t forget to “mix it up.”  Here are some ways you can do so, with many more options out there.

“For instance…”

“As an example…”

“In addition…”


Using variety in your integrated essay with how you cite your sources and give your examples will make for more interesting reading and can only help you attain the highest TOEFL score possible.

As many TOEFL-bound students may know, ETS gives 30 minutes to plan, write and edit the independent essay.  Sometimes, test-takers jump right into the writing portion of the essay and forgo the “planning stage” altogether.  Planning, or outlining your independent essay, is crucial to giving you the basic information to write your essay effectively.  How do you outline an essay?  It involves the following steps.

Brainstorming involves you writing down all the possible ideas, stream-of-consciousness that enter your mind in regards to the given topic.  Take a look at the following example of brainstorming on an independent writing TOEFL topic:

TOPIC: Do you believe students should be required to wear school uniforms?  Why or why not?  Use details and examples in your explanation.

BRAINSTORMING (2-3 minutes)

- disagree

- inhibits creativity

- middle school: black pants, white shirt, uncomfortable

- hated wearing uniforms as a child

- university – no uniforms

- more fun with sense of style – discovery

- open environment/accepting

- freedom of choice good for education

The above was written in about 2 minutes on the given topic in regards to wearing school uniforms.  Again, this step is called brainstorming and is free association with the given topic.  After the brainstorming stage, you should go directly to the outlining stage, which should take a little less time.

Outlining requires you to take information from the brainstorming stage and organize it into the skeleton of your essay.  This outline will be the blueprint, so to speak, for your independent TOEFL essay.

OUTLINE (1-2 minutes)

-       thesis: disagree with uniforms

-       1st point: inhibits creativity (personal example from middle school and how my creativity suffered due to a strict uniform policy)

-       In general, students were not as happy and often times, their artwork was dismal and depressing because they were not allowed to experiment with color in their wardrobe

-       2nd point: increases an open mind (personal example: during university, there was no dress code and this made people more accepting of others and their sense of style). In general, this was good for education and allowed us to approach one another with an open mind.

Having the above outline will come in handy when actually sitting at your keyboard and typing out a 300-400-word essay.  Not only does the outline help you work faster, but it also helps the overall organization of your essay.  Remember – in addition to supporting points and examples, TOEFL writing section graders also judge organization and coherence.

Advice: Practice at home outline essays from various TOEFL independent writing topics.  You’ll be surprised how easy it can be to do in 5 minutes and how useful it will prove itself during your test!

Manhattan Review offers a variety of TOEFL preparation choices including online live recording library, in-person private tutoring, online tutoring, online courses and classroom courses. It has over 5 years of experience in preparing students for TOEFL around the world and has consistently received student compliments with their score increase. Meanwhile, Manhattan Review has hosted a number of advanced business English programs and communication training for leading institutions including Columbia Business School.

When applying to universities, schools will almost always ask for international students to supply a TOEFL score.  Your TOEFL score is proof you are sufficient in English to the point where you can function properly in an academic environment, listen and comprehend all necessary material, as well as work in the realm of business as an English speaker.  Many universities provide a TOEFL minimum score on their website; if not, it is advisable for all international students to inquire to the admissions office what their minimum score might be.

ETS has generously released some universities’ minimum TOEFL scores on their website, which are seen through the following Undergraduate examples:

  • Boston University – College of General Studies, School of Management

-       READING: 25

-       LISTENING: 21

-       SPEAKING: 23

-       WRITING: 22

  • Columbia International University

-       TOTAL SCORE: 80

  • Oregon State University

-       TOTAL SCORE: 80, with a minimum of 16 for each section

  • Syracuse University

-       TOTAL SCORE: 80

  • University Of Toronto

-       TOTAL SCORE: 100, with a 22 minimum on the WRITING section

You might be surprised to see schools require specific minimums on certain sections.  Often times, the speaking and writing sections will have these minimums, as colleges and universities consider both speaking and writing critical to success in their programs.  How do you begin to tackle your TOEFL preparation, knowing you might need specific scores on all four sections?

Here is some TOEFL prep advice so you don’t feel too overwhelmed.

1)   Know the grading system.  As you study, keep in mind what the raters are looking for in terms of a good essay and speaking response.  What makes an independent essay get the high score of a 5?  What can I do in order to make my integrated speaking responses gain the high score of a 4?  The better you know how they grade you, the better you will do on test day.

2)   Learn the point system.  In addition to knowing the rating system of speaking and writing responses, get to know what questions are worth their particular number of points.  For example, in the reading or listening section, if you are answering a categorizing question where you are asked to place particular words or phrases into a category – how would they grade your answer if you got three out of four categorizations wrong?  These are important things to know so you have no surprises on test day.

3)   Study the TOEFL on a section-by-section basis.  Occasionally, when you have the time, it’s a great idea to practice all four skills (reading, listening, speaking & writing) all in the same day; however, it’s in your best interest to focus on each of the skills one at a time.  For example, take two days in a row and just work on your speaking.  Warm up with independent speaking tasks and then move on to the more challenging integrated tasks.

Remember, progress on the TOEFL takes time, so be patient with yourself.

Overall, the first step in your admissions process is to find out your TOEFL score requirement, then plan your studies accordingly.

Many of you who are studying for the TOEFL might wonder what raters are looking for, especially out of your independent speaking responses.  The raters, in fact, grade you based on levels broken into the following 4 categories.

  • 4 >> If you get a score of a 4, that means you’ve have achieved the highest score possible on the TOEFL independent speaking question.  A 4 means you have effectively addressed the task and generally speaking, your response is organized well and coherent.  With a 4 you have also used both grammar and vocabulary in an effective way, although you might have a few minor errors.  (Remember – to even get a score of a 4, you are allowed minor language errors, so long as they do not interfere with the overall meaning of what you are trying to say.)

Finally, with a 4 you have demonstrated clear speech but also might have minor problems with pronunciation or intonation.  Keep in mind, which you are allowed several minor errors, this is not encouraged when you make your response.

  • 3 >> When you have a score of a 3, you have still done a good job, but perhaps your response doesn’t have quite the organization that it would if you had gotten a 4.  In other words, your development in terms of specific examples and details might be limited and perhaps several of your ideas aren’t as clear as they could be.  While a score of a 3 demonstrates effective use of grammar and vocabulary, it’s still not quite what a 4 would be in terms of your mastery of the English language and specific uses of words.

A score of a 3 still means you have done well, it just might mean it takes some extra effort on the part of the rater to understand what you are saying and to make sense of your ideas.

  • 2 >> A score of a 2 is a response that is on topic, but where the development is so limited that is becomes unclear what points you are trying to make.  A score of a 2 would be given if you demonstrate an extremely limited use of vocabulary and overall, requires much more effort on the part of the listener to understand what you are saying.  (This type of a response might cause the rater to listen to your response several times in order to make sense of it, which is never a good sign.  Remember – your job is to make the life of a TOEFL independent speaking rater easy!)
  • 1 >> A score of a 1 is more than likely not really on topic and filled with very vague ideas with little or no relevant details to support them.  Perhaps, even, the ideas expressed in a response with a scoring of a 4 are inaccurate.  The expression of ideas in this type of response would be very limited, almost to the point of not being able to make sense of anything, and there might even be many pauses where it feels the speaker has no idea what to say next.  Overall, a response of a 1 is not what we are out to obtain for out TOEFL responses, so practice – practice – practice, so you will get a higher score!

It should be noted, that there is a score of 0, if you would believe it.  However, the only way you would get a 0 is if you said nothing or if you talked about your plans for the weekend instead of addressing the task.  Also, raters are known to give half scores – i.e. 2.5, 3.5, etc…

Many people might feel apprehensive about the TOEFL speaking section because they simply don’t know what is expected of them for each question type.  While the speaking section on the TOEFL requires you to speak, there are slight variations between each question.  Below is a breakdown of all six TOEFL speaking questions in an attempt to ease apprehension for test day!

  • QUESTIONS 1 & 2: Both the first and second questions on the TOEFL speaking section are independent topics; meaning, you are required to speak on a topic that is familiar to you, as it’s purely opinion-based.  Some independent questions will ask you your preference on a topic, such as:

-       Do you think it’s better to study alone or in groups when preparing for an exam?  Use reasons and details in your explanation.

While some are more open-ended, such as:

-       What is your idea of the perfect house?  Use reasons and details in your explanation.

For independent questions on the TOEFL, you will have 15 seconds to prepare and 45 seconds to give your response.

  • QUESTION 3: Question #3 on the TOEFL speaking section begins the integrated speaking portion of the exam and involves reading a short passage (45 seconds) and then listening to a conversation on the same topic.  The conversation will always be between a man and a woman and usually university-related.  The reading portion on this question will usually have to do with a university-related topic that is the basis for the conversation between the man and the woman.

Typically in Question #3, one speaker will have a strong opinion about the given topic and you are expected to give the reasons the main speaker has and any supporting details that go along with it.  For Question #3, you have 30 seconds to prepare and 60 seconds to respond.

Remember – your personal opinion is not needed or wanted for this type of question.

  • QUESTION 4: Question #4 on the TOEFL speaking section is very similar to Question #3; however, this question type, in particular, will give you a short reading passage (45 seconds) on an academic topic and then play a lecture on the same topic, as well.

This question always seems a bit more difficult than Question #3, because the material is much more dense, particular if the topic is science-related, and often times it’s difficult to give a full response with all relevant information under 60 seconds.  (The prep time and speaking time for Question #4 is the same as Question #3.)  Basically, you are required to give a summary of the lecture, with a focus on a particular process or emphasis given to you in the question.

  • QUESTION 5: Question #5 takes you back to conversations, as you hear a lengthier conversation than in Question #3, and are required to give a short summary of all the important information.  This question type gives you 20 seconds (not 30 seconds in Question #3) to prepare your response and 60 to speak.  Ultimately, it will be a bit more difficult in terms of content and vocabulary than Question #3, but it also requires you to give your opinion at the end of your response.  Question #5 has no reading portion, only listening and speaking.
  • QUESTION 6: Question #6 is often the most difficult question on the TOEFL speaking section, as it’s typically a rather dense lecture you are expected to listen to and give a summary of.  With 20 seconds to prepare and 60 to respond, many students have trouble with the complex academic vocabulary in the lecture, as well as sorting through so many facts to get to the main idea.  The key to an effective response for Question #6 is not to get boggled down with the intimidating vocabulary and focusing on just the main ideas.

All in all, a key to a great score on the speaking section of the TOEFL exam is to familiarize yourself with each question type and practice, practice, practice!

Posted on January 19, 2010 by Manhattan Review

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