TOEFL Listening Section


The TOEFL Listening Section tests the ability to understand spoken English in an academic setting. Because lectures and conversations are the main forms of spoken English that university students must master for success, this section of the test gives students examples of lectures and conversations and tests their comprehension of them.

Students are tested on their ability to recognize a speaker's purpose and attitude; identify the main idea and important points; recognize the way spoken information is organized; and draw inferences or conclusions from the lectures or conversations provided.


The Listening Section includes four to six lectures and two or three conversations. The lectures will take three to five minutes to listen to, and are each followed by six questions. The conversations will each take three minutes to listen to and are each followed by five questions. Only two conversations and four lectures will count toward the score. Extra lectures and conversations are included to evaluate material for possible use on future tests. The "experimental" questions are not marked as such, so every question must be treated as if it counts.

Note taking is allowed during the TOEFL. Notes will be collected and destroyed by ETS at the end of the test. Test takers should definitely take notes during this section. The section is not meant to test memorization skills and notes will be helpful. Some questions ask test takers to listen to a portion of the lecture or conversation again. These questions have a headphone icon next to the question number.


The lectures that test takers listen to in the Listening Section come in two forms. They could be primarily professor-led, where the professor does most of the talking, or they could be discussion-based where the professor encourages participation from the classroom and several people speak. There is usually a photo on the screen that indicates what type of lecture it will be. If the photo shows a picture of a professor at a podium, then the professor will be doing most of the talking for the lecture. If the photo shows several people sitting around a table, expect the lecture to be discussion-based and expect several different people to speak and share different points of view. Lectures could be on a range of academic topics from physical science to life science, social science or the arts.


The conversations in the Listening Section are divided into two types as well. All the conversations are types of conversation that might occur in a university setting, but some of the conversations are academic in nature, and others are conversations about university life outside the classroom.

The academic conversations are usually set with a professor or teaching assistant during office hours. These conversations are about academic content that the student has encountered in class. The non-academic conversations are the types that a student might have with other students or with university staff outside an academic setting.

These types of conversations might include a conversation with someone in the registrar's office about paying a bill, a conversation with someone who works in the library, or a conversation with other students about a campus issue. A picture on the computer screen will help the test taker determine the type of conversation.

Question Types

There are several question types in the Listening Section. The most familiar type is the multiple choice question. The multiple choice questions all have four answer choices, but some ask for just one answer and others ask for more than one answer. For this reason it is important to read each question carefully. The questions that require more than one answer are clearly marked as such. Assume only one answer is required for a multiple choice question unless otherwise stated. Multiple choice questions might concern finding the main idea, making inferences, understanding details, or understanding the organizational structure of a lecture.

Another question type in this section asks test takers to put things in order. These questions might involve putting scientific steps in their proper sequence or they could involve putting historical steps in order. These questions are not very common and mainly require remembering the correct chronological order of steps. There is no partial credit -- all components of the question must be put in the proper order to get credit for the question.

The final question type involves marking the proper category in a chart. This is similar to the Reading to Learn category chart questions from the Reading Section, except instead of dragging content to a chart, the test taker is marking Xes in a chart. The charts might be two columns or they might be more detailed. ETS describes the skill tested in these questions as "connecting content." The categories are described in the lecture or conversation and the test taker has to mark which items or issues would fall into which categories. Normally, what fits where is pretty clearly described in the lecture or conversation. Sometimes test takers have to make inferences about what category would be appropriate, but usually these questions are more straight-forward.