Tips for Success in your TOEFL Listening Exam

TOEFL Listening Tips Eduhyme

The Listening section tests your skills in listening to classroom lectures as well as in understanding everyday conversation within the university and outside. The language you will encounter in these lectures will be of the standard you can expect to be exposed to in a university classroom.

You will need to listen to about four to six lectures of 500-800 words each, in a time limit of 60-90 minutes. Each lecture will be followed by six questions. Also, you will have to answer questions related to two or three conversations in a period of 60-90 minutes. The conversations are about three minutes in length with about 12-25 exchanges between the speakers. Each conversation will be followed by five questions.

Types of lectures

The lecture passages can be very demanding on the listener. You will need to absorb large amounts of information that is presented to you in a constant flow. Unlike reading, you cannot pause whenever you need to.

You must catch as many words as you can. The lectures are usually of two types, those that feature only the professor speaking in a classroom scenario, and others in which the professor and students both speak. The lectures are usually from topics on the Arts, Physical Science, Life Science, and Social Science.

The conversation questions usually have either a personalized interaction between a professor and student, or a service encounter like making an inquiry in the library or completing class or exam registrations. Conversations test skills are different from listening skills. Conversations are usually shorter and can cover both academic and non-academic topics.

While the key skill in the lectures can follow the spoken content closely, the conversations are geared towards testing your skills at interpreting inferences, idiomatic usage of language and tones of voice/emotion in the voice. But on the downside, the conversation usually moves much faster than a lecture, and it requires you to know a more informal vocabulary that is usually not found in other TOEFL reading and listening sections.

Types of Questions

In this section, we will look at the main types of questions that may be asked in the Listening tasks. By learning to identify and categorize the questions, you will be in a better position to answer them correctly.

1. Questions on Gist-content

These are basic comprehension question that tests your ability to grasp the main point being discussed in the spoken passage. These questions deal with the overall content of the speech, and may require you to draw on both inferred as well as explicit meanings.

Questions that ask for the “main problem,” “main topic,” and so on are often gist-content questions and should be answered accordingly.

2. Questions on Gist-purpose

The gist-purpose questions should not be confused with the gist-content type. Gist-purpose questions are usually asked for conversations rather than lectures. Here, the questions are about the reason the conversation is being held, and about the content of what is being said in the conversation. These questions are usually in the form of “why does the professor say…” or “why does the student visit the admissions office?” etc. Gist-purpose questions can be tricky because sometimes the purpose of the conversation may not coincide with the main topic being discussed.

3. Questions on Details

In these questions, you will need to reproduce specific details from what you heard. Usually mentioned directly in the lecture/conversation, sometimes they may also be more implicit in nature. Often, if there is a long digression from the main topic of discussion, then you can expect a detail question to be asked from this.

4. Questions on the Function of ‘What is Said.’

These questions typically require you to listen to a part of the lecture or conversation again and then ask you about the significance of what is said. Here, you must pay attention to the functional aspect of what is said, rather than the exact content.

5. Questions about the Speaker’s Attitude

These are particularly tricky questions because they require you to develop a sense of the speaker ’s personality itself. You must be able to make out the person’s opinions and attitudes to what is being discussed through little hints that are given in the discussion. They are sometimes in the form of short reactions to other people’s comments, or clear statements of one’s likes and dislikes. It is useful top pay close attention to the speaker ’s tone of voice and volume to get clues to his attitudes.

6. Questions on Organization

These are questions that test your ability to consolidate and organize information. You will usually be asked about how the speaker has structured his/her lecture. Do they provide a historical account? Are they comparing and contrasting different examples? Are they describing a process? Sometimes you may be asked about how a particular statement functions within the organization of the lecture as a whole.

7. Connecting Content Questions

These questions require you to understand and infer the information provided in a lecture. They will then ask you to represent what you have learned in the form of tables and charts. At times, you will be required to clarify relationships, contradictions or cause and effect.

8. Questions Based on Inference

Here you will be tested on your ability to draw conclusions and understand the implications of what you have heard in a lecture or conversation. You will have to draw from the facts presented to make logical predictions on the future course of action, or you may have to understand the implicit content of what is said.

How to Listen

The listening tasks can be very demanding because it tests both your language skills as well as abilities of inference and comprehension. The key to success is efficient note-taking. Note-taking for the Listening task is all about being able to take down the main points so that by the end, you have a basic flow of the conversation available in writing. But as you have already noted, the lecture and conversation passages test slightly different aspects of your listening abilities. As a result, your style of note-taking will also be a little different for each of these.

In the lectures, you will be given a lot of detailed information. The trick is to focus on the content of the speech in these passages. So when you begin taking notes in a lecture, make three headings, “main idea”, “major points” and “minor points.” As you go through the lecture, all you need to do is fill in the various points under these three headings. By the end, you will have a condensed version of the lecture in a form that can be used to answer the questions that follow.

In the conversations, the pace of talking is faster, there are more speakers. They draw on your abilities to catch implicit meanings. So when taking notes, it is more important to get the flow of the conversation than all the little details. To do this, first divide your page into two or three parts, depending on the number of speakers. Now as each person speaks, make notes in the appropriate column, maintaining the flow of question and answer, argument, and refutation. You can now easily see in a visual form the relationships between what the different people are saying.

Some Tips for Practice

The Listening tasks, in fact, draw on some other skills that also need to be developed. Here are a few things you can practice improving your marks in this section:

(a) Summarize and paraphrase

Summarizing and paraphrasing are two of the most useful skills in the Listening section. While these skills are more important in the Reading and Speaking sections, the Listening section is unique because it does not allow a gap between receiving the information and summarizing it. Here, you have to use to draw an inference at the same time as you are listening.

(b) Note-taking system

In addition to developing an efficient note-taking system, you must pay attention to the speed at which you take notes. Over the course of these 90 days of preparation develop your shorthand code language through which you can make your notes shorter, quicker and
clearer.

(c) Accents

One of the biggest obstacles to understanding English speech is the accents and styles of speech that native speakers use. The only way to get around is to become familiar with the different accents and pronunciations used by Americans in their speech. To prepare for the lectures, you can watch American documentaries on various topics related to art, science and society.

For the conversations, on the other, hand, it is better to watch television sitcoms and Hollywood films. These allow ample opportunity to understand the nuances of tone of voice and emotion in various conversational situations and also expose you to more a more informal language of communication. Video-sharing websites such as YouTube are the best place to find a wide range of videos that you can practice with.

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