Just as in the reading, the same question types will appear again and again in the listening section. The difference is that we don’t have a reading to refer to but only our notes and our memory. As a result, strategy for this question is not too intense but a general guide to aid in your choosing the correct answers. Below are the types.
Main Idea, Detail, Choose 2 or 3 detail, Inference, Attitude, Purpose
Read every answer choice and read each word carefully before choosing an answer. You are missing points because of this. Notice that there’s no modal there: may, might, could. It’s a fact: you are missing points because of this, so write that statement on your notes when you take the test and when you practice. Your score will improve if you remember this consistently and apply it for every single question.
This question is easy to spot. It’s usually the first question that you’ll find after the listening and it has the word “mainly” in it. Here are two examples
What does the lecture mainly discuss?
What is the main topic of the lecture?
This is often the easiest for students but it can be tricky. The listening will usually start by introducing the topic in the first few sentences and then discuss it for the rest of the lecture. The main idea here is easy: it’s the topic and described in the beginning of the lecture.
These questions ask you for the same information as the readings: facts from the information presented. Essentially, answering these correctly relies on your notes. The better your notes are, the better you’ll do. They ask you to identify facts in the reading and often begin with WH- questions. Here are two examples.
What is the major source of meteoric water?
What are the two reasons the woman doesn’t feel safe?
The best strategy is to identify the key word or words in the question. Find where they appear in your notes and choose an answer that contains key words in your notes that are closest to the topic. Wrong answers often come from words you heard in the lecture but appear distant from when the topic was discussed.
Inference & Listen again
Just as with the reading, these are tough. They ask you to make a small jump from the information that you heard, but instead of being able to refer to the information (as you can in the reading), you must remember it from your notes. As a result, these questions pose a strong challenge to students who have difficulty listening. They contain strong clue words: infer, imply, or suggest. Here are two examples.
What does the officer imply when he says this:
What does the professor imply about the importance of surface tension in water?
To improve, focus on the same strategy as with the detail question and remember that this requires a small jump in logic. Often times, it requires you to make a logical association. Let me give you an example. Let’s say you hear part of a lecture like this:
Tommy likes apples. Because he likes apples, he decided to go to the beach. When he was at the beach, he met his friend Billy.
An inference from this question would be:
Billy met Tommy because Tommy likes apples.
Even though you didn’t read this exactly; it came from making a small jump within the information given.
Attitude & Opinion
Similar to inference questions, these ask you to look at the way that information is presented to make a judgement on the person delivering the speech. Tone and inflection can be a guide, but it rarely leads to the correct answer. Instead, be aware of adjectives, adverbs, and the overall direction of the lecture or conversation. Here are a few examples of what these questions will look like.
What is the professor’s attitude toward those who take the existence of groundwater for granted?
What is the professor’s opinion about using pterosaur ancestors to learn more about pterosaurs themselves?
Answers will usually fall into one of three categories: criticism, neutrality, or support. As a way to ensure that you get these question right, take notes on words that indicate where the professor stands on what he’s discussing.
Purpose & Listen again
When dealing with these questions, you must know what the statement is doing in the logical flow of the lecture or conversation. Of course, this is easy to say and not so easy to do. These questions ask you to identify the purpose of a specific statement or reference made. Here are two examples:
Why does the professor mention the railroad industry’s intense competition and price wars?
Why does the professor mention New York City and Boston?
To answer these questions well, we must understand that the key words in the question served a purpose in the development of the topic. What kind of development?
Adverbs and surrounding content will help you identify the answer to these questions.
TOEFL listening time management
Just as with the TOEFL reading section, it's important not to spend too much time on any one TOEFL listening question. How do you do this? Let's go over the basics.
First, after the conversation or lecture finishes, you will have one question appear on the screen. The question will be read out loud to you. When the narrator finishes saying the question, the timer will start. This will occur throughout each set of listenings.
The timer will only count down in the silence that follows the narrator reading the question. Of all the sections, this is the only one where students don’t need much help with timing: 10 minutes for one listening set is actually enough. Still, here’s a general breakdown for how much time you should spend on each listening. Each question should take you about 35 seconds to answer.
10 min. - 7 min.: answer 1 - 5 of the conversation (3 min)
7 min. - 3:30 min.: answer 6 - 11 of the lecture (3 min 30 sec)
3:30 min. - 0 min.: answer 12 - 17 of the discussion lecture (3 min 30 sec)
Be aware that sometimes the order of the listenings will change in a set, so you might hear the discussion lecture first. However, this doesn’t happen often. You should also memorize the total time for each listening, which is in parentheses ().
When one set finishes, the other will begin shortly. Again, each set will contain exactly 3 listenings: a conversation, lecture, and discussion lecture. You will always complete a total of 2 scored sets. Sometimes though, you will get an experimental set. That’s right. You’ll have another 3 listenings to do.
The final experimental set will not be graded and though most students (including myself) have found that the last set is the experimental one, don’t risk it. Do your best throughout and know that 90% of students will have an experimental set in either the reading, the listening, or both sections.
Choosing your answers
When answering, remember that once you answer a question, you will not be allowed to return to it. That’s why you must click on the answer, then click on next, then click on confirm before you are sent to the next question. They ask you to confirm your answer twice because that’s your last chance at it. Remember this and you’ll be fine.
As you practice, to stay close to the conditions of the exam, don’t review your answers to this section: once you’ve chosen, the question is finished and the answer cannot be changed. Remember that the more you create exam like conditions as you practice the more prepared you’ll be for success.