13 tips and tricks to get a high score in the TOEFL Listening section

Do you need to get a good score in the TOEFL ITP or PBT test?

If so, you’ll need to do well in the listening section. Listening is probably the easiest part of the test so it’s very important that you maximize your score in this section. 

In fact, many people do badly in the TOEFL ITP or PBT test because they don’t know how to perform well in the listening section. 

And we don’t want this to happen to you. 

So, in this article we will tell you the tips, tricks, and strategies you need to know to get a high score in TOEFL listening.  

Overview of the TOEFL PBT listening section.

The TOEFL Listening section is intended to measure your ability to understand conversation and lectures in English. 

The TOEFL  Listening section consists of 50 questions and is divided into three sections. The test takes about 30-40 minutes and you have roughly 12 seconds to answer every question. So, it’s important to manage your time well.

The first section is made up of short conversations between two people with one recording per question. 

The second section has longer dialogues between two or more people with one recording used for several questions. 

The third section is made of longer talks like a lecture. Each talk or lecture is followed by several questions. 

It’s important to remember that the questions are not written on your test sheet, and they are only asked during the recording. The questions generally get harder as the test progresses. 

Now that you have a general idea of how the TOEFL Listening section works, let’s move on to the fun stuff – the tips, tricks and strategies you need to perform well! 

Strategies for TOEFL Listening section A  

1. Focus on the second speaker

Since part A consists of short conversations between two people, the answer is often (but not always!) said by the second speaker. So it’s a good idea to repeat the second sentence in your mind as you try to answer the question.

Check out the sample conversation below: 

The second speaker of this short conversation gives the answer. No one was at Barb’s house so the answer is (B) 

2. Pay attention to answers that are synonyms 

While focusing on the second speaker, make sure to identify the key word(s). If you can find a synonym for those words in the answers, pay special attention to that option. 

Take a look at the sample conversation below: 

In the second sentence, the words “had to”, “fill out” and “application” can be replaced by “was necessary”, “complete” and “form”, so the answer is (D) 

3. Avoid similar sounds 

There are often trick questions where some answers on offer sound similar but have very different meanings to the question asked. Make sure not to fall into this trap! 

Check out the sample conversation below: 

The key word in the second line is “lacked”. It’s clear that “locked” (answer A), “looked” (answer B) and “leaked” (answer C) are all decoy answers. Although they sound similar to “lacked”, closer inspection of the answers shows that they are simply trick answers. It turns out that Answer (D) is the correct answer.

4. Learn how to draw a conclusion based on context 

Some questions in part A ask you to make a conclusion based on a short dialogue. Look at the sample talk below 

By looking at the context of the question and answer (water, sand and suntan lotion), it can be concluded that dialogue probably took place on a beach. Therefore the correct answer is (B) 

5. Familiarize yourself with multiple nouns 

Some questions in Part A include multiple nouns. This can be confusing. 

Check out the sample below: 

The woman mentions two people, Sarah and John. However, since “Sarah replaced John”, Sarah is in the band, not John. Therefore, the correct answer is (D). 

6. Learn about expressions of agreement 

There are many expressions of agreement outside of the standard ‘I agree’. Before taking the test, you should familiarize yourself with these. 

Check out the sample below:

“Aren’t they?” in this context is not a question, it’s an expression of agreement. Therefore, the correct answer is (D) 

Other ways to express agreements are: 

  • That’s for sure!
  • I couldn’t agree with you more 
  • Absolutely! 
  • Exactly! 
  • No doubt about it!
  • You’re absolutely right! 

7. Familiarize yourself with idioms 

An idiom is an expression that cannot be understood from the meanings of its separate words but has a separate meaning on its own. For example, “piece of cake” means “easy”. 

Check out at the sample question below: 

The phrase ‘burning the candle at both ends’ doesn’t actually have anything to do with “burning” or “candles”, therefore options A, B, and D are incorrect. The phrase actually means doing more than you can handle (because typically candles only burn at one end), so the answer is (C). He’s doing too much.  

Congratulations on getting it this far! We’ve come to the end of Listening Part A strategies. 

Now it’s time to get stuck into Listening Part B strategies!

Strategies for TOEFL Listening Part B 

TOEFL Listening Part B consists of longer conversations than in Part A. 

Let’s take one sample question to look at some of the strategies we need to perform well in Listening Part B:

8. Determine the topic 

As you listen to the conversation, you will need to determine the topic. The topic can generally be determined within the first two lines. In this particular example, the topic is about “opening an account”. 

9. Determine the ‘who, what & where’ 

Figuring out the ‘who, what & where’ will help your listening. You should be trying to figure these out as you listen to the recording. From the excerpt above, we can conclude the following: 

Who: a client and a bank teller 

What: opening a bank account 

Where: in a bank 

10. Answer the question as you listen 

The recording is only played once and you are not allowed to take notes during the entirety of the test so we generally suggest just answer the questions right after it is asked to make sure you don’t forget what the question is. 

Strategies for TOEFL Listening Part C 

TOEFL Listening section Part C consists of 3 longer talks or lectures followed by several questions. Generally, the talks are about school, life, news, or a short version of a lecture. 

Let’s take one sample question to look at the strategies you need to answer Listening section Part C:  

Remember that you are not allowed to take notes, so make sure to pay very careful attention throughout the duration of the talk. 

Now let’s explore the strategies you need to perform well in this part! 

11. Listen carefully to the first sentence of the talk 

In Listening section Part C, the main idea, subject or topic is usually located at the beginning of the talk. You will often be asked what the main idea, subject or topic of the talk is so make sure to pay careful attention to this. From the excerpt above, we can see that the main idea is about dogs’ sense of smell, said in the beginning of the talk. 

12. Try to predict the answers 

Often, test takers think that the listening test is only aimed at assessing their listening skills, 

However, one thing that many people don’t realize is that the listening test also indirectly assesses your reading skills by testing your ability to quickly read the answer options and your ability to identify the key words. This will help you listen more actively and be more alert to find the information that matches the key words. 

So make sure to read the questions carefully. Usually, there are hints in the answer options to help you make sensible predictions.

13. If you don’t know the answer, just guess. 

You won’t be marked down for wrong answers so it is better to guess even if you don’t know the answer. Whatever you do, make sure not to leave any blank answers. You might be surprised to know that many people guess the correct answers, especially when answering multiple choice questions. 

Next steps 

Do you want to achieve your TOEFL target? 

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Anthony McCormick

IELC Managing Director