Finding good TOEFL listening practice online is about as easy as trying to find a bear in New York City. There are a few, but there’s only one reliable place to find them. In the case of the bears, that’s a zoo. There may be lots and lots of imitations of bears—stuffed animals, paintings of bears, statues, costumes, or whatever—but the only place you’ll find real bears (legally!) is in the zoo. In the case of the TOEFL iBT, the only place you’ll find the real thing is on ETS’s official website.
The official sample TOEFL iBT listening exercises there are a great help and are the best examples of what you will hear on the day of your test. Altogether, there are 8 listening exercises, divided into two places.
TOEFL Listening Samples in the Test Sample Software
First, you can find some listening practice in the “TOEFL iBT Test Sample Questions” software. This software is actually the only place you can find a realistic, free sample of the TOEFL. I don’t know of any other free sources that give a test-like experience.
There’s one way that this software is different from the real test, though—it’s too short. There’s only one lecture and one conversation included. On a real TOEFL, you will get 4 or 6 lectures and 2 or 3 conversations.
Unfortunately, ETS are not Apple friendly, though; unlike the GRE Powerprep, which wasn’t available for Mac until very recently, the Test Sample software remains Windows only. But here’s the good news for Mac lovers—only two listenings are in that software. The other six are streamable. That is, you can listen to them online without downloading any software.
TOEFL “Quick Prep”
On the “Quick Prep” page, you can find six more practice listenings. These represent an accurate set of TOEFL listenings—there are two groups of three, with 2 lectures and 1 conversation in each set.
There are also another six “listening” samples without mp3s, but they don’t provide realistic practice at all. Listening is very different from reading.
Unofficial TOEFL Listening Practice
There are plenty of unrealistic, unofficial imitations, of course, but there aren’t many practice listenings that accurately reflect the content, style, and level of English that ETS uses on the test. Be very wary of unofficial, free materials. They might be good for general English listening practice, but you probably won’t get realistic questions, and the recordings will almost always be different from what you’ll really get on the day of your test.
But that leads to another point: if you want to practice your English listening skills in general, there’s no reason to limit yourself to amateur recordings and poorly-written questions that just look a little like the TOEFL iBT. Instead, we can practice listening to anything academic. I highly recommend the lectures on www.TED.com for practice. American-born speakers are best. The best feature of TED is that if your listening skills are still very low, there are text transcripts of almost every lecture so you can read while you listen.
The lectures on TED are definitely more difficult than TOEFL recording, too. That’s not a bad thing, though—the best way to train is with difficult material.
The Main Point
If you’re looking for sample TOEFL listening material, head to the official site first. Unofficial, free samples are only really useful for general listening practice. If you’re practicing that, then don’t limit yourself to suspicious imitations: consume anything you can that’s academic and challenging. And don’t forget to check out our posts on TOEFL speaking topics and TOEFL writing topics if you’re looking for more help!