The kinds of questions that the TOEFL listening section asks are very similar to those in the reading section (to review these, check out The TOEFL Reading Section). Here’s a quick overview of what you’ll find on the Listening section of the test.
These questions ask you about the purpose of the conversation or lecture, not the content. These questions will usually begin with “Why”: “Why does the professor explain…” and “Why does the student speak to the professor?” are two possible questions of this type. The answer to these questions may be inferred, or it may be directly stated by the speaker.
Specific Detail Questions
These questions will require you to remember particular information. You will need to take notes in order to answer these questions. Although they seem straightforward, these questions can occur at any difficulty level; a simpler question may ask, “According to the speaker, what is one thing that is true of X?” A more difficult question may ask you to draw from two or more parts of the recording to determine the correct answer.
Function questions are like miniature purpose questions. They will play a word or short phrase from the passage, and you should explain its meaning or usage. These questions will usually ask “What does ___ mean when he says this?” or “Why does ___ say this?”, followed by a sound bite.
This is the first question type that isn’t very similar to anything on the reading section. To answer these, you’ll have to use implied information to decide what the speaker’s thoughts or feelings are at some point in the excerpt. The information you need may not be linguistic—tone of voice is very important to answering these questions correctly.
Earlier, in How to Practice Writing for the TOEFL, I wrote about pre-writing and outlining texts as you read them. Well, that’s not only useful for the writing section; it can also help you prepare for organization questions in the listening section. These questions ask about how information is arranged and/or prioritized in the excerpt.
Connecting Content Questions
Connecting content questions are designed to test your understanding of how ideas in the excerpt are related. Again, outlining is good preparation for this, as it helps you to reduce a text to the bare minimum, which makes relationships and central ideas more clear. These may be regular multiple-choice questions, or they may ask you to fill in a chart.
These are very similar to Connecting Content questions; in fact, you could say that inference questions are a subset of questions that can be found in function, connecting content, attitude, and purpose questions. The key word for this question type will likely be either “infer” or “imply”. In both cases, the information you need will not be directly stated in the passage, which can make this one of the harder question types to answer.
If you haven’t already, make sure you check out our online TOEFL preparation course – it includes a lesson video for each of the 7 listening question types on the TOEFL! 🙂