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Meet the TOEFL Listening Section

The listening section is made up of four to six lectures, each accompanied by six questions, and two or three conversations, each accompanied by five questions. Depending on whether you have an experimental section, the entire section will last either 60 or 90 minutes.

The lectures can come from any academic discipline that can show up on the reading section—in short, almost anything a freshman could take a class in, except math or mathematical sciences, like physics. The conversations are either conversations between a student and a professor during office hours, or conversations between a student and some member of support staff/university administration. Often the second kind of conversation deals with topics like course registration, graduation requirements, and financial aid. It helps to become familiar with the language and structure of university administration so you don’t get stuck on a listening passage that takes place in a place you’re unfamiliar with, such as, say, a registrar’s office.

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Whereas the reading section features very sterile, academic language, the listening section is designed to mimic natural speech. This means that the speakers will pause, change sentences or topics abruptly, and occasionally say something incorrect or forget what they were talking about. You may be asked questions about these imperfections, so a familiarity with unrehearsed speech is essential to doing well in the listening section. Unlike in the Official Guide, no part of the listening test will ever be transcribed for you. It’s important to do plenty of listening practice questions without looking at the transcripts!

After a recording is finished, you will see five to six questions on that recording—five for conversations, six for lectures and classroom discussions. You will not know the questions while you listen, and you will not be able to listen again to the full recording to check your answer. That means a good memory and good notes are key! You cannot change your answers after they are submitted—your only choice is to answer and go forward to the next question. Sometimes, a question will deal with a particular part of the recording, and the test will replay a small audio clip for you. This is only for certain questions types, usually 0-2 per recording. After a set of five or six questions is finished, the next recording will start automatically.

Many of the question types on the listening section will look familiar from the reading section, but a few will deal with the unique ability of speech to convey information without words—through intonation and stress, for example. In upcoming posts, we’ll take a more in-depth look at the questions that you’ll encounter on the listening section.

Lastly, if you’d like to learn more about the TOEFL Listening section and get some free practice in video format (bonus: it’s great for your listening skills!), you can watch the video below:

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42 Responses to Meet the TOEFL Listening Section

  1. TOEFLER June 16, 2014 at 12:18 pm #

    Hi guys, you guys re doing a wonderful job . I fully appreciate it.

  2. gaurav September 1, 2014 at 7:23 am #

    Can you replay the audio for a particular question?

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas September 2, 2014 at 4:17 pm #

      That’s a good question, Gaurav. No, you cannot—that’s why it’s so important to practice taking notes. Most students do much better on the listening section if they take notes on important details.

      • Meena August 23, 2015 at 10:22 pm #

        Hey lucas, will we be answering questions after each conversation and lectures or we’ll have to listen whole convo and lectures and answer at last????

        • Lucas Fink
          Lucas Fink August 24, 2015 at 3:44 pm #

          You will answer questions after each recording. So, for example, three listening sets might look like this:

          1. Listen to a lecture
          2. Answer 6 questions on the lecture
          3. Listen to a conversation
          4. Answer 5 questions on the conversation
          5. Listen to a lecture (classroom discussion)
          6. Answer 6 questions on the lecture
  3. Abhishek September 18, 2014 at 3:55 am #

    Can I pause the conversation or lecture for taking notes in actual test?

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas September 22, 2014 at 11:39 am #

      Unfortunately, no—you can only listen to the recording once, and there is no pause. That’s why taking short, fast notes is very important. It takes practice, but you should learn how to take as many notes as possible while still listening. I recommend structural notes. Don’t try to write every detail. Just make sure you right down the main ideas and the most significant information (which will be clearly connected to the main ideas).

  4. M.silpa December 1, 2014 at 10:23 am #

    Hi Ma’am I would like to know whether the question will automatically move to the next question or we can select and move?Thankyou in advance.I have my toefl on 6th december and it would really be useful if you could help me .

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas December 2, 2014 at 12:37 pm #

      The different sections allow different actions. In the reading section, you can move forward and backward through questions, changing your answers if you want. In the listening section, after you choose an answer and hit “submit,” the test will move to the next question, and you cannot return to the previous question.

  5. konstantin May 3, 2015 at 12:33 am #

    It is true that in 10 minutes you have to listen three lessons and after that to answer at 17 questions ? So, in order to answer to 50 question you have to listen 9 lectures ? Or you have three parts in listening diveded in three parts and for every part you have ten minutes ? And in every part you have to answer at 50 questions ? I ask all this questions because I was very confuse at my Toefl exam. In 10 days I will find my score but untill then I am a little worried because I think that I’ve understood something else.

  6. David Recine
    David Recine May 4, 2015 at 7:03 pm #

    Hello Konstantin,

    Your confusion may come from the fact that you also need to listen to lectures in the TOEFL Speaking and Writing Sections. The Listening Section itself has 4-6 lectures. Each lecture is usually followed by six questions, but is sometimes followed by just five questions. The pattern is basically as follows: Listen to one lecture, answer 5-6 questions about the lecture; listen to the next lecture, answer 5 or 6 questions about that lecture, and so on. TOEFL Listening also has 2-3 converstations, each of which is followed by five questions. There will generally be a total of 33-51 questions for the whole section.

    The reason the Listening Section varies so much in length is because Educational Testing Services sometimes includes experimental groups of questions in TOEFL Listening. Experimental lectures, conversations and questions are not included in your score. However, there’s no way to tell which parts of the Listening Section are experimental, so you’ll want to give your best try to all questions.

    To better understand the format of the TOEFL Listening Section, you may want to go to ETS’ TOEFL Quick Prep page:

    Here, you can find full sample TOEFL Listening Sections.

  7. Bipul Poudel August 25, 2015 at 8:35 am #

    Can we see the questions of listening section beforehand and then start listening audio or the questions will appear only after we have finished listening the audio?

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas Fink August 27, 2015 at 9:43 am #

      This is answered in my responses to some other comments, but I just added a section to the blog post that answers it and some other similar questions, so this is less confusing. 🙂 Here’s part I just added:

      After a recording is finished, you will see five to six questions on that recording—five for conversations, six for lectures and classroom discussions. You will not know the questions while you listen, and you will not be able to listen again to the full recording to check your answer. Even while you listen, you cannot pause or replay anything. That means a good memory and good notes are key! You cannot change your answers after they are submitted—your only choice is to answer and go forward to the next question. Sometimes, a question will deal with a particular part of the recording, and the test will replay a small audio clip for you. This is only for certain questions types, usually 0-2 per recording. After a set of five or six questions is finished, the next recording will start automatically.

  8. kishore October 2, 2015 at 4:20 am #

    in listening we need to choose the correct answer or we have to speak and record .. thank you

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas Fink October 12, 2015 at 3:37 pm #

      The listening section is multiple choice. You only speak in the speaking section. 🙂

  9. Rajeeb Singh December 25, 2015 at 7:18 pm #

    Is it possible to pause the audio in between the conversation in listening section in the real test of toefl?

    • David Recine
      David Recine December 29, 2015 at 2:45 pm #

      Unfortunately, the audio on the real exam is “play only,” and can’t be paused. As you practice for the exam, work toward being bale to understand the listening tracks without pausing or replaying.

  10. Anthony February 2, 2016 at 3:26 am #

    I don’t understand if the questions will be either written on the screen or spoken from the narrator

    • David Recine
      David Recine February 4, 2016 at 8:58 pm #

      The questions are both written on the screen and spoken by the narrator. However, if a question focuses on re-listening to a selected part of the audio track, the replayed speech will be audio only, and won’t appear in written form with the rest of the written question on the screen.

  11. ramesh February 20, 2016 at 5:30 am #

    I have doubt. In the last question of the listening section that is 17th question probably , i did not hit the next and ok button take which we do usually in the before questions. will that question will be recorded or else it will take it as not answered??

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert April 1, 2016 at 8:43 pm #

      I can see how that would be a concern! Fortunately, as long as you do complete a question, the computer will record it, even if you don’t select “next/ok.”

  12. Hayley February 24, 2016 at 9:47 am #

    Hi! I’m teaching a TOEFL prep class in NYC and have been using your blog in my class. Thank you so much for providing such a great resource! I have a question about the listening section. One of my students took the TOEFL in August and says that you hear a conversation, lecture, and discussion THEN answer questions about all three. She also says that the conversation, lecture, and discussion are all linked. The book we are using for the class, Barron’s TOEFL 14th edition (2013) and does not resemble that model at all. It makes it seem as if there are questions after each part, not in a group after all three. Also, the three parts do not seem to correlate. In order to provide my students with the most realistic prep experience, I’m hoping to find out once and for all what the current format is.

    Can anyone help? I’m having bad luck with just googling it.



    • David Recine
      David Recine February 26, 2016 at 6:53 pm #

      Thanks for your kind words, Hayley. And We’re glad this blog is helping you with your TOEFL instruction. The description you’ve given me (via your student) is accurate for real testing conditions on some of the Integrated Speaking tasks on the exam, and is also accurate to the Integrated Writing task.

      To see what this looks like for yourself (and perhaps share the experience on a view screen with your students, I recommend purchasing the Official Guide to the TOEFL, which comes with the most authentic available software, in terms of replicating what the students will see on test day in the Speaking and Writing Sections:

  13. sagar shrestha March 4, 2016 at 10:21 pm #

    I couldnt understand about the pace how is the pace of listening of practice test with that of the real tests.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert April 4, 2016 at 12:31 pm #

      Any official TOEFL materials for Listening will have the exact same pace as the real test. This is because ETS’s official TOEFL Listening tracks are actually taken from retired versions of real TOEFL exams. Many third party providers (including Magoosh!) do a pretty good job creating Listening practice that’s the same pace as the exam.

      Some unofficial TOEFL Listening practice sets don’t match the exam so closely though. So be sure to check out authentic ETS materials first. And then carefully compare any unofficial Listening practice to “the real thing.” You want to make sure all of your practice materials are good!

  14. mMathias April 7, 2016 at 8:35 am #

    Regarding the speaking section: I assume that the 15s “preparation” timer starts as soon as the audio has finished replaying, the 45s “speaking” timer as soon as the 15s preparation time is over. But what about the time inbetween the questions 1-6? Will the program automatically proceed with question 2 after you answered question 1? Or can you take a “1-min” break after answering a question and then hit the next button for the next question (as its done in the official TOEFL guide programs tests)?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert April 11, 2016 at 8:34 am #

      The program doesn’t automatically proceed. You’re right to think that the real testing conditions will be just like the practice software int he OG— you really can take a one-minute break between Speaking tasks, as described.

  15. R. P July 13, 2016 at 1:17 am #

    How many questions you need to have right to get 25 in listening????

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert July 14, 2016 at 1:39 pm #

      Hi R.P.! It isn’t an exact science, but you probably need somewhere around 88-90% correct to get a 25 on the listening section. So that would be 30/34 if the section were the smallest possible and 45/51 if the section were the largest possible. I hope that helps! 🙂

  16. Aatif September 8, 2016 at 12:34 am #

    How much time should I allocate to answer each question in the listening section?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert September 13, 2016 at 11:30 am #

      It’s hard to make an exact calculation on that, because the amount time for each conversation and lecture varies.

      Generally, though, you’ll hear around 30 minutes total of audio in a TOEFL Listening section. A standard length TOEFL Listening section has a total time limit of 60 minutes. This means you have 30 minutes to listen and 30 minutes to answer the questions. There are 34 questions in a standard TOEFL Listening section. So you have an average of slightly less than a minute– around 52 seconds– per question. This is just an average, though. Some questions can be answered very quickly, while you may need to take longer on other questions.

  17. maryjane_dahot September 25, 2016 at 1:55 am #

    I heard there are structures and vocabularies so am eager to know which section has them. ..and in the reading section how is the comprehension.and I tried your mangoosh questions I also wrote an essay but I wasn’t scored why?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert September 29, 2016 at 1:12 am #

      Hi MaryJane,

      Structure, grammar, and vocabulary are integrated into all parts of the TOEFL, but there is not a specific section for them. As for reading comprehension, that is basically the focus throughout the reading section, tested in several ways (e.g. summary versus basic comprehension questions).

      As for the essay, we do not offer an essay or speaking scoring service at this time, so that is why there is no score given to your essay. We provide explanation videos that tell you exactly what a good response should have and give examples, and the lesson videos describe in detail how to best write and speak for the TOEFL. Using those explanations and examples, you can evaluate your own responses. This is something we’d like to improve in time, but for now, this page helps a lot! :

  18. John October 5, 2016 at 4:32 am #

    I have a doubt regarding the time in TOEFL listeing question: I have practiced with some test from “The official guide to the TOEFL”, and in the Listening section the “Time remaining” appears in the upper part of the screen. At the start, it says “00:59:59”. I suppose that is the available time for the entire listening section.

    But, how can I manage the time I spend to answer a question? I mean, because I don’t know how long the lectures that haven’t still appeared are, and I don’t know whether at the end I will have “unnecesary time” (because I have answerred too fast) or I won’t be able to finish some questions (because I have spent too much time in the previous ones)

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert October 5, 2016 at 8:15 pm #

      Your questions raise a couple of interesting points. First let’s talk about not knowing how long the lectures and conversations will be.

      First, it’s true that in TOEFL Listening, the duration of each audio track isn’t set strictly, down to the second. However, the lectures and conversations only vary a little bit in length. Lectures will be 5-6 minutes long, and conversations will be 2.5 to 3 minutes long. So the listening times are pretty predictable overall.

      Second, the timing in the CD that comes with the Official Guide to the TOEFL is a little outdated. In the OG, the timer ticks down even while you’re listening. In the current version of the TOEFL, the TOEFL Listening timer only ticks down while you asnwer the quesitons, not while you listen to the audio tracks.

      You can get current, fully up-to-date TOEFL test simulation software in the CD that comes with Official TOEFL iBT Tests Volume 2. Youc an also get up-to-date Listening Section simulations through TOEFL Practice Online.

  19. SunShine October 7, 2016 at 6:57 am #

    Hi,first of all thank you for preparing such an useful website and sharing your knowledge with us.I am sorry you’ve told again and again but I am so much confused about pacing time. For example let’s assume that time counts down 00:59:59 Could you tell me which step is true step-2a or step-2b or step-2c.
    Step-1)first conversation starts, no counting down while listening

    Option a for step 2
    Step-2a)conversation finishes, question 1 appears on the screen, time counts down like 00:58:25 it is man’s responsibility to manage time. if I want to use 5 minutes for that question I may miss other questions but it is my choice, I can do it like that.After 5 questions,the lecture will be shown on the screen.Maybe I only have 45 minutes left.

    Option b for step 2
    Step-2b)conversation finishes, every question has a limited time like 35 seconds, if I don’t answer the question in approximate time, question will be missed.After 5 questions, the lecture will be shown on the screen.

    Option c for step2
    Step-2c)Conversation with 5 questions has 10 minutes. After answering 5 questions,the lecture will start with 6 questions which has 10 minutes to answer questions again.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert October 7, 2016 at 4:22 pm #

      Hi SunShine,

      Option 2a is correct– there is a time limit for the Listening section as a whole, but there aren’t time limits for individual questions or individual subsets of questions.

  20. zar October 8, 2016 at 2:27 pm #

    HEY HI! So my question is, on listening part how much time do they give us to answer one question?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert October 8, 2016 at 4:05 pm #

      There isn’t any time limit per question, just a whole section time limit. Since a standard TOEFL Listening section lasts an hour and has 34 questions total, you’ll need to average 1 minute and 45 seconds per question overall.

  21. Monir January 27, 2017 at 7:32 am #

    Hey can anyone tell me that is approximately time for each question?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert January 29, 2017 at 5:08 pm #

      Hi Monir,

      I recommend that you check out or eBook, Magoosh’s Guide to the TOEFL iBT. We have an entire listening section that is dedicated to helping you understand the test and how to succeed! We talk about pacing for the listening section on page 88:
      “Expect 10 minutes to complete the questions (not including listening to the recordings) that are given for each set of three recordings. That’s 10 minutes per 17 questions, or about 35 seconds per question. But because you can’t go back and listen again, unlike the reading, which allows you to re-read the passage, the listening questions are very fast to answer. Most students only take 10-20 seconds per question. It is very rare to run out of time on the listening section.”

      I hope this helps 🙂


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