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Pacing for Listening on the TOEFL

During the lecture

Ideally, you’ll pay attention perfectly for the duration of the test, understand all of the main ideas the first time they’re mentioned, and understand the context of every recording. But practically speaking, at some point, your mind will wander or the lecture or conversation will move on before you’re ready. When this happens, how do you keep moving forward while minimizing the effect the missed information will have on your score?

If that does happen, just let it go. Don’t start panicking, which only compounds the problem. When you notice that you’ve gotten off track, simply get on track. Don’t worry about it—take a quick, deep breath, and start listening again. The only thing worse than breaking concentration once is breaking concentration twice.

Don’t over analyze or think back about what you missed. Instead, just focus on what’s being said now.


During the questions

There are a couple of ways in which your strategy on the listening section will be different from that of the reading section. First of all, of course, you can’t go back to the recording as you answer the questions. That’s why notes are so important.

Second of all, you have a more comfortable amount of time to answer all of the questions; 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.That’s 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.

Besides that, once you’ve submitted an answer, you can’t go back to it as you can on the reading section. You need to answer the questions in order. That means there’s no strategy of answering some questions before others, so skipping is not very helpful. Answer every question in the order you see it.

The only important thing to note is that you should have at least 6-7 minutes left when the second set of questions starts and 3-4 minutes when the third set of questions starts (after the third recording in each group of three recordings). If you have less time, you will want to think less about wrong answers—just select answer that seems right when you see it, and don’t bother reading the other answer choices. Again, that’s only if you have little time, though. Most test-takers don’t have that problem.


5 Responses to Pacing for Listening on the TOEFL

  1. Raghav October 12, 2016 at 10:02 pm #

    Hi Kate,

    I have a query regarding TOEFL listening section, while answering the final question of the listening section I was able to mark the answer but before confirming the answer I ran out of time.

    So will that question be graded as answered , or unanswered?

    Please help out, Thanks in advance

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert October 15, 2016 at 11:20 am #

      Hi Raghav,

      That final answer, if selected, should be marked as answered. 🙂

  2. Divya Dharshini November 26, 2016 at 4:55 am #

    I have a query reagarding the listening section. As stated , the listening section may be a simple or an extended version. So when the audios whether 6 or 9 of them are played should i listen to each of the audio and take notes ? If so when should i answer the question? Will it be like first the audio will be played after which there will be a question on each of the pages following it ?

    please do the needful.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert November 29, 2016 at 10:19 am #

      It’s always a good idea to take some notes during the TOEFL Listening audio tracks of course. But no matter how many audio tracks you get, you’ll always see a set of questions immediately after the associated audio track. You won’t listen to 2 or more audio tracks back-to-back, and then get to a series of questions for more than one track. Does this make sense?

  3. Seun A. December 8, 2016 at 4:08 am #

    During my study for toefl, I realized it wasn’t necessary for me to take notes, once I begin to take notes, I begin to lose focus. As strange as it might sound, I’ve done better not taking notes than taking notes. I’ll rather take notes if the speech/conversation is a really long one. When I’m not distracted I’m able to grasp everything needed. So, i think it’s best to know what works for you before the test day.

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