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Pacing for Listening on the TOEFL

During the lecture

Announcement! As of August 1, 2019, the TOEFL Reading, Listening and Speaking sections will be shortened. The TOEFL will also make changes to its prep materials and scoring system. Because of this, some of the info in our blog posts may not yet reflect the new exam format. We cover all the changes here.

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.


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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.


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17 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.

  4. Polly March 7, 2017 at 9:43 am #

    I am having my TOEFL test in a couple of days and the timing of the Listening is the last thing I still don’t understand.

    The short version:

    If we have 60 minutes for 4 lectures and 2 conversations, it means we have 10 minutes per questionnaire. As I understand from the article, the audios are not included in that time.
    According to my math teacher, we would have more than just 30 seconds per answer.

    I am confused. Somebody please help me.
    I really need to know how to structure the time in the Listening part.

    • David Recine
      David Recine March 8, 2017 at 7:45 am #

      The timing on the TOEFL Listening section can be confusing. To clarify, the audio recordings do contribute to the total 60 minutes for the whole Listening section. In other words, the TOEFL clock is running when the audio plays.

      However, you can’t fast-forward through the audio. Since you have no control about the speed of the audio, the audio shouldn’t be included in your pacing time. For pacing, you just focus on the minutes where you’re answering questions, not the minutes where you listen to audio.

      In total, you have about 20 minutes of time to answer the 34 questions in TOEFL Listening. 20 minutes is 1200 seconds. 1200/34 = 35.29, or roughly 35 seconds per questions.

      It’s understandable to get a little confused about this. I hope the numbers above help you to picture the structure of Listening more clearly. Having said that, the best way to really understand TOEFL Listening is to experience it firsthand. I recommend doing a full TOEFL Listening section, either through TOEFL Quick Prep, TOEFL Practice Online, one of the official TOEFL books (OG, or Official Tests Vol. 1 or 2), or Magoosh TOEFL. Once you actually take a good Listening practice test, you’ll have a much better idea of how this section works.

  5. Anil May 6, 2017 at 5:05 am #

    what happens if we miss to answer a single complete listening passage in toefl? I missed to a single lecture on listening..could not solve the whole questions for a signle lecture ,how much marks will it reduce as a whole

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert May 6, 2017 at 12:06 pm #

      Hi Anil,

      It’s difficult to answer this question, since the TOEFL listening section doesn’t have a set number of points. Using this blog post, I can do a rough estimate of what effect this would have on your score. If you miss an entire lecture, that means that you missed 6 questions/points (assuming they are all 1-point questions). If there are 47 total points in that listening section (estimated from Quick Prep) and you miss 6 points, your score drops to around 26. So, if you miss an entire listening section, this is an estimate of your highest possible score.

      As I said, we can’t know this with certainty because of how the listening section is scored and set up, but you could expect that missing an entire lecture would lower your score by 4-5 points.

  6. Lucas May 7, 2017 at 7:00 am #

    Hi. I have a question: We are able to read the questions before listening the audio or only after listening? I can imagine being more a memory test rather than english. Thank you

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert May 8, 2017 at 3:33 am #

      Good question! 🙂 The audio comes before the questions sometimes, but if you are being asked about a very specific part, a clip of the audio will be available to listen to again.

  7. Shradha Jaiswal August 12, 2018 at 2:18 am #


    I’m a current Magoosh user for GRE.
    I’m aspiring to take TOEFL
    I’ve read that there are 10 minutes for 17 questions for each set of three recordings .
    But in total as far as I know there 6 lecture 3 conversation ,then how it can be just 3
    Please clarify

    • David Recine
      David Recine August 16, 2018 at 12:34 pm #

      Hi Shradha. I hope our GRE service has been helpful! 🙂 And I’ll be happy to help you clear up the 6 vs. 3 question in TOEFL Listening. Basically, there are three types of TOEFL Listening passages: conversations, lectures where only the professor talks, and class discussions where the professor is talking, but students also talk. The TOEFL Listening section consists of 2 sets of 3: one set containing a conversation, lecture, and class discussion, and then a second set containing a second conversation, second lecture, and second class discussion. So there are three recordings in each half– or “pod” of the TOEFL Listening section.

      Does that make sense? Certainly let me know if you have any other questions, Shradha.

  8. Kate February 19, 2019 at 7:38 am #

    Hello! Is it possible to answer only half of the questions or two thirds. Lets say you spend a little more time with each question in the beginning but completely missed the last 5 questions. Or just randomly answered them. Thanks!

    • David Recine
      David Recine February 19, 2019 at 1:26 pm #

      It’s possible to run out of time so that you miss the final questions or have to guess on them, yes. If that happens, it’s better to guess than simply miss the questions If you can click to the final questions quickly enough to guess, there will be at least a chance that your guesses are correct. But skipped questions are simply wrong.

      Ideally, though, of course, you’ll want to carefully practice your TOEFL Listening pacing so that you don’t run out of time like that!

  9. Sravya June 27, 2019 at 4:13 pm #


    I have a question:

    Can we pause the audio while listening ?


    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert June 28, 2019 at 2:09 pm #

      Hi Sravya,

      The TOEFL exam does not allow you to pause the audio while you are listening.

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