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TOEFL Listening Question Type – Detail

Detail questions are roughly equivalent to the factual questions from the reading section. They deal with specific facts from the listening, but they are not usually as specific as detail questions in the reading section. Because you don’t have the option of listening to the recording a second time, you will depend on the information that you wrote in your notes. For this reason, detail questions in the listening section rarely deal with very specific information like numbers or name. Instead, they focus on those facts that you would recognize as important as you listened to the recording.

Detail questions are usually in harmony with the main idea of the recording. Before you mark a final answer, revisit the main idea of the recording and make sure that your answer choice makes sense considering the main idea.

As you choose your answer choice, be careful not to fall into the trap that false friends may set for you. False friends are answer choices that use key words from the passage in a way that appears to be correct, but isn’t. They may directly contradict the information in the passage, or they may simply not make sense.

Let’s check out an example of a false friend using this excerpt from a listening practice set in the Official Guide (page 162). For the sake of simplicity, I’ve transcribed the relevant part of the recording below rather than attaching a sound file.

“Now, as fibers go, Manila hemp fibers are very long. They can easily be several feet in length, and they’re also very strong, very flexible. They have one more characteristic that’s very important, and that is that they are exceptionally resistant to salt water. And this combination of characteristics—long, strong, flexible, resistant to salt water—makes Manila hemp a great material for ropes, especially for ropes that are gonna be used on oceangoing ships. In fact, by the early 1940s, even though steel cables were available, most ships in the United States Navy were not moored with steel cables; they were moored with Manila hemp ropes.”

According to the lecture, why was Manila hemp rope historically more useful to the US Navy than steel cables?

A. Manila hemp fibers are stronger than steel.

B. Steel cables are flexible and resistant to salt water.

C. Manila hemp was easier to produce.

D. Steel is too heavy to use on ships.

The false friend in this case is B, which uses key expressions like “flexible” and “resistant to salt water”, but applies them incorrectly by using them to describe steel cables rather than Manila hemp.

In general, to answer detail questions correctly, you have to listen very closely. Many students make the mistake of trying to include everything in their notes—they try to write every detail they hear. That is very time-consuming, and so it becomes difficult to pay attention to what is being said. Do not try to write every single detail. Write the main ideas, the general topics, and listen carefully. Your memory will be enough if you’re paying close attention and understand what the recording said.


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2 Responses to TOEFL Listening Question Type – Detail

  1. Big B December 22, 2014 at 10:40 am #

    Hi, I have a question. I hope you’ll be able to help. I got a score of 30 in the Toefl listening section with pretty much no exam preparation. I’ve been studying English uninterruptedly for 17 years, doing an average of 20+ hours a week of practice throughout that time (mostly grammar and reading). Still, I am so dissatisfied with my listening skills.

    Yes, I got a top score, but only because I fortunately have a very good memory, and I’m familiar with pretty much all the topics they talk about in the lectures. However, when it comes to real listening I struggle with it. I find it hard, for example, to undersand even what some pop songs say. The other day I went to watch The Hobbit and I could only make out like 75% of the dialogues. I usually have no problem at all when having one-on-one coversations with people, but when I am in a large group or when there’s lots of background noise I am completely hopeless.

    I’m sure it’s not a problem with my hearing itself. When it comes to my native language I can understand people whispering the other side of the room, and I’m always able to hear very low music quite clearly.

    And I know that it’s a bit too picky to complain about my problems, since I basically am saying that I want to have the listening skills of a native speaker. But it is frustrating given all the years I’ve spent on English. And I’ve been living in the UK for 5 years, 3 of which were spent surrounded full time by native speakers. I used to live in a college.

    What can I do? Are there any super intense listening books out there?

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas December 30, 2014 at 2:33 pm #

      First, congratulations on that listening score! That’s awesome.

      When you’re at that level, there are no EFL/ESL books or programs that will be of much help, I’m afraid. Instead, it’s mostly a matter of exposure and attention. The more you are around a specific group of people or a specific accent, the more you will understand. I suspect that some of the issues you’re talking about involve different accents. Keep in mind that native speakers often have trouble understanding specific sentences or lines in movies/songs/conversations including speakers with other accents. And I’ll be honest: some of the examples you talked about are normal for native speakers, too. In songs, especially, it’s often difficult to understand what the words are. I really wouldn’t worry about that part. Movies can also make it difficult. Watch a well-acted, fast-paced movie in your own language and pay careful attention to how often you’re not sure exactly what was said. You might be surprised how normal that really is—we simply infer what was likely said based on context, then move on to hear the next line.

      I don’t mean to say your listening is already perfect and you should cease to work on it. I’m saying that unless it’s causing frequent miscommunication, this problem might not be worth addressing. Just continue to converse in English regularly, and keep inferring the parts you’re not sure about when watching movies/TV. Pay careful attention to idioms and slang, too: it’s likely that’s caused you some problems.

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