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Types of Listening Recordings on the TOEFL

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.

The listening section will expose you to a variety of content both academic and non-academic. Even before the recording starts, your test will give you some idea of what kind of recording you’ll be listening to, which can help you to know what kinds of questions to expect.

Although all listening excerpts are noticeably slower than natural speech, the speakers try to speak as naturally as possible. This means that they use all the “ums,” pauses, and sudden redirects that you would encounter in actual language. Not only do you need to be able to navigate these incidental cues, but you also need to be ready to comment on how they function in context, as you will probably have to answer at least one question on your test about the meaning of a byte of incidental language. Needless to say, pacing is key.



The first, and in many ways most grueling, type of listening assignment is the lecture. Lectures generally last about five minutes, and can be on a wide variety of topics including natural sciences, history, art, anthropology, and business/economics.  Each lecture will begin with a sentence like this: “Listen to the following excerpt from a lecture in an introductory photography class.”

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There are two basic types of lecture: with students’ questions and without students’ question. When there are questions, it may be just one quick interruption or it could be a back-and-forth between the professor and multiple students, in a format similar to a conversation. In either case, the content is the same: they are completely about some academic topic and are set in a classroom.

Every lecture is accompanied by six questions, and they may be of any type. You will usually only see organization questions in lectures so pay extra attention to the organization of any lecture you’re given.



The conversation samples are shorter than the lectures, and they may contain academic or non-academic content. They generally take place either between a student and a professor or between a student and someone in a support role at a university. Conversations with a professor may include topics like assignment deadlines (non-academic content), clarification of course material (academic content), or upcoming assignments/projects (can be academic or non-academic content). Conversations with people in support roles include topics like registration, housing, and other logistical aspects of college life. Some familiarity with the language and culture of American higher education will be helpful in understanding the conversations.

Conversations usually last between three and five minutes, and are accompanied by five questions. Conversations are less likely than lectures to have organization or detail questions, but you should expect more questions about attitude and function.

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2 Responses to Types of Listening Recordings on the TOEFL

  1. jyotsna wase September 20, 2015 at 2:39 am #


    I have 2 questions –

    1. In the listening section, do we get to replay the audio while answering the questions?
    2. Can I go back and forth in the listening section to answer the questions (assuming there is additional time)?

    Thanks 🙂

    • David Recine
      David Recine September 21, 2015 at 9:33 pm #

      Hi Jyotsna,

      Great questions. To answer them:

      1) Unfortunately no, you can’t replay the audio on test day. *(But it would be awesome if you could!)

      2) Even if you finish in less than the time limit, you can’t go back to previous questions or sections in TOEFL Listening– not on the actual exam at least. So you’ll want to make sure to carefully answer each question the first time around.

      Fortunately, you do get replays and the ability to revisit questions in practice— this is a good tool as you build your skills. But the goal should be to eventually do all the questions without any replaying of tracks or revisiting of sections.

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