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Flowcharts and Note-Taking, Part 1: Listening Section Conversations


Photo by Julie R. Thomson

A flowchart is a chart that shows the process for making a decision or completing a task. The flowchart on the right, for instance, shows how to decide whether you should eat another piece of chocolate. The Internet is full of cute, funny flowcharts like that. Flowcharts can also be more serious and complex. This flowchart, for example, shows the difficult and complicated task of keeping computer data secure.

As you can see, flowcharts can get pretty elaborate. But don’t worry—the flowcharts for TOEFL Listening conversations are a lot simpler. Because flowcharts diagram decisions and tasks, they’re perfect for representing the conversation tracks you hear in the Listening Section.

In TOEFL Listening, one speaker (usually a student) has to accomplish something on campus, and the other speaker (usually a professor or university employee) helps the student accomplish the task. Sometimes the actual task is completed by the end of the conversation—this is especially common if the task is simply a matter of getting information. And sometimes the task is not completed by the end of the conversation, but serval steps in the task have been discussed or done by the speakers. Either way, decisions are made on how to accomplish the task, so that a flowchart can be created to show task-based decisions and processes.

Now, in an earlier post, Kate mentioned two different approaches to note-taking for conversations. She suggested either taking two-column notes (one column per speaker), or putting notes in a single column for the whole conversation. Below, you can see two different flow charts. Both charts depict the conversation from the Listening task on page 10 of TOEFL Quick Prep Volume 3 (transcript on pages 30 to 31, audio file here). The flowchart on the right uses Kate’s two-column method, while the flowchart on the left uses her one-column approach.


As you can see, the arrows and flowchart style of note-taking helps you envision each conversation as a process. This in turn helps you understand the most important ideas that you hear. This format makes for an excellent study guide once you start answering the questions—and really, that’s the whole point of taking notes. Give this method a try—it’s helped many of my students.


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