I hear from students who complain that they are having trouble paying attention to TOEFL Listening because some of the lectures are boring. There’s no shame in finding certain academic topics boring—in fact if boredom is the main reason you have trouble catching all of the details in a TOEFL audio track, you’re probably more like a native English speaker than you realize.
Still, it’s very important to be able to listen attentively and catch important details in TOEFL lectures. If you can’t learn how to get past your boredom with lectures that are just a few minutes long, you’ll have a LOT of trouble making it through university courses where the subject matter isn’t your favorite or the professor is a dull speaker.
Turn the listening task into a “fact hunt”
When a lecture isn’t interesting you and you feel yourself becoming more and more passive, start listening for specific things. By carefully listening only for the most important facts, your passive listening becomes active. And the listening task stops being about the subject matter. Instead, the listening task turns into a game—a game where you hunt for facts that might be important, and learn to “throw away” less important words and phrases.
On the TOEFL itself, this becomes a matter of recognizing speaking patterns—understanding that TOEFL lectures are structured a lot like written essays that are being read out loud. See how much you can “think like a writer,” recognizing the way the professor is structuring his or her ideas, and predicting which facts will be important in the question set. Because TOEFL lectures are so predictable in structure, this can be a very rewarding activity. You’ll be alert as you direct your attention to where it needs to go and only where it needs to go, dodging the most boring and least important parts of a talk.
Develop an interest in academic topics
This may sound overly simple—I’m basically telling you that if you find something boring, stop finding it boring. This is easier said than done, of course, but it’s not impossible! In fact getting past boredom and learning to love new topics is an important skill for any successful student, and for any well-rounded person.
TOEFL lectures focus on a variety of academic topics, but they especially focus on economics, business, history, and science. Go through TOEFL practice materials, both from companies like Magoosh and from official ETS sources. Skim transcripts of lectures before you listen, and write down the subjects of the lectures. Then research the subjects yourself. You can probably find some aspect of any subject that is interesting to you in some way—or you can find a particularly funny, interesting writer or speaker who has something to say about an academic subject found on the TOEFL. You may also be able to find a movie or TV show that covers a TOEFL-like subject in an entertaining way. You get the idea.