TOEFL Listening Practice: Sample Lecture and Practice Questions

What are your biggest problems when it comes to the practicing for the TOEFL Listening section? If you’re like a lot of the students I work with, you might find that the topics bore you; that the sections can be long; or that it’s hard to write as quickly as the speakers talk. Not to worry! We’re here to help with some targeted practice.
One task that can really be difficult for new TOEFL-takers is the lecture. In this task, a “professor” speaks for several minutes on an academic topic. It can be really easy to tune out the professor, but it’s important to stay alert throughout the entire recording so that you get maximum points in this section.

With that in mind, here’s a sample lecture. The questions appear below the lecture, but don’t worry about those for now. For the moment, just focus on staying alert, applying Magoosh’s best TOEFL Listening tips, and taking the best possible notes.

Some TOEFL Listening Note-Taking Tips

What does it mean to take the best possible notes? The best notes are the notes that will help you answer questions correctly. In other words, you don’t want to write down every little detail. Instead, think about the passage like a series of paragraphs, and just jot down the most important concepts that you hear.

After you’ve listened to the recording, you can check your work by answering the questions below and seeing how well you do, based on the answer key that appears right below the questions.. Once you’ve answered those questions and looked at the key, you can also check your work by comparing it to the transcript at the very bottom of this post (no peeking!) Once you’re reviewing your answers and the transcript ask: What did you miss? Are there any important details you didn’t write down? On the other hand, did you take down too many details and forget to emphasize the main points?

If you’re not sure how to evaluate your note-taking skills, don’t worry! Just set aside the notes you did take and come back for the next post, in which we’ll have you put your notes to the test with some actual TOEFL listening practice problems.

The Sample TOEFL Listening Lecture

Listen to the lecture here:

The Sample TOEFL Listening Questions

Now, answer the following questions based on the lecture (click to open the questions).

1. What is the main point of the professor’s lecture?

a. People today should know more about the different styles that Botticelli used.

b. Botticelli’s career exemplifies certain historical tendencies of the art world.

c. We can never know the artists who might be popular in the future.

d. Botticelli’s religious paintings were more important than his paintings that depicted non-religious subjects.

2. According to the professor’s lecture, what does “his reputation again began to blossom” mean?

a. Botticelli became popular again.

b. Many rumors circulated about Botticelli.

c. Nobody knew what to think of Botticelli.

d. Botticelli was well known among other artists.


3. What is the professor’s attitude toward Botticelli?

a. She enjoys some of his work, but not all of it.

b. She sees him as an obscure yet important artist.

c. She believes his career teaches us about larger social structures.

d. She does not know why students don’t know more about him.


4. The professor describes several features of Botticelli’s non-religious works compared to his religious works. For each of the following, indicate whether it is a feature of his non-religious or religious paintings. (For each item, check the appropriate box—three boxes).



5. Listen again to part of the lecture. Then answer the question. What does the professor mean when she says “Botticelli had the last laugh”?

a. Botticelli found art historians ridiculous

b. Botticelli’s work was less important in the sixteenth century than in the twentieth.

c. Botticelli did not care about his reputation as an artist.

d. Botticelli succeeded in the end.


6. Listen again to part of the lecture. Then answer the question. Why does the professor say “It just goes to show you—the art world is ruled by trends”?

a. To demonstrate that Botticelli changed the subjects of his work according to trends.

b. To explain the larger significance of Botticelli’s work and what students can learn from it.

c. To show that art can be a good investment if we are wise about the paintings we purchase.

d. To argue that no artists are objectively good or bad, but only judged by society to be so.

Answer Key and Answer Explanations

Click to expand the answer key and answer explanations for the questions above.

Question 1

Answer: B.
The professor’s main point is that Botticelli’s work shows that some artists fall in and out of popularity over time. If you missed this, it might have been because you stopped listening towards the end of the lecture—a good reminder to stay alert (though it may be hard!) for the whole thing.

Question 2

Answer: A.
You may not know the expression “began to blossom,” but use the context to work out its meaning. Here, the professor tells us, immediately after using this expression, that the Pre-Raphaelites brought Botticelli back to popularity.

Question 3

Answer: C.
The professor discusses how Botticelli’s initial rise and popularity depended on the Medici family patronage he received, as well as the religious themes he used. Additionally, his reputation depended on art historians and collectors. All of these are social structures which we can consider in relation to his career. Also, in the speech she states, “the art world is ruled by trends,” which informs us about the specific social structure of the art world.

Question 4

Answer: all non-religious. Listen carefully for the details and jot them down when necessary. Here, the professor says that the non-religious works, including The Birth of Venus, demonstrate “the extensive use of nature as a metaphor.” The trickiest question here is “Departed from Botticelli’s earlier work.” We need to make that inference from the professor telling us that there was some, though not much, holdover and overlap in the religious and non-religious paintings.

Question 5

Answer: D.
Because the time period is so different, so much later, the professor is commenting that it took a long time, but Botticelli finally came back into popularity.

Question 6

Answer: B.
The professor is returning to her larger point, that the point of this example is to show how the art world has different trends, or cycles of popularity, through the study of one artist’s career.


Botticelli Lecture Transcript

Click here to expand the transcript.

How many of you have heard of Alessandro di Mariano di Vanni Filipepi? No? Nobody? Well, let me put it this way: how many of you are familiar with the work of an artist called Sandro Botticelli, or just Boticelli? (Laughs). Yeah, that’s what I thought. It’s definitely an easier name to remember. But a lot of you might also be surprised to learn that his work fell out of favor from shortly after the Renaissance until the late 19th century? That’s right; it’s really only within the past 150 years that Boticelli’s work has returned to popularity—and yet, within that time, his name (well, his “alias”) has become synonymous with the kind of grace and beauty that characterizes the best of Renaissance painting.

Patronized by the famous Medici family, Boticelli’s work was celebrated during his lifetime for some of these same qualities. While his earliest works often used religious subject matter—well, we’ve seen this throughout the course, haven’t we, how common this was—these are not the works that are most celebrated today. In fact—let me ask you. What are the paintings that you most associate with Boticelli?

Well, The Birth of Venus is definitely one of Boticelli’s better-known works. His masterpiece Primavera, which was painted three years earlier, was done in the same vein. “Primavera” means “spring” in Italian—and here’s a slide of the painting just here.  These are works that didn’t rely entirely on the iconography of the Catholic church. While we do see some holdovers from Boticelli’s earlier works, the main subjects of these paintings go back to earlier traditions of gods and goddesses. Note the extensive use of nature as a metaphor, in addition to the nudity of some of the figures—or the skimpy clothes used to “cover” them. Actually, however, Botticelli was extremely religious, and would end up painting work for churches and cathedrals, using Catholic iconography, for the rest of his life. The Madonna and Child, for example, were a popular subject.

Because of that, it’s kind of strange that he fell out of favor, at least—his paintings were in churches, chapels, and villas all over Italy. But in 1502, almost a decade before he died in 1510, he was already disappearing from the public eye. Even though he had painted frescoes in the Sistine Chapel, Botticelli’s work was commonly overlooked in favor of that by his neighboring artist—Michelangelo.

It took almost three centuries before an English collector, William Young Ottley, bought a Botticelli in Italy and brought it back to England in 1799. Even then, the painting wasn’t exhibited in public for almost another sixty years, when its next owner, William Fuller Maitland, lent it to an “Art Treasures Exhibition” in 1856. There, it was seen by more than a million viewers, and art historians began to take note. Some of these historians had already taken an interest in Botticelli’s Sistine Chapel frescoes, and his reputation again began to blossom. By the end of the century, Botticelli’s works had been extensively admired: the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood found inspiration in them; the first monograph, or book of paintings, by the artist was published in 1893. Botticelli had the last laugh, though: in the first twenty years of the twentieth century, more books were written about his art than about the art of any other painter, dead or alive.

It just goes to show you—the art world is ruled by trends. Just because a particular artist isn’t popular at a given moment, doesn’t mean that there’s no value in his or her work – or that it won’t be popular once more. Even if it does take three centuries!

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  • Rachel Kapelke-Dale

    Rachel is one of Magoosh’s Content Creators. She writes and updates content on our High School and GRE Blogs to ensure students are equipped with the best information during their test prep journey. As a test-prep instructor for more than five years in there different countries, Rachel has helped students around the world prepare for various standardized tests, including the SAT, ACT, TOEFL, GRE, and GMAT, and she is one of the authors of our Magoosh ACT Prep Book. Rachel has a Bachelor of Arts in Comparative Literature from Brown University, an MA in Cinematography from the Université de Paris VII, and a Ph.D. in Film Studies from University College London. For over a decade, Rachel has honed her craft as a fiction and memoir writer and public speaker. Her novel, THE BALLERINAS, is forthcoming in December 2021 from St. Martin's Press, while her memoir, GRADUATES IN WONDERLAND, co-written with Jessica Pan, was published in 2014 by Penguin Random House. Her work has appeared in over a dozen online and print publications, including Vanity Fair Hollywood. When she isn't strategically stringing words together at Magoosh, you can find Rachel riding horses or with her nose in a book. Join her on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook!