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TOEFL Listening Comprehension: Conversation and Talk

The Listening Section has two parts: Part A: Short Conversations and Part B: Long Conversations and Talks. You'll work through this section at the test computer, wearing a pair of earphones (you can adjust the volume) and staring at a silly photo on the screen. The conversations are always between a man and a woman with a third voice chiming in to ask a question on what was said and present the answer choices. You'll point and click on the answer choice you believe is best. Listening Section questions may be daunting at first because the conversations are never repeated - either you get it the first time or you're lost. But actually, the types of questions asked are surprisingly similar. If you know what might be asked, you can listen more effectively for typical information.

For example, you will undoubtedly hear the following question on your TOEFL test:" What are the man and woman discussing?" This a typical Main Idea question, a major testing point in Listening. You can anticipate these questions by training yourself to quickly summarize the passage in your head before answering the questions. Short Conversations, in particular, have lots of questions like "What does the man mean?" which require you to paraphrase what you heard. Think of these questions not just as memory exercises - they first and foremost test your vocabulary.

Throughout the Short and long Conversations, the test writers will try to confuse you by using decoys or traps in the answer choices. For example, words like "dry" and "try" may sound alike, but using one instead of the other would completely change the meaning of a conversation. Finally, specific American-style idiomatic vocabulary, such as "how come", "isn't it though", etc. is used constantly.

Talks are academic lectures with a "professor" speaking on a particular subject that can last up to a couple of minutes. Here, the TOEFL strays from reality in that you are not allowed to take notes, even though in a typical classroom, you would. Therefore, you need to learn to take notes in your head.

This will help you enormously when the questions come around and the passage is farther away in your memory. This may sound easy, but takes practice to master.

The major listening skills tested in Talks and Long Conversations include:

  • being able to paraphrase what you head
  • identifying the main idea
  • sorting out the time and sequence of events in the passage
  • remembering specific facts and inferences
  • identifying the tone or attitude of the speakers

You will see several different formats of questions which all test the above principles. Some may seen bizarre at first, but with practice you'll learn to answer them quickly. The most common format is "One Best Answer" or typical multiple choice with four possibilities to choose from. You'll also see a few "Two Best Answers" where you'll click on two answers instead of one. "Matching" requires you to put pieces of information into given categories. "Graphic Element" questions give you a picture of something like a map or diagram and you must click on the part asked about. All these question formats require only pointing and clicking skills, but you should nonetheless practice each kind well before test day. ETS offers a short tutorial CD in the TOEFL Bulletin which is well worth the time to master the different questions formats.

More: Sample TOEFL Listening Questions

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