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The TOEFL iBT® Test: Improving Your Listening Skills

Advice for Listening
Performance Level: High
Score Range: 22–30

Congratulations! You have excellent listening skills in English. To maintain and enhance your solid skills, here are some points to keep in mind for the future.

  1. Use the resources in your community to practice listening to English.
    • Visit places in your community where you can hear English spoken.
      • Go to an English school, an embassy or an English-speaking Chamber of Commerce.
      • Go to a museum and take an audio tour in English.
      • Follow a guided tour in English of your city.
      • Call or visit a hotel where tourists stay and get information in English about room rates, hotel availability or hotel facilities.
      • Call and listen to information recorded in English, such as a movie schedule, a weather report or information about an airplane flight.
    • Watch or listen to programs recorded in English.
      • Watch television programs.
        • CNN, the Discovery Channel or National Geographic
        • Watch movies, soap operas or situation comedies
      • Watch movies and other videos online or go to a movie in English.
      • Listen to an audiobook in English.
      • Listen to music in English and then check your accuracy by finding the lyrics on the internet (e.g.,
    • Go to internet sites to practice listening.
    • Listen to audio recordings of full-length lectures. Full-length lectures/presentations are available from UC Berkeley.
    • Practice speaking English with others.
      • Look for a conversation partner and exchange language lessons with an English speaker who wants to learn your language.
  2. Begin to prepare for academic situations.
    • Visit academic classes, cultural centers, or museums where people are invited to talk in English about their work.
      • Before you listen to a lecture in English, read assigned chapters or background information on academic topics.
      • Visit lectures on a wide variety of topics.
    • Record lectures or presentations and replay them several times.
      • Listen to different types of talks on various topics, including subjects in which you have limited or little background.
      • Listen to short sections several times until you understand the main points and the flow of ideas.
      • Stop the recording in the middle and predict what will come next.
      • Practice listening to longer lectures.
    • Become familiar with the organization or structure of lectures.
      • Pay attention to the structure.
        • lecture or presentation — introduction, body, and conclusion
        • narrative story — beginning, middle, and end
      • Learn to recognize different styles of organization.
        • theory and evidence
        • cause and effect
        • steps of a process
        • comparison of two things
    • Think carefully about the purpose of a lecture.
      • Try to answer the question, "What is the professor trying to accomplish in this lecture?"
      • Write down only the information that you hear. Be careful not to interpret information based on your personal understanding or knowledge of the topic.
        • Answer questions based on what was actually discussed in the talk
    • Develop a note-taking strategy to help you organize information into a hierarchy of main points and supporting details.
      • Make sure your notes follow the organization of the lecture.
      • Listen for related ideas and relationships within a lecture and make sure you summarize similar information together.
      • Use your notes to write a summary.
  3. Listen for signals that will help you understand the organization of a talk, connections between ideas, and the importance of ideas.
    • Listen for expressions and vocabulary that tell you the type of information being given.
      • Think carefully about the type of information that these phrases show.
        • opinion (I think, It appears that, It is thought that)
        • theory (In theory)
        • inference (therefore, then)
        • negatives (not, words that begin with "un," "non," "dis," "a")
        • fillers (non-essential information) (uh, er, um)
      • Identify digressions (discussion of a different topic from the main topic) or jokes that are not important to the main lecture. (It’s okay not to understand these!)
    • Listen for signal words and phrases that connect ideas in order to recognize the relationship between ideas.
      • Think carefully about the connection between ideas that these words show.
        • reasons (because, since)
        • results (as a result, so, therefore, thus, consequently)
        • examples (for example, such as)
        • comparisons (in contrast, than)
        • an opposing idea (on the other hand, however)
        • another idea (furthermore, moreover, besides)
        • a similar idea (similarly, likewise)
        • restatements of information (in other words, that is)
        • conclusions (in conclusion, in summary)
    • Pay attention to intonation and other ways that speakers indicate that information is important.
      • Listen for emotions expressed through changes in intonation or stress.
        • Facial expressions or word choices can indicate excitement, anger, happiness, frustration, etc.
      • Listen how native speakers divide long sentences into "thought groups" to make them easier to understand. (A thought group is a spoken phrase or short sentence. Thought groups are separated by short pauses.)
        • Listen to sets of thought groups to make sure you get the whole idea of the talk
      • Listen for important key words and phrases which are often ...
        • repeated
        • paraphrased (repeated information but using different words)
        • said louder and clearer
        • stressed
      • Listen for pauses between important points.
        • In a lecture, pay attention to words that are written on the board.

Note: References to other sources and internet sites are provided as a service and should not be understood as endorsements of their content.

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