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The TOEFL iBT® Test: Improving Your Listening Skills

Advice for Listening
Performance Level: Low
Score Range: 0–13

  1. Practice listening to something in English every day and gradually increase the amount of time that you listen.
    • Listen to different kinds of materials.
      • Listen actively. Try to answer the "wh" questions.
        • who
        • what
        • when
        • where
        • why
        • how
      • Listen passively to get the general idea of what's being said.
    • Keep a listening log (a list of everything you listen to each day/week).
      • Write a 1-sentence summary to remember the main idea of what you heard.
      • Write down new expressions, idioms, and vocabulary that you hear.
    • Use dictations and other exercises to help your listening ability.
      • Ask an English speaker to dictate an article to you. Good sources of material are newspapers, magazines, and textbooks.
        • First, write down exactly what you hear
        • Then only take notes on the important points that you hear
      • Do information gap exercises, using unfamiliar content and complex structures.
  2. Use the resources in your community to practice listening to English.
    • Visit places in your community where you can practice listening to English.
      • If possible, enroll in an English class.
      • Go to a museum and take an audio tour in English.
      • Follow a guided tour in English in 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 on television
        • Do this with a friend and talk about the program together
      • Watch movies and other videos online (turn off the captions!) 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.,
      • Listen to English language recordings that come with a transcript. Listen to each recording at least 3 times.
        • The first time, take notes about the main ideas you hear.
        • The second time, read the transcript and listen for the ideas you wrote down.
        • The third time, write down any words and phrases that you didn’t understand and look them up.
    • Go to internet sites to practice listening.
    • Practice speaking English with others.
      • Exchange language lessons with an English speaker who wants to learn your language.
  3. Begin to prepare for academic situations.
    • Visit academic classes in English.
    • Record lectures or presentations and replay them several times.
      • 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.
    • Become familiar with the organization or structure of academic lectures.
      • Pay attention to the difference between main ideas and details presented.
        • Listen for the general (main) ideas
        • Pay attention to details
          • facts
          • examples
          • opinions
      • 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 the 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.
    • Take notes while you listen to a talk or lecture. This will help you identify the main ideas of the talk.
      • Practice doing simple dictations to work on your ability to listen and write at the same time.
      • Work with a partner. Listen to a talk and take notes individually.
        • Compare your notes with your partner’s and check for differences (and similarities)
        • Use your notes to tell your partner what you heard
      • Use your notes to write an outline or summary.
      • Gradually increase the length of the talks (and your summaries).
  4. 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 or 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 the connections between examples.
        • When you hear two details, identify the relationship between them
        • Write a sentence connecting the examples using the appropriate connecting word
    • Pay attention to intonation and other ways that speakers indicate that information is important.
      • Important key words are often
        • repeated
        • paraphrased (repeated information but using different words)
        • said louder and clearer
        • stressed
      • Pay attention to body language and intonation patterns used to express different emotions.
        • Emotions are often expressed through changes in intonation or stress
        • Facial expressions or word choices can indicate excitement, anger, happiness or frustration
      • Listen for pauses between important points.
      • During a lecture, pay attention to words that are written on the board.
        • Listen for numbers that you might hear in prices, times or addresses
        • Listen for verbs and other expressions that show if an event is happening in the past, present or future

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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