Inside the TOEFL® Test - Listening Gist-Content & Gist-Purpose Questions


Video duration: 5:07

People in this video

Female Student
Male Coach


[music playing]

Michael: Hi, I'm Michael from ETS. Today on Inside the TOEFL Test, we're going inside the TOEFL iBT® Listening section. Specifically, the gist-content and gist-purpose questions. 

Inside the TOEFL® Test – Listening
Gist Purpose

Michael: The gist of something is the main point or key idea. In the TOEFL iBT® test, Gist-content questions ask you to identify the main topic or idea of the listening conversation or lecture.
Gist-purpose questions ask you to identify what the main purpose of the conversation or lecture is.
You can recognize gist-content and gist-purpose questions because they use phrases like “mainly about”, "mainly discussing", "why does the student” or “what is the main purpose."

On-screen: Question Structure
Gist - Main point or key idea
Gist-Content- Main idea
Gist- purpose- Why is this happening?

Recognizing the Question Type
Gist-Content Gist-Purpose

  • Mainly about
  • Mainly discussing
  • Why does the student...?
  • What is the main purpose…?

Michael: Here are two things to keep in mind when answering gist-content and gist-purpose questions:
In the Listening section, there will always be either a gist-content question or a gist-purpose question, but never both. This question will always be the first question after listening to the passage. Also, sometimes the lectures and conversations can have 2 main ideas. In this case, the gist-content or gist-purpose question may ask you to choose 2 of the 4 answer options, instead of just one.

Gist-Content or Gist- purpose
Always the first question

Sometimes two main ideas
[displays blurred out question and answer option with instructions "Click on 2 answers."]
[shows image of cursor selecting 2 answers]

Michael: Let's look at some sample gist-content and gist-purpose questions. First we'll listen to part of a conversation between a coach and a student catching up on what happened while the student was away.

On-screen: Sample Questions

[image of female student and male coach in an office is displayed]

MALE COACH: Hi, Elizabeth.
FEMALE STUDENT:  Hey, Coach. I just thought I’d stop by to see what I missed while I was gone.
MALE COACH: Well, we’ve been working real hard on our plan for the next game . . . I’ve asked Susan to go over it with you before practice this afternoon, so you’ll know what we’re doing.
MALE COACH: By the way, how did your brother’s wedding go?
FEMALE STUDENT:  Oh, it was beautiful. And the whole family was there. I saw aunts and uncles and cousins I hadn’t seen in years.
MALE COACH: So it was worth the trip.
FEMALE STUDENT:  Oh definitely. I’m sorry I had to miss practice, though. I feel bad about that.
MALE COACH: Family’s very important.
FEMALE STUDENT:  Yep. Okay, I guess I’ll see you this afternoon at practice, then.
MALE COACH: Just a minute. There are a couple of other things I need to tell you.
MALE COACH: Uh . . . First, everybody’s getting a new team jacket.
FEMALE STUDENT:  Wow. How did that happen?
MALE COACH: A woman who played here about 20, 25 years ago came through town a few weeks ago and saw a game, and said she wanted to do something for the team, so . . .
FEMALE STUDENT:  So she’s buying us new jackets?
FEMALE STUDENT:  Wow, that’s really nice of her.

MALE COACH: Yes, it is. It’s great that former players still care so much about our school and our basketball program . . . Anyway you need to fill out an order form. I’ll give it to you now, and you can bring it back this afternoon. I’ve got the forms from the other players, so as soon as I get yours we can order. Maybe we’ll have the jackets by the next game.


MALE COACH: Great. And the next thing is, you know Mary’s transferring to another college next week, so we’ll need someone to take over her role as captain for the second half of the season. And the other players unanimously picked you to take over as captain when Mary leaves.

FEMALE STUDENT:  Wow. I saw everybody this morning, and nobody said a word.

MALE COACH: They wanted me to tell you. So, do you accept?


MICHAEL: So an example of a gist-content question for this passage is:
What are the speakers mainly discussing?

On-screen: What are the speakers mainly discussing?

  1. How the woman should prepare for the next game
  2. The woman’s responsibilities as team captain
  3. Things that happened while the woman was away
  4. The style of the new team uniforms

Michael: And an example of a gist-purpose question is:
Why does the student go to see the coach?

On-screen: Why does the student go to see the coach?

  1. To see how the woman should prepare for the next game
  2. To find out the woman’s responsibilities as team captain
  3. To find out what had happened while the woman was away
  4. To discuss the style of the new team uniforms

Michael: Whichever question is asked, you can figure out the answer by focusing on the main point of the conversation or lecture.

On-screen: [displays both questions]


Michael: The female student tells us her reason for going to see the coach in the early part of the conversation when she says this:

FEMALE STUDENT: I just thought I’d stop by to see what I missed while I was gone.

On-screen: [Image of female student and male coach in an office is displayed]

MICHAEL: That tells us both the main idea of the conversation and why she went to see the coach.
So for both questions, the best answer is C.

On-screen: [Both questions are displayed with a green check next to the highlighted answer option C]

Skill Building Tips- Listening to Academic Lectures

Michael: Here’s a tip for improving your listening skills.
Listen to academic lectures in English as much as possible. Be sure to listen to lectures in various subject areas: science, social science, business, arts, literature. You can search online for universities that post their lectures for free. Start with short lectures on topics you are familiar with, then build up to longer ones on topics that are not familiar to you. Listen to the same lecture multiple times if you need to.

On-screen: [image of professor teaching]
Short lectures, familiar topics
Longer lectures, unfamiliar topics

Michael: There are lots of ways to improve your English skills. Whatever you do, keep practicing. And good luck on your TOEFL test.

On-screen: For more information about the TOEFL® test and to register, visit the TOEFL® website at