The Listening Section Overview – TOEFL-iBT® (1/4)

The Listening Section Overview- TOEFL-iBT® (1/4)

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

As you may have guessed from the previous series we posted on the Reading Section, this post will also be divided into 4 sections as there is much material to cover and placing all that information in a single post would be overwhelming.

So, here is a brief summary into how this will be divided.

The Listening Section – Overview – TOEFL-iBT® (1/4)
The Listening Section – Audios – TOEFL-iBT® (2/4)
The Listening Section – Types of Questions Part I – TOEFL-iBT® (3/4)
The Listening Section – Types of Questions Part II – TOEFL-iBT® (4/4)

If you haven’t read our previous series about the TOEFL-iBT Reading section, I strongly recommend you do so if you want to get a full understanding of the test. you can click here to go to the beginning of that series.

However, if you have done so already, or are looking into a deeper dive into the TOEFL-iBT Listening section, then feel free to continue here.

This post will be divided into 3 short segments.


Types of Audios


Let us get started here.


The Listening section is the second part of the TOEFL-iBT test. you will have this section right after completing the Reading section. And just like it, it will be affected by the long format variable.

This section will usually take 41-57 minutes long. Depending on whether you get the short or long format in this section.

The best thing to do is to be prepared for the long format as we will only know which format we receive when we start the test.

In this section, we will be exposed to a series of audios that will vary in style. Some of these audios will be a conversation between no more than two persons, lectures and classes on academic-related

After the most recent modification of the test in August 2019, this section has gotten significantly shorter.

We will now be receiving anywhere from 2 or 3 conversations and 3 to 4 lectures or classes.

The conversations we will be followed by 5 questions each, and the lectures or classes will be followed by 6 questions each.

Here is a small graph to help understand the numbers better.

Type of Audio Number of such audios Number of Questions per audio Total Questions
Conversation 2-3 5 10-15
Lectures & Classes 3-4 6 18-24

This is a significant reduction from the previous version of the test which was 60 or 90 minutes long.

That’s 1/3 in the time reduction both from the short and the long format. So, we should be little thankful.

The Audios

To give a brief intro to the audios we will find, here I will break them down.


These tend to be the easiest ones for students as the flow of information will be shifting from one person to the next.

The benefit here is that if we are unable to understand fully what one person said, we may be able to deduce it partially by the response the other speaker says.

These conversations will focus on the University-life and the normal issues people find there.

For example, one student may be asking another to clear some doubts about a class schedule or assignment. Or a student may be asking a teacher some help with an important test or report. It could even be a conversation about helping with a financial situation.

As I said before, University-life topics and everyday issues.

Lectures & Classes.

These tend to be more complex in understanding. There will be a single speaker giving a lecture about a given topic.

This topic will be academic-related and will lean towards the general sciences, such as; psychology, biology, astronomy, physics, anthropology, and many more.

Though it is fair to say that some of the lectures talk about other types of academic topics, such as; art, finance, economy, history, literature and, others. But keep in mind that these topics will be less frequent.

As I have stated in other posts, the relationship between these academic topics will be leaning towards about 70% of them being science-related. Which means that it is very important to up your
science-related vocabulary.

During these audios, it may be possible to find that the speaker asks a question to the audience and a participant responds. This means that the audio is a class, and the speaker is a teacher following the
class pattern.

These micro-conversations will not go for long, just a single response from a student and then the teacher continues on.

It is important during lectures and classes to pay attention to the screen as when we are taking notes, we will at times be exposed to a few simple sketches that we must place in our notes to help us with the latter questions.


It may seem strange when I tell my students that they need to prepare for this section during all the test.

And the reason why I say this is that you will need to develop your listening skills fully as it will be needed in the Listening section, Speaking section and Writing section.

So, depending on your level of English, you may need to intensify the exposure and overall practice of the language in order to have a good listening comprehension.

There are a few ways you can do this. Most are pretty mainstream but are so because they are effective.

Here are my top 3 tips to help improve your listening skills.


Music is not only functional, it is also fun. But listening to it idly is not what will help you.

Choose an artist that you like (an English singing one). Choose a song that you like from such artist, listen to it, and try to write down the words you hear. After doing so, look up the lyrics online and compare them to what you have written.

Small differences will most likely appear, but don’t feel bad about it. Most singers use modifications of the language or incorrect grammar to make their music rhyme or have a specific style.

I always recommend taking the content of song lyrics with a grain of salt, as it is not perfect grammar.

News & Podcasts

This one can be any news outlet radio App you can find from the US, or from the country you are looking to move to.

I recommend NPR One and similar Apps to students as it collects information from the local news stations, and they get a variety of short 3-8-minute audios briefing the current daily news.

The speakers speak at a standard pace, which can be challenging for most of my students, but after a few weeks, they slowly adapt and understand more.

The added benefit of this App is that it also has a collection of podcasts which I can recommend my students to listen to, depending on their likes and dislikes.

Podcasts can be anywhere from 5 minutes to over an hour long. So, if they are too long, they can be segmented into smaller sections.

Speaking English with a friend

This one is very challenging for most as it is hard to find someone who speaks English in a non-English speaking country.

If you have this option, take advantage of it. Invite your friend for a coffee and socialize.

If you don’t have access to this helpful tool, then visit the touristic part of where you live and try to start a conversation with strangers.

Online chats are also very helpful. And who knows, you may end up meeting someone from where you want to go and learn from the culture.

This is paramount into helping you understand those non-language hints in conversation, such as inflection or tone of voice. Practicing with another person is one of the best ways to improve your listening.

Increasing your overall listening skill is a must if you want to have a decent score in this test.

If you have an intermediate level, then you should consider increasing your level fast to pursue a better TOEFL-iBT score.

In the Listening section, you will be put to the test by speakers that talk at a very natural speed. Aside from this the content of the conversations and lectures must be of your domain.

A common challenge that many students have is that they understand the conversation, but not the vocabulary or can’t infer meaning.

It is important for you to know that the topics will most likely be alien to you. But you must develop your inference ability in order to comprehend definitions and categorize them into sections.

In our next post, we will focus on the first type of audio we will find which is the Conversation. Furthermore, we will explore the questions within and work on solving them.

To go to that post just click here.

Hoping this information has served to clear doubts and help better understand the TOEFL-iBT.

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