By Mike H. Snow

TOEFL Listening Practice Tips

1. Before the Test
1. Become familiar with the format of the TOEFL exam.
Read the rules on the official website and practice sample exams before you go to the test. This way, you can save more time for doing the questions on the real exam.

2. Build your vocabulary.
The more words you know, the easier it will be for you to understand the questions on any section of the TOEFL exam, including the listening section. Aim to learn some new words every day and practice them regularly.

3. Watch TV.
Yes, we are serious: you should take some time to watch TV if you want to do well on the listening component of your TOEFL exam! American sitcoms or hour-long dramas will be excellent preparation for the conversations in the TOEFL listening section. Why?
  • Problems and Solutions. Dialogue in sitcoms and dramas often deal with problems and solutions. Just as you would during a real exam, take notes and identify these problems and solutions.
  • Idioms, slang, and rhetorical expressions. As a student of a new language, these components are the hardest to learn because they are usually not taught systematically in a classroom. However, they come up frequently in dialogue (and on TV!), so research expressions that you don’t understand as you watch, so you can build your knowledge.
4. Listen to academic audio recording.
Especially in history, science, philosophy, or the arts. You can find academic lectures at your library and on the internet. The lectures on the TOELF exam are similar to those given to university freshmen and sophomore students. You can become familiar with the structure and the language of academic lectures by listening to them. You can also try listening to American news to familiarize yourself with the American dialect and the language.

5. Practice. Practice. Practice.
Do as much practice questions as you can. Studies have shown that practice exam questions are the most effective methods of test preparation. Practice applying the strategies like taking notes and reading the questions. After you become familiar with the question formats, try doing an entire question set with a timer in a quiet place. You will be less likely to be surprised and panic during the real test, if you can get experience handling the time-constraints and other stressful factors in the real exam.

2. During the Test
6. Read the question as much as you can before the recording begins.
The exam recordings often contain a lot of content that are not tested on. If you have an idea of what the questions are asking, you can focus your energy on listening for key points that will help you score on the exam! However, make sure you read the question carefully and do no misunderstand what the question is asking!

7. Take notes. Write down short notes as you listen to the recording.
Since you will only be allowed to listen to the recording once during the test, taking notes will help you remember the details in the recording. How can you take notes most effectively?
  • Write only keywords or phrases. You can never write as fast as the recording, so focus on the keywords that you hear. Don’t get sidetracked trying to write down trivialities or every word in the recording: focus on the important phrases and key meanings in the passage.
  • Organize your notes. Number or letter the sections in your notes, such as the main points or the examples. Clarifying the organization will help with your understanding. There are usually questions about the sequence of events if the recording describes some sort of process, so it good to keep them organized. Keeping your notes ordered and neat will also save you time and help you during the “rhetorical function” questions on the exam.
  • Write neatly. Penmanship may be the last thing on your mind while you rush to write down notes during the listening section. However, if your notes are not easily legible, you will waste more time picking out the necessary information for the questions.
  • Use shorthand. Instead of writing down everything, use indentations, numbers, charts, arrows, or other marks to show orders, relationship, and structure between words and phrases. You can develop your own shorthand so you can express meanings of common words and phrases efficiently. For example, I like write “example” as “ex” and “because” as “bc”. The key idea is that you want to capture ideas quickly and clearly.
8. Focus on the main topic.
The TOEFL exam is about comprehension, not memorization. Keeping the main topic in mind will help you understand the lecture. Your mind can prepare itself by thinking of related vocabulary and concepts, so you will be ready when you hear it in the recording. It’s a good idea to write the main topic down at the top of your notes. In lectures, the main topic is usually stated in the first few sentences. Even if you can’t catch everything in the recording, you may still be able to guess the answers to questions based on your knowledge of the topic.

9. Stay calm.
The TOEFL exam is long and difficult. After all your preparation, the best thing you can do in the exam is to stay calm. Even if you think you missed an important word in the listening section, panicking and getting nervous will not help you anymore. Remember your strategies for the exam and stick to them! Remember the main ideas in the passage and take good notes, so you can do your very best on the remainder of the questions!