After finishing the TOEFL Reading Section, the Listening Section can feel disorienting.

Unlike the Reading Section, you have to process information by hearing every topic, tone, and detail.
In the TOEFL Listening Section, you hear the lecture or conversation just once, and you can’t go back, review, or change your answers at the end.

The TOEFL Official Guide 6th Edition states, “The ability to listen and understand is tested in three out of four sections of the TOEFL iBT test.” (ETS)

Practicing for the Listening Section will help you improve in the Reading and Speaking sections as well.
Keep in mind that everything in the TOEFL Listening Section is spoken to you.

You’ll have to listen to the conversations, lectures, questions, and even the instructions.
To help you process all the information you need from this section, I’ve put together 5 Listening Tips to help boost your TOEFL Score:

1. Break It Down

The easiest way to boost your score is to know the test structure.
Our first exercise is to break down the Listening Section by time. ⏰
Here is the entire section broken down into the basics:

  1. The Listening Section is 41-57 minutes long
  2. There are 28-39 questions
  3. There are 5 audio sets in total, (7 if there are dummy questions)
  4. Each audio takes around 3 – 5 minutes to listen to.
  5. There are 2 types of audio formats: lectures & conversations
  6. Lectures have 6 questions each, and conversations have 5.

That’s a lot of information to consider while you plan for the TOEFL Listening Section.
Here’s a simple visual to help you see it all in one place:

Since there are 5 audio sets that take 3-5 minutes to listen to, that will take anywhere from 15-25 minutes of your total Listening Section time.
That leaves you with just 16-26 minutes to hear and answer the questions in total.
If you’d like a more accurate simulation of the test-day time limit, try out a Listening section mock exam. You’ll see the timer count down after the audio.
Now that we know the basics of the TOEFL Listening Section structure, let’s get to know the 2 audio types and learn how to get their questions right.

2. Conversation vs. Lecture

There are 2 audio types.

  • Conversation: involves two people talking
  • Lecture: involves a professor speaking about an academic topic.

Here are the different ways to approach and identify each audio type.
A conversation can cover any of the following topics:

  • Campus Announcement
  • Campus Changes
  • Registering for a Class
  • Asking for Advice
  • A 1-on-1 Office Meeting

The main purpose of conversations is about communicating practical information, not academic information.

Conversation Tip: Look for information given from one person to another in a conversation: Were there any questions asked? Did another person answer them?
A conversation will have at least 2 people speaking to each other, and one person will express their opinions, or position about a topic.
A lecture on the other hand will delve into an academic subject. Prepare to give information about the subject, such as main points, details, and the relationship between certain parts of the lecture.
The lectures can be about, but are never limited to, any of the following topics:

  • Science
  • History
  • Arts
  • Social Studies
  • Cultural Research

A lecture introduces the main topic and follows with subsections and examples to further explain the main topic.

Lecture Tip: Write your notes in order of the lecture examples. It will help you separate main examples from minor details.
Now that you know there are only 2 types of audio: conversations and lectures, you can identify which information you need in each type.
Once you can identify which type is which, you’ll be able to choose the necessary information for each question type.
That’s two practice exercises down. Now let’s figure out what to do with all the information you gather.

3. Filter Information

After listening to the audio, it can be challenging to organize everything you’ve heard by the time the questions appear.

Since you can’t come back to a question once you’ve answered it, you have to choose the right answer on the first try.

After listening to the audio, you have less than 1 minute to answer a question.
This means you’ll need a time-efficient method to choose which questions you can quickly answer and which ones you’ll have to spend some time on.

To practice engaging with the listening material as we hear it, let’s filter out the necessary pieces of information as we go.

Take this excerpt from a practice listening lecture in a literature class.

Although you’ll be hearing the audio instead of reading it, you can practice filtering out all the important information using this template:

For the excerpt above, the main point is the theme of Edgar Allan Poe’s short story, “Masque of the Red Death.”
The professor’s summary of the characters, names, symbols, and plot points are all examples of the main point.

Once you filter information into categories, you’ll know exactly where to find the information you need once the questions begin.
Try this practice exercise with a Listening Section exam, and see how it improves your response time!

4. Take Fast Notes

If you’re missing key points and important information — you need to practice your note-taking skills. ASAP.
The Listening Section depends heavily on your notes.
Unlike the other sections, this is the one section you absolutely need to take good notes on.
You only get to listen to all the information once and you have to get as much key information on your note-taking sheet as possible.
Here are 3 ways to take speedy notes:

Label things with numbers as you go. When you hear “First,” or “To begin with,” it’s a good idea to structure your notes in the same order as the structure of the audio type. It’s also a good way to save time when you’re looking for specific information!

It’s much faster to draw ◯ than to spell out the word “circle.” This can come in handy for topics such as planets, meteors, spheres, and other round things!

You’ll hear a word you have no idea how to spell. It might be a scientific name or a long description. DO NOT try to spell everything out — you’ll miss other important information in the process. Take “Ursus maritimus” and simply write it as “U.M” or “Ur. m,” whichever helps you remember. I promise the TOEFL will never test your ability to spell the whole word out!
Keep it short, and get down as much information as you can.

5. Find Fun Speeches

This last practice exercise is about fun!
It’s easy to forget that TOEFL test material is supposed to test you on your listening skills when you’re focused on getting practice tests done and finding out study methods to get to a specific score.
The best way to boost your score in the Listening Section is to listen to lectures and conversations in English — but make it fun!

Getting into a habit of finding things to listen to in English can help you discover new terms and vocab, all the while you absorb the information you’re interested in.

For example, TedEd and The School of Life are a few of my favorite YouTube channels to listen to. I learn something new about human behavior, philosophy, and love among other things, and each channel is dedicated to sharing highly-researched, educational information with a fun presentation.

If you’re into planets, you can always check out NASA videos explaining new phenomena out in space. Or if you like interesting people from history, feel free to browse for historical individuals and listen to a podcast about their story!

Although it’s important to know the TOEFL Listening format, the best way to improve is to be engaged with the information you hear — and what better way to do that than finding audio based on what you like?

There are millions of free listening materials available online, so feel free to step away from TOEFL study materials and get your Listening Section practice wherever you want.


Practicing for the TOEFL Listening Section can help you boost your scores throughout the entire exam. Learning to listen for key information will help you improve your TOEFL testing skills.
The good news is that TestGlider is made to help test-takers improve their score all on one page.
Try out a Listening Section exam, and see if you can apply these 5 practice exercises and change your score!

1. Break It Down
Be aware of how the section is divided by time.

2. Conversation vs. Lecture
Differentiate between conversations and lecture audio types.

3. Filter Information
Actively process main points, examples, and details.

4. Take Fast Notes
Keep your notes short, and never miss a piece of information.

5. Find Fun Speeches
Practice listening to interesting topics.

That wraps up our “5 Exercises for a Higher Score” series, and I hope these exercises help you boost your TOEFL score!

Practice with TestGlider Mock Tests

More TOEFL Listening Tips

Thanks for studying with us,
Your TestGlider team.