1. Information about Connecting Content Questions
TOEFL Listening Connecting Content questions ask test takers to show that they understand the relationships among ideas presented in the lecture. These are the rarest type of listening questions, and they usually take one of two forms.
Some will ask the test takers to arrange information in a chart or table (much like the Table questions in the reading section) while others will ask them to make inferences about the relationships among things mentioned in the lecture. They may ask test takers to infer a cause-and-effect relationship, predict an outcome, extrapolate some additional information, draw a logical conclusion, or put events in sequential order.
Connecting Content questions are easy to recognize because they contain a table/chart or are written as follows:
- What is the likely outcome of doing X before Y?
- What can be inferred about X and Y?
- What does the professor imply about X and Y?
2. TOEFL Listening Connecting Content: Question Example
Here is an excerpt from a passage and its Connecting Content question:
Professor, what about Fermi’s paradox? Didn’t Fermi say that if intelligent aliens exist, they would inevitably colonize the whole galaxy? But we haven’t detected any trace of them, so they must not exist.
There is a lot to unpack here … the Fermi paradox is a myth. It is not Fermi’s, and it is not a paradox. Enrico Fermi was a Nobel Prize winning physicist who never published any opinion regarding the existence of extraterrestrials. Those ideas come from a paper published in 1975.
The basis of the myth is a lunch Fermi had with scientists Emil Konopinski, Edward Teller, and Herbert York in Los Alamos, New Mexico in 1950. They were discussing a cartoon about aliens when Fermi asked Teller, “How probable is it that within the next ten years we shall have clear evidence of a material object moving faster than light?” Teller replied that the odds were about one in a million, but Fermi disagreed that it was probably closer to ten percent. Light speed travel would be necessary to travel between stars.
The conversation moved on to other topics, but Fermi suddenly blurted out, “But where is everybody?” The others immediately understood that Fermi was talking about the possibility of aliens using light speed travel to reach our solar system, and not about the existence of aliens. As their discussion continued, Fermi concluded that interstellar travel is simply impossible, or it is possible, but it is deemed not worth the effort, or no technological civilization has lasted long enough to achieve it.
It was Michael Hart who proposed in 1975 that if intelligent aliens exist, they would inevitably explore and colonize the entire galaxy. Since that hasn’t happened, he concluded that humans must be the only intelligent life in our galaxy, and that attempting to find intelligent life is a waste of time. However, there are many other possible explanations. Perhaps aliens have developed the necessary technology, but chose not to build a galactic empire. Or aliens have visited Earth, but they did so long before humans evolved.
Q. What does the professor imply about Enrico Fermi and Michael Hart?
(A) Both believed that intelligent aliens must not exist since they haven’t made contact.
(B) Micheal Hart’s theories have been incorrectly merged with Enrico Fermi’s.
(C) Enrico Fermi influenced Michael Hart’s theories about intelligent aliens.
(D) Michael Hart attended the lunch where Enrico Fermi discussed interstellar travel.
The correct answer is (B) because after the student asks about Fermi’s paradox, the professor explains that “the Fermi paradox is a myth. It is not Fermi’s … It was Michael Hart who proposed in 1975 that if intelligent aliens exist, they would inevitably explore and colonize the entire galaxy. Since that hasn’t happened, he concluded that humans must be the only intelligent life in our galaxy, and that attempting to find intelligent life is a waste of time.”
(A) is incorrect because it contradicts the lecture, which said that “Enrico Fermi … never published any opinion regarding the existence of extraterrestrials.”
(C) is incorrect because the passage does not state directly or indirectly that Fermi influenced Hart.
(D) is incorrect because it contradicts the lecture, which named all of the people at the lunch, and Hart was not one of them.
3. Notes from the Test Developer
Connecting Content questions are the rarest type of TOEFL Listening questions. The table/chart style questions are pretty straightforward, but they only work with passages that present comparable or definable information of different kinds. The other kind of questions are very similar to inference, but they ask test takers to infer a relationship that was indirectly stated.
All of the answer choices must contain words that were used in the lecture or conversation, or are related to those terms, otherwise they do not make effective distractors. Some of them will directly contradict the passage, while others will infer logical relationships that are not supported by the passage like answer choice (C) in the example. It is entirely possible that Hart was influenced by Fermi, but there is nothing contained in the passage that suggests that was the case.
4. Advice to Test Takers
I would advise test takers to do a few things when they need to solve a Connecting Content question.
First, keep in mind that you need to identify the relationships between ideas and information in the lecture that may or may not be directly stated. So you must pay attention to not only what information is presented, but also how it directly and indirectly relates to other information.
Second, if you are unsure which answer is correct, use the process of elimination. Some answer choices may be more obviously wrong than others and easier to rule out. So, look for any answers that present incorrect information or infer a relationship that is incompatible with what you remember.
Finally, the distractors are meant to sound like plausible relationships, so you may be unable to decide between two answer choices. In that case, guess. Remember that you do not get points deducted for wrong answers in TOEFL. This is true for all questions so if you don’t know the answer or if you don’t have time to actually solve the question, guess. In addition, you will only get to hear the lecture or conversation once, but the answers will be presented in the talk in the same order as the questions. Therefore, I recommend that you read the questions before the recording starts and answer the questions as you listen to the lecture or conversation.