1. Information about Inference Questions

TOEFL Listening Inference questions are very similar to the Inference questions in the reading section. They also ask test takers to identify an idea that was suggested by the information presented in the passage but not directly stated. However, the LC Inference questions tend to be somewhat easier to solve because test takers cannot refer back to the text like they can with RC Inference questions.

The information is not directly stated in the lecture or conversation, but the answer choices are more like paraphrasing than educated guesses. There is usually only 1 Inference question per passage. Sometimes the question will include a replay of part of the conversation or lecture. Inference questions are easy to recognize because they are usually written as follows:

  • What can be inferred from the Professor’s discussion of X?
  • What will the student probably do next?
  • What is implied when the speaker says this? (followed by replay)

2. Question Example

Here is an excerpt from a passage and its Inference question:

As he was preparing for the SETI meeting, Dr. Frank Drake developed an equation to estimate the number of civilizations in our Milky Way galaxy that might be able to communicate. Drake’s equation involves several practical factors including: the average rate at which stars form, the number of those stars that have planets, and the average number of those planets that could support life. These are followed by factors that are much more difficult to determine: the percentage of those planets that actually do develop life, the fraction of those that develop intelligent life, the percentage of civilizations that develop radio technology, and the length of time during which those civilizations send radio transmissions into space. Because of these factors, the equation is less of a math problem and more of a thought exercise.

Q. What does the professor imply about Drake’s equation?

(A) It cannot be used to accurately predict the number of civilizations that can communicate with humans.

(B) It relies upon multiple variables so it requires powerful computers to answer.

(C) It can provide a good estimate of the number of worlds that harbor life.

(D) It was intended to encourage conversation at the first SETI meeting.

The correct answer is (A) because the professor said “Because of these factors, the equation is less of a math problem and more of a thought exercise.” This statement implies that the equation cannot actually be solved.

(B) is incorrect because the lecture does not mention computers.

(C) is incorrect because it contradicts the lecture. (

D) is incorrect because Drake’s motivation to create the equation is not mentioned.

3. Notes from the Test Developer

Inference questions are difficult to write and answer because they deal with unstated ideas or opinions of the speaker. When writing lectures or conversations, I try to keep in mind what opinions I have given the speakers about the topic to make it easier to create inference questions.

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 state ideas or opinions that do not match those that were expressed.

I try to make distractors that sound logical but have no support in the passage like the answer (D) in the example. It is entirely possible that Drake had that purpose in mind when he created the equation, but there is nothing in the lecture to indicate that.

4. Advice to Test Takers

I would advise test takers to do a few things when they need to solve an Inference question. First, keep in mind that you need to determine the correct answer based on how the person spoke as well as the information that was provided. A speaker will often put extra emphasis on the words that they are using to make their point.

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 seem to go against the main idea of the passage, they are most likely wrong. Others will make inferences that have no basis in the passage.

Finally, the answer choices are meant to sound like plausible ideas or opinions, 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.


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