1. Information about Organization Questions

TOEFL Listening Organization questions ask test takers to explain how information was presented in the lecture or conversation. There are usually 1 or 2 per passage. They may ask about the overall organization of the passage, the relationship between two parts of the lecture, or why a particular thing was mentioned.

The first two kinds are rarely (if ever) seen in conversations, but the third type is pretty common in them. The entire lecture may be organized in many ways like chronological order, levels of complexity, likelihood, comparison, and general to specific.

The second type will specifically refer to two smaller parts of the lecture and how they are related to each other. The third type usually names a particular word or phrase in the passage that is included in the question, although they may also replay a portion and ask about why the professor made that statement.

Organization questions are easy to recognize because they are usually written as follows:

  • How does the professor discuss X?
  • How does the professor explain X about Y?
  • Why does the professor mention/discuss X?
  • Why does the professor say this:

The answer choices for the third type of question often start with infinitives (To explain, to illustrate, to show, etc.) but not always.

2. TOEFL Listening Organization Question Example

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

Female Student

Professor, did people actually call it that—the Amber Road?


Ah, as a matter of fact, no, they did not. The term was coined by archaeologist Jose Maria de Navarro of Cambridge University in the 1920s. Just like the much more famous Silk Road of Asia, which was actually named that in 1877 by German geographer Ferdinand von Richthofen. The Amber Road was not a single cohesive route, but an interconnected network of smaller trade routes that formed a central core that we now refer to as a road.


Q. Why does the professor talk about the “Silk Road”?

(A) To show the extent of the amber trade

(B) To provide an example of a famous trade route

(C) To explain how trade routes are named

(D) To illustrate how trade routes develop

The correct answer is (C) because the professor explains how the term “Amber Road” is a modern invention and the people that used the route didn’t call it that, much like the “Silk Road”, which was also named by a scholar centuries later.

(A) is incorrect because the professor explained the extent of the Amber Road in detail before the student asked about the name.

(B) is incorrect because it contradicts the lecture.

(D) is incorrect because the professor explained how trade routes develop at the beginning of the lecture.

3. Notes from the Test Developer

Organization questions are fairly easy to write, but they can be difficult to answer. The third type of questions (Why did the professor mention/discuss X?) are by far the most common. Everything that is mentioned in a lecture is there for a reason, so any specific examples that a professor uses can be used to make questions. The professor may have intended to discuss something from the beginning, he may go on a tangent, or a student may ask a question (like the above example).

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 relationships that are not supported by the passage. They may also refer to other parts of the lecture that are not related to the subject of the question like answer choices (A) and (D) in the example. These ideas were discussed in the lecture, but not with regard to the Silk Road.

4. Advice to Test Takers

I would advise test takers to do a few things when they need to solve an Organization question. First, keep in mind that you need to determine the correct answer based on how and why information was presented by the speaker. So you must pay attention to not only what information is presented, but also the reasons why it was presented in the way that it was.

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 state a relationship that is incompatible with what you remember.

Finally, the distractors are meant to sound like plausible relationships between information, 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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