The listening section of the TOEFL, much like the reading section, tests your ability to do the kind of listening you would do as a student at an American university. This includes both classroom lectures and conversations with professors and other university staff. Daily listening practice is crucial to develop an “ear” for the English language. Taking classes at an academically-oriented intensive English program is a great way to improve your listening and other English skills. Using English outside of class is also important, from conversation to news broadcasts and even music and TV.
The Internet provides many free resources for listening practice described in this post. Also, check out iTunes U for lots of free audio and video lectures from American and British universities including Stanford, Yale, MIT, Oxford, and UC Berkeley.
Here are a few things you can do as you listen to prepare for the kinds of questions you will encounter on the TOEFL:
- Continuously work on building your vocabulary to make listening (and everything else) easier, but don’t get “stuck” on an unfamiliar word. Keep listening and you can usually get an idea of the meaning from context.
- Practice taking notes. You can take notes during the listening section of the TOEFL. Learn or develop abbreviations and symbols to help you take notes quickly.
- Focus on understanding organization of a lecture. Listen for main ideas and supporting details. Notice words and phrases that connect and organize information, like “first/second/third”, “for example”, “on the other hand”, and so on. Try to make an outline in your notes as you listen.
- Pay attention to the speaker’s tone. Is he or she serious? Casual? Authoritative? Uncertain? Also consider the speaker’s purpose: To inform? To persuade? To complain? Ask a teacher or a native English speaker for help if these are not clear to you. Some questions will ask about these aspects of speech.
If you are preparing to take the TOEFL, be sure to check out the other posts in IEI’s TOEFL series!