What's Tested on the TOEFL iBT: Listening

What's Tested on the TOEFL iBT Listening Section

The TOEFL iBT Listening Section tests your ability to understand conversations and lectures that are typical of academic interactions on a college campus. In this second section of the TOEFL, you’ll hear three lectures and two conversations that you’ll need to listen to for comprehension, understanding of the speaker’s attitude and degree of certainty, and connecting information. Read on to learn more about what to expect on the TOEFL Listening Section.

[ READ NEXT: What’s Tested on the TOEFL Speaking Section ]

Overview of the TOEFL iBT Listening Section

It takes approximately 36 minutes to complete the TOEFL Listening section. You will hear two conversations and three lectures and answer 5–6 questions after each one. You will hear each conversation or lecture only one time. Answer the questions based on what is stated or implied by the speakers. You may take notes while you listen and use them to answer the questions, but notes will not be graded.

You must answer each question before you can continue to the next question, and you cannot return to previous questions. To complete all questions, you should aim to answer two questions in about one minute. A clock will indicate how much time is remaining. The clock will operate only while you answer questions, not while you are listening to the passage.

TOEFL iBT Listening Passages

Listening passages on the TOEFL iBT consist of conversations and lectures detailed below.

  • Conversations: Generally between a student and a professor or other university staff member, such as a librarian, counselor, administrative assistant in a university office, and so on. The conversations are often of a problem/resolution type, where the student needs assistance from the other person and must explain her needs to obtain the desired assistance. The other person attempts to assist the student. The conversations average two and a half minutes or more.
  •  Lectures: These are on a range of topics, covering history, art, business, science, and social science. The lectures do not assume specialized knowledge in any field, nor do they assume detailed knowledge of United States culture, government, history, and so on. However, a basic, introductory-level understanding of a variety of fields will make the lectures (and readings) much easier to follow. Lectures average four to five minutes.

Markers of authentic speech—such as pauses, digressions, interruptions, hesitations, false starts (e.g., “I’m not . . . I don’t really know the answer to that question”), idioms (e.g., “I don’t have a clue what you mean”), and colloquial language (e.g., “The scientists were sort of surprised by the results”)—are evident in both the conversations and lectures.

How are the TOEFL iBT listening questions formatted?

You use the NEXT button at the top of the screen to move through the Listening section. On choosing an answer for a question, you must click NEXT to proceed to the next question, and you also must confirm each answer choice as your final answer. Before you finalize your answer, you can change your selection, but once you confirm your answer, the next question will begin right away. You cannot return to any question in the Listening section.


Beginning in the TOEFL Listening Section and continuing through to the Writing Section, you wear headphones that have a special microphone for speaking (unless you are testing from home, in which case you will use an internal or external microphone to communicate with the proctor). You have the opportunity to set the volume before the test resumes. After the section begins, a Volume button at the top of the screen can be used to change the volume at any time.


While conversations and lectures play, photos of people in academic settings appear on the screen. These photos are sometimes helpful in providing very limited context to the conversation or lecture. For example, the photo for a conversation between a student and a librarian may show two people in a library with one of them—the librarian—seated behind a reference desk. This offers a small clue to the location of the conversation. However, the photos do not offer any detailed information that is directly relevant to answering the questions. Therefore, do not study the photos; focus on listening instead.


After a conversation or lecture has finished, questions appear on the screen one at a time. Each question is spoken by a narrator as it appears on the screen, although answer choices are not spoken. Some Listening questions require you to listen to an excerpt from the conversation or lecture. In these questions, the narrator says that you must listen to an excerpt, and a sign will appear on the screen as the excerpt plays. A Help button in all sections takes you to a list of topics for which helpful explanations are available.

TOEFL iBT: Types of Listening Questions

Listed below are the 10 types of listening questions you will encounter on the TOEFL.

ReasonA reason question asks you to explain the reason why the speakers are having the conversation.
DetailA detail question asks you to answer a question about a specific point in the conversation or lecture. You will be instructed to choose one answer.
FunctionA function question asks you to understand and interpret meaning that is not directly stated.
Attitude and OpinionAn attitude and opinion question asks you to recognize how the speakers feel or think about the conversation or lecture. Likes or dislikes, confidence, and certainty may also be expressed.
Main IdeaA main idea question asks you to identify the general topic of a lecture or discussion.
OrganizationAn organization question asks you to recognize the way that the professor structures a lecture or discussion, for example, chronological order, steps in a sequence, cause and effect, or comparison or contrast.
DetailsA details question asks you to answer a question about a specific point in a conversation or lecture. You will be instructed to choose 2 or 3 answers.
InferenceAn inference question asks you to draw a logical conclusion based on information in the conversation or lecture. Think of the information as evidence for an idea that is not directly expressed in the passage. This is very similar to the inference question in the Reading Section.
TechniqueA technique question asks you to identify the way a professor makes a point or why a certain point is mentioned.
ConnectionsA connections question asks you to relate ideas in a lecture or discussion by filling in a chart. You will usually be asked to compare, classify, or identify a sequence. Connection questions are not common.

TOEFL iBT Listening Strategies

Review our expert listening strategies to help you succeed on the TOEFL iBT Listening Section.

  • Get Organized

    Before you begin the Listening Section on the official TOEFL, you will have an opportunity to adjust the volume on your headset. Be sure to do it before you dismiss the directions and begin the test. After the test has begun, you may not be able to adjust the volume without missing some of the information in the audio. Since you should already be familiar with the directions for the Listening Section, don’t get distracted. Be ready to hear the first word in the introduction to the first listening passage.

  • Use Visuals

    The photographs and other visuals are there to provide a context for the conversations and lectures. In general, the pictures of people are for orientation to the conversations and lectures, whereas the visuals of objects, art, specimens, maps, charts, blackboards, and drawings support the meaning of the conversations and lectures. Do not focus on the pictures of people. Do focus on the other visuals that appear during the conversations and lectures. They could reappear in a question. When you take the model tests, practice selective attention. Look briefly at the pictures of the professor and the students, but be alert to the other visuals. If you become too involved in looking at the people, you may pay less attention to the audio, and you could miss part of the passage.

  • Concentrate

    Sometimes the environment in which you take TOEFL is not ideal. If the room is small, you may hear a very low hum from another headset, the scratch of pencils on paper when others are taking notes, or even their spoken responses to questions in the Speaking Section. These sounds can be distracting, especially during the Listening Section. The earphones on your headset should suppress most of the noise, but it will be helpful if you have some strategies to help you concentrate. Some students press their earphones more tightly to their ears by holding them with their hands during long listening passages, but this may be clumsy for you when you reach for the mouse to answer questions. Other students train themselves to concentrate in a distracting environment by taking at least one model test in a small room where other people are studying, such as a library or a study lounge in a dormitory. Remember, you may not be able to control the test environment, but you can control your response to it. By keeping your eyes on the screen and the scratch paper and by remaining calm, you will be able to concentrate better. If the testing environment is noisy, don’t get angry and start thinking negatively. Don’t let your emotions interfere with your concentration.