Deconstructing TOEFL iBT Listening (1st Part)

The Listening section measures your ability to understand spoken English. In academic settings, students must be able to listen to lectures and conversations. Academic listening is typically done for one of the three following purposes:

  1. Listening for basic comprehension

Comprehend the main idea, major points, and important details related to the main idea (Note: comprehension of all details is not necessary.)

  1. Listening for pragmatic understanding
  • Recognize a speaker’s attitude and degree of certainty
  • Recognize a speaker’s function or purpose
  1. Connecting and synthesizing information
  • Recognize the organization of information presented
  • Understand the relationships between ideas presented (for example, compare/contrast, cause/effect, or steps in a process)
  • Make inferences and draw conclusions based on what is implied in the material
  • Make connections among pieces of information in a conversation or lecture
  • Recognize topic changes (for example, digressions and aside statements) in lectures and conversations, and recognize introductions and conclusions in lectures


  • Note taking is allowed. After testing, notes are collected and destroyed before you leave the test center for test security purposes.
  • A multiple-choice question measures understanding of a speaker’s attitude, degree of certainty, or purpose. These questions require you to listen for voice tones and other cues and determine how speakers feel about the topic they are discussing.
  • In some questions, a portion of the lecture or conversation is replayed so you do not need to rely on memory of what was said.
  • In the replay format, you listen to part of the conversation or lecture again and then answer a question. Sometimes the question repeats a portion of the listening material again, as indicated by the headphones icon in the example on page 16.
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