TOEFL Listening Section: Lecture Strategies

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  • 0:01 TOEFL Lectures
  • 0:47 Listening
  • 1:54 Taking Notes
  • 3:35 The Questions
  • 5:34 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Elizabeth Foster

Elizabeth has been involved with tutoring since high school and has a B.A. in Classics.

Wondering how to get through the lecture passages on the TOEFL Listening test? We're here to help with strategy tips and hints - watch this lesson to learn how it's done.

TOEFL Lectures

On the TOEFL Listening test, you'll get two kinds of listening passages, but in this lesson, we're just focusing on one type: the lecture passages. Lecture passages re-create what you might hear in a classroom, either a professor giving a lecture or a conversation between a professor and a group of students.

The TOEFL will have between four and six lecture passages with six questions on each. Each passage is between three and five minutes long. Like all listening passages, lecture passages can be hard because they move quickly. But here's how to listen effectively, take notes, and generally make the lecture passages work for you.


The first step to good strategy on a lecture passage is how you approach the passage itself. This has two parts: listening and taking notes. On the TOEFL, you'll only hear the passage; you won't be able to read a transcript, so everything depends on how well you can listen. Here's how to listen strategically:

  • Listen for the main point. Don't stop to worry over one individual word while the passage moves on without you! It's important to understand what the overall idea of a conversation is.
  • Pay attention to signal words and transitions. Transition words, like 'next' or 'finally,' can help you figure out where you are in the passage.
  • Listen to intonation as well as words. Even if you don't know what a word means, the tone of the speaker's voice can help you figure out the big picture. For example, English speakers usually raise their voice at the end of a question, like this: 'Did you bring the macaroni?' (Please see the video at 01:53 to hear this question.)

Taking Notes

While you're listening, you'll also be taking notes. You'll be able to use these notes as you answer the questions. Here's how to take notes effectively:

  • Don't write down every word. Your pencil is not as fast as the speakers. You'll just end up falling behind and writing down one part of the passage while you're listening to another, which can be confusing. Instead…
  • Write down key names, places, events, and main points. Write only as much as you need to jog your memory later. For example, if a person in the dialog spends three or four sentences talking about how furious she is that she got a C on her paper, you could just write down 'student - angry - C.'
  • For multiple people, try a column chart. If you have a lecture passage with multiple speakers, it helps to make a chart that looks something like this:

Example of a chart to use while taking notes
chart with four columns labeling speakers

Then, you can write down what each person says or other important details about them in an appropriate column. Just from reading this chart, you can almost reconstruct the whole conversation in just a few words and symbols of notes.

Write your notes however you like. It's perfectly fine to use smiley faces, abbreviations, diagrams, text speak, pictures, or slang in your notes; you won't be graded on the notes and nobody else will ever see them. They're only there to help you, so write down the information in a way that makes sense to you.

The Questions

Listening effectively and taking good notes is really half the battle on these passages. If you do that, you'll be well-prepared for the questions to follow. You'll answer three types of questions. In order from easiest to most difficult, they are:

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