A Brief Overview of the TOEFL iBT Listening Section

The following will serve as an introductory feeler for students who want to have a very basic overview of what is included in the TOEFL iBT listening section.

The listening section of the TOEFL iBT is the second part of the exam, coming directly after the reading section.

It runs for about 60 to 80 minutes, and consists of between 34 to 51 questions.

The listening section of the exam will be presented as audio recordings of lectures, classroom discussions, and conversations.

Once you have listened to the recorded passage, you will then proceed to answer questions about it.

The table below represents a basic structure of the TOEFL iBT exam:


Section Time limit Questions Tasks
Reading 60-80 min. 36-56 Read 3 or 4 passages
Listening 60-90 min. 34-51 Listen to lectures, classroom discussions and conversations
Break 10 min.
Speaking 20 min. 6 tasks Express opinion on topics based on reading and listening tasks
Writing 50 min. 2 tasks Write essay responses based on reading and listening tasks


The Three Parts of the Recorded Passage

When listening to the recorded passage, you will be looking to categorize what you hear into 3 parts, being:

  • the main idea of the passage
  • the major points of the passage
  • any important details that you might hear mentioned in the passage

The Question Types for the Recorded Passage

The following is a run-down of the different kinds of questions you will hear in this section of the exam:

Listening Question Types

  • Basic Comprehension Questions 

For the basic comprehension questions, you will need to show that you have grasped the content of the recorded passage – both the main parts of it, and the details, too.

1.) Gist-Content – In this question type, you will need to understand the general topic or main idea in the recorded passage.

The gist (i.e. main idea) that you need to understand might be expressed explicitly (i.e. clearly, directly, openly) or implicitly (i.e. you have to reflect on the content and try to consider its indirect meaning).

2.) Gist-Purpose – Gist-purpose questions focus on the objective of the conversation rather than on the content.

This type of question will more likely occur with excerpts that are conversation based.

However, some of the recordings for this question type could still be lecture-based

3.) Detail – These types of questions require that you understand and remember specific facts which are related to the gist of the recorded passage.

  • Pragmatic Understanding Questions – These types of questions test your understanding of certain features (i.e. aspects) of spoken English that go beyond basic comprehension. These types of questions test how well you understand the attitude of the speaker and the reason behind their speech.But the speaker’s purpose or attitude will often be expressed indirectly, so pragmatic understanding questions can be rather challenging at times.

When answering these questions, a small part or clip of the listening passage will often be replayed for you.

4.) Understanding the Function of What is Said – The first type of pragmatic understanding question is comprehending the function of what is said. What we mean by function here is the true objective which can be understood from the speaker’s statement, even if it is not directly stated.

You will need to show that you can infer (understand/deduce/conclude) the intended meaning from the recorded passage yourself without it being spelled out for you.

5.) Understanding the Speaker’s Attitude – The second type of pragmatic understandingquestion tests whether you understand a speaker’s attitude or opinion. 

This could deal with the speaker’s feelings, likes and dislikes, or reason for anxiety or amusement.

You might also be asked about a speaker’s degree of certainty.

In other words, you will need to be able to identify and understand the nature of what the speaker is saying and what type of statement is being made.

  • Connecting Information Questions

Connecting Information questions test your ability to integrate information from different parts of the listening passage.

Integrating information means to gather different bits of information and gather them together to draw conclusions from what was said.

You may even need to make a prediction of what would be likely to happen based on these conclusions that can be drawn.

6.) Understanding Organization – In understanding organizationquestions, you may be asked about the overall structure of the listening passage, or you may be asked about the relationship between two different parts of the listening passage.

7.) Connecting Content – Connecting content questions measure your understanding of the relationships among ideas in the passage.

In this question type, you will be asked to identify comparisons, cause and effect relationships, or contradictions and agreements that were mentioned in the passage. You might also be asked to classify items in categories, identify a sequence of events, steps in a process, or show relationships of things from the excerpt.

8.) Making Inferences – Making inferences means to form a conclusion on something after you have thought about it carefully. Therefore, for this type of question, you will be expected to listen carefully to the facts contained in the recorded passage and after careful thought and reflection, come to a correct conclusion about what you have just heard.