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Listening Questions Answering Tips, Strategies and Practice Test
TOEFL Listening Question Types
Basic Comprehension questions
Pragmatic Understanding questions
Connecting Information questions
Basic Comprehension Questions
Basic comprehension of the lecture or conversation is tested in three ways: with Gist-content, Gist-purpose, and Detail questions.
Type 1: Gist-content Questions
Understanding the gist of a lecture or conversation means understanding the general topic or main idea. The gist of the lecture or conversation may be expressed explicitly or implicitly. Questions that test understanding the gist of a lecture or conversation may require you to generalize or synthesize information from what you hear.
How to Recognize Gist-content Questions
Gist-content questions are typically phrased as follows:
Tips for Gist-content Questions
Type 2: Gist-purpose Questions
Some gist questions focus on the purpose of the conversation or lecture rather than on the content. This type of question will more likely occur with conversations, but Gist-purpose questions may also occasionally be asked about lectures.
How to Recognize Gist-purpose Questions
Gist-purpose questions are typically phrased as follows:
Tips for Gist-purpose Questions
Type 3: Detail Questions
Detail questions require you to understand and remember explicit details or facts from a lecture or conversation. These details are typically related, directly or indirectly, to the gist of the conversation or lecture, by providing elaboration, examples, or other support. In some cases where there is a long digression that is not clearly related to the main idea, you may be asked about some details of the digression.
How to Recognize Detail Questions
Detail questions are typically phrased as follows:
Tips for Detail Questions
Pragmatic Understanding Questions
Pragmatic Understanding questions test understanding of certain features of spoken English that go beyond basic comprehension. In general, these types of questions test how well you understand the function of an utterance or the stance, or attitude, that the speaker expresses. In most instances, Pragmatic Understanding questions will test parts of the conversation or lecture where a speaker’s purpose or attitude is not expressed directly. In these cases, what is directly stated—the surface expression—will not be an exact match of the statement’s function or purpose.
What people say is often intended to be understood on a level that lies beyond or beneath the surface expression. To use an often-cited example, the sentence “It sure is cold in here” can be understood literally as a statement of fact about the temperature of a room. But suppose the speaker is, say, a guest in your home, who is also shivering and glancing at an open window. In that case, what your guest may really mean is that he wants you to close the open window. In this example, the function of the speaker’s statement—getting you to close the window—lies beneath the surface expression. Functions that often lie beneath the surface expression include directing, recommending, complaining, accepting, agreeing, narrating, questioning, and others.
Understanding meaning within the context of an entire lecture or conversation is critical in instances where the speaker’s stance is involved. Is a given statement intended to be taken as fact or opinion? How certain is the speaker of the information she is reporting? Is the speaker conveying certain feelings or attitudes about some person or thing or event? As above, these feelings or attitudes may lie beneath the surface expression. Thus they can easily go unrecognized or be misunderstood by nonnative speakers. Some Pragmatic Understanding questions involve a replay of part of the lecture or conversation in order to focus your attention on the relevant portion. There are two types of Pragmatic Understanding questions: Understanding the Function of What Is Said questions and Understanding the Speaker’s Attitude questions.
Type 4: Understanding the Function of What Is Said Questions
The first type of Pragmatic Understanding question tests whether you can understand the function of what is said. This question type often involves listening again to a portion of the lecture or conversation.
How to Recognize Understanding the Function of What Is Said Questions
Understanding the Function of What Is Said questions are typically phrased as follows:
Tip for Understanding the Function of What Is Said Questions
Type 5: Understanding the Speaker’s Attitude Questions
The second type of Pragmatic Understanding question tests whether you understand a speaker’s attitude or opinion. You may be asked a question about the speaker’s feelings, likes and dislikes, or reason for anxiety or amusement. Also included in this category are questions about a speaker’s degree of certainty: Is the speaker referencing a source or giving a personal opinion? Are the facts presented generally accepted or are they disputed? Occasionally, a question will test your ability to detect and understand irony. A speaker is being ironic when the intended meaning is the opposite of what he or she is actually saying. For example, the utterance “That’s just great” can be delivered with an intonation that gives the utterance the meaning “That’s not good at all.” Speakers use irony for a variety of purposes, including emphasizing a point being made, bringing humor to a situation in order to win audience sympathy, or expressing disapproval in an indirect way. Listeners must infer the ironic statement’s real meaning both from clues provided in the context and from the speaker’s intonation.
How to Recognize Understanding the Speaker’s Attitude Questions
Understanding the Speaker’s Attitude questions are typically phrased as follows:
Tip for Understanding the Speaker’s Attitude Questions
Connecting Information Questions
Connecting Information questions require you to make connections between or among pieces of information in the lecture or conversation. Your ability to integrate information from different parts of the lecture or conversation, to make inferences, to draw conclusions, to form generalizations, and to make predictions is tested. To choose the right answer, you will need to be able to identify and explain relationships among ideas and details in a lecture or conversation. These relationships may be explicit or implicit.
There are three types of Connecting Information questions.
Type 6: Understanding Organization Questions
In Understanding Organization questions you may be asked about the overall organization of the lecture, or you may be asked about the relationship between two portions of what you heard. Here are two examples:
The first of these questions asks about the overall organization of information, testing understanding of connections throughout the whole lecture. The second asks about a portion of the lecture, testing understanding of the relationship between two different ideas.
Some Understanding Organization questions may ask you to identify or recognize how one statement functions with respect to surrounding statements. Functions may include indicating or signaling a topic shift, connecting a main topic to a subtopic, providing an introduction or a conclusion, giving an example, starting a digression, or even making a joke.
How to Recognize Understanding Organization Questions
Understanding Organization questions are typically phrased as follows:
Tips for Understanding Organization Questions
Type 7: Connecting Content Questions
Connecting Content questions measure your understanding of the relationships among ideas in a lecture. These relationships may be explicitly stated, or you may have to infer them from the words you hear.
The questions may ask you to organize information in a different way from the way it was presented in the lecture. You might be asked to identify comparisons, cause and effect, or contradiction and agreement. You may also be asked to classify items in categories, identify a sequence of events or steps in a process, or specify relationships among objects along some dimension.
How to Recognize Connecting Content Questions
Connecting Content questions are typically phrased as follows:
Tip for Connecting Content Questions
Questions that require you to fill in a chart or table or put events in order fall into this category. As you listen to the lectures accompanying this study guide, pay attention to the way you format your notes. Clearly identifying terms and their definitions as well as steps in a process will help you answer questions of this type.
Type 8: Making Inferences Questions
The final type of Connecting Information question is Making Inferences questions. In this kind of question you usually have to reach a conclusion based on facts presented in the lecture or conversation.
How to Recognize Making Inferences Questions
Making Inferences questions are typically phrased as follows:
Tip for Making Inferences Questions
In some cases, answering this kind of question correctly means adding up details from the lecture or conversation to reach a conclusion. In other cases, the professor may imply something without directly stating it. In most cases the answer you choose will use vocabulary not found in the lecture or conversation.
Strategies for Preparing for the Listening Section
How to Sharpen Your Listening Skills
Listening is one of the most important skills necessary for success on the TOEFL test and in academics in general. The ability to listen and understand is tested in three out of four sections of the TOEFL iBT test.
The best way to improve your listening skills is to listen frequently to many different types of material in various subject areas (sciences, social sciences, arts, business, and others).
The TOEFL iBT ® Listening section is designed to measure your ability to understand conversations and lectures in English. It includes listening for: basic comprehension. pragmatic understanding (speaker’s attitude and degree of certainty) and connecting and synthesizing information.
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