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TOEFL Tip #115: Listen Carefully

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on August 19, 2011

Today’s post is the third in our series about the results of Strictly English’s research on the TOEFL exam, conducted this summer. Today’s post focuses on the Listening section. Be sure to check out our posts on the Speaking and Reading sections.

Because Strictly English fully respects ETS’s copyright protection, the examples below have been fabricated in order to illustrate the issues we’d like to discuss from our research. This material is not quoted from the TOEFL exam.

Last week’s post about the Reading section showed that students can use specific strategies to read only parts of the passage, yet still answer the questions correctly and efficiently. This approach helps students focus on what the questions are specifically asking, rather than get distracted by all of the details in the passage.

Our researcher, an American and a native speaker of English, used this same technique with the Listening section. He did not listen to any of the spoken passages or conversations; he only listened to the questions. This resulted in a score of 16! (When this researcher skipped all of the Reading passages and only answered the questions, he got a 26).

Why the big difference in scores between the Reading and Listening, when using the same technique? Our research suggests that the Listening section actually seems to build out two possible scenarios throughout the questions for a given listening passage.

What do we mean by “two scenarios”? The FIRST question will ask, “Why did the man go to the doctor’s office?” In typical standardized test design, two answers will be silly and obviously incorrect, but the remaining two both seem possible: He needed a prescription filled. He was coming in for a follow up appointment. From here, all of the remaining questions return to these same two possibilities. So the next question might be, “What was the man’s problem when he arrived?” Again, two answers are easily eliminated, and the remaining two are: He forgot his wallet and didn’t have a credit card to pay for the prescription. He forgot his wallet and didn’t have his insurance card to give to the receptionist. If you chose “He needed a prescription filled” for question one (which is wrong), then you’re very likely to continue on that wrong path in question two and incorrectly pick, “He forgot his wallet and didn’t have a credit card to pay for the prescription.” You can see how this might lead to giving incorrect answers for all of the questions related to this particular listening passage.

It’s good to keep in mind that the Listening is the same as the Reading in this respect – an answer for one question can help you pick the next answer for another question. The crucial difference for the Listening passage is that this only benefits you IF YOU GOT THE FIRST QUESTION CORRECT. While the Reading doesn’t seem to have a coherent, consistent, counter narrative that runs through all the questions, the Listening does. This can really trip you up.

Our research suggests that your listening skills need to be sharp in order to do well on this section. If you listen carefully and can take good notes on the passage, you should be able to answer the first question correctly. Since the subsequent questions build on that first one, you will be in a good position to do well on each passage.


Categories: Listening,Reading

3 comments so far. Leave a comment.

  1. StrictlyEnglish | Blog » Vary Your Vocabulary

    wrote on August 29, 2011 at 4:24 am

    [...] post focuses on the Writing section. Be sure to check out our posts on the Speaking, Reading, and Listening [...]

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    wrote on September 30, 2011 at 8:58 am

    [...] recently discussed some research conducted by Strictly English this summer which suggests that students need to have [...]

  3. StrictlyEnglish | Blog » TOEFL Tip #135: The Year In Review

    wrote on February 3, 2012 at 9:38 am

    [...] about the four sections of the TOEFL exam. In particular, a four part series on speaking, reading, listening, and writing discussed Strictly English’s recent research and experience on the TOEFL. Several [...]

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