By Josh MacPherson, Head Instructor at TST Prep
You can’t seem to improve your TOEFL Listening test scores.
You have read the books, and memorized all the best TOEFL strategies, but still your score hasn’t improved.
If you are like most students, the problem is simple: You are focusing too much on TOEFL test-taking strategies.
After learning about the test and taking it multiple times with little to no improvement, it is time to adjust your study habits. This is going to be a challenge because your mindset needs to switch. No longer will you be preparing for the TOEFL, instead, you will be building your listening comprehension.
Unfortunately, my students and I had to learn this the hard way. As the head instructor at TST Prep, an online TOEFL school, I have had the privilege of working with hundreds of students over the years. And while many have achieved their desired score, it pains me to admit this, but, others have failed to improve.
One student, Sara, comes to mind.
“What was wrong?” I asked myself.
- She learned the best TOEFL strategies
- She studied for almost two hours a day
- She knew how to take notes and listen at the same time
And still, Sara couldn’t earn higher than a 20 in the TOEFL Listening section.
I turned to the research and changed my approach to incorporate a more holistic method that could address students like Sara who simply did not have the comprehension needed to improve her TOEFL score.
Keep in mind that this approach is primarily for students who need to improve their score by three or more points. Many students simply need the traditional approach with TOEFL practice and strategy. If this is the case, check out TST Prep’s TOEFL Emergency Course, which can prepare you for everything you need to know about the TOEFL in two days (seriously!). You can learn more here.
For those of you who need to improve your TOEFL Listening score by three or more points, here are four approaches to building your listening comprehension:
Method #1: Vary your practice with extensive and intensive listening
Most ELT educators are aware of the power of extensive reading. The idea behind extensive reading is simple: Students should read easy and enjoyable text in which they comprehend up to 98% of the vocabulary. The more you read, the more vocabulary you see. If the text is easy and you understand almost all of it, you will reinforce what you know and discover what you do not know.
Students can apply the same principle to listening. Find materials you enjoy listening to and understand up to 90% of what is being said. This may be difficult with authentic native-English materials, like Hollywood movies or situation comedies. However, you can listen along with graded readers or try some of the listening activities at Elllo English.
Your extensive, enjoyable listening practice should be coupled with the more intensive academic TOEFL listening.
Still, listening to 5-minute academic lectures, like in the TOEFL, is not the ideal way to practice, which brings us to method #2.
Method #2: Break down long audio passages into shorter ones
This was touched upon in the How to Improve Your TOEFL Reading article, but let me reiterate the point here.
The passages in both the reading and listening sections of the TOEFL are not ideal for building listening comprehension. The lectures are five minutes long! I don’t even listen to my mother speak for five minutes straight.
It would be much better if you focused on shorter passages that last less than two minutes. Remember, your goal is to improve overall listening comprehension, not to answer TOEFL questions. Shorter passages of about 90 seconds still contain around 150-200 words, which is more than enough to analyze and study. In these short passages, you will be able to pinpoint the pronunciation patterns you struggle to understand and devise ways to improve upon those weaknesses.
Where can you find 2-minute audio passages of academic lectures?
Check out TST Prep’s library of more than 100 academic lectures, all less than two minutes long.
Method #3: Listen actively
Before you listen to any passage, have a goal in mind.
Most students do not have a goal in mind. They listen to passages like passengers in a car, sitting back and waiting to arrive. Active listeners are drivers. They do not control the road (passage), but they can steer the vehicle and find the fastest possible route to their destination.
Listen the way you drive, pay attention and have a goal in mind. Active listening can get quite complicated, so let’s simplify it by having one clear mission before every passage. Your mission is to answer this one question:
How can I explain this topic in a clear and simple way to a six-year-old?
In other words, imagine your goal is to find the main idea of the passage and simplify it for a child. Most students try to understand each and every detail of the passage and miss the main idea. Understanding the main idea of the passage will help you answer questions and explain the topic to others.
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