toefl guide

Signal Words in TOEFL Listening

Madison Oster June 29th, 2023

When you are listening to a lecture in the TOEFL listening section, you don’t want to pay the same amount of attention to every single word.  A better strategy is to listen selectively, paying more attention to the important words. So what words should you pay extra attention to? The answer is signal words. Signal words give clues as to the direction of the lecture and will help you understand the organization of the talk, connections between ideas, and the importance of ideas.

Signal words can be simple like “Okay”, “Well”, “Now”, “But”, and “So”.

  • “Okay” and “Now” are usually used to transition into a different topic or a different key point.
  • “Well” is usually used before answering a question.
  • “But” and "So" are usually followed by a key point.

Look at the following TOEFL listening transcripts:

Indeed, local variations exist, which is why folktales are considered communal. When we say communal, we mean that these tales mirror the characteristics and worries of a specific community at a given time. Essentially, the same tale could be recounted in different communities, but certain elements of the tale would be adjusted to suit each community. It’s important to note that the overall narrative remains unchanged, serving as the core of the story. However, elements such as the setting or characters may be altered to cater to each audience. Okay. Fairy tales are prevalent in numerous cultures, but h…how do they distinguish themselves from folk tales? Firstly, let’s address the question: What exactly is a fairy tale? It’s important to note that the definition extends beyond “a story involving fairies'' since only a few fairy tales actually feature these diminutive magical beings. So, what other characteristics can we attribute to fairy tales? Mary.


Today, I’d like to discuss a method that helps us determine the age of land formations. I’ll be focusing on a specific dating technique. Why is this important? Well, accurate dating plays a crucial role in conducting thorough analysis. Essentially, if we aim to understand the formation of a land feature, the initial piece of information we need is its age. It serves as a fundamental starting point. Um… Let’s consider the Grand Canyon as an example. Now, as geologists, we previously possessed a fairly accurate understanding of the formation of the Grand Canyon located in the southwestern United States. Our knowledge indicated that it originated from sandstone that underwent the process of solidification approximately 150 to 300 million years ago. Prior to solidification, it existed as ordinary sand, constituting a substantial desert landscape.

Surprisingly, Uranium-Lead Dating has yielded some unexpected findings. Two geologists made a remarkable discovery: nearly half of the sand found in the Grand Canyon was originally part of the Appalachian Mountains, which is located thousands of kilometers to the east. This revelation seems quite extraordinary, doesn’t it? Naturally, the question arises as to how this sand managed to travel such a considerable distance to the west. According to the theory, extensive rivers and wind played a significant role in carrying the sand westward, where it eventually mixed with the existing sand. This discovery was truly revolutionary, primarily attributable to the application of Uranium-Lead Dating. Well, in our class, it is commonly understood that we typically examine the type of grains present in sandstone, which refers to the actual particles within the rock, in order to ascertain its origin. Additional approaches involve analyzing the wind or water patterns that transported the grains and determining their direction of flow. Um… However, these conventional methods have their limitations, and they were not employed by the two geologists in question. Instead, they utilized Uranium-Lead Dating, which provided them with a completely different approach to tackle the problem.

Other types of signal words are groups of words:

  • Let’s move on to ...
  • This brings me to my next point, which is….
  • So far we have have been looking at…. Now I’d like to….
  • So now that we've covered…
  • What … is all about is this…

Look at the following TOEFL listening transcripts:

Okay, everyone, let’s proceed with our conversation about alternative energy sources and move on to perhaps the most widely recognized one: solar energy. Essentially, the sun offers the Earth an almost inexhaustible supply of energy on a daily basis. However, the challenge has always been figuring out how to harness this energy source. Can anyone come up with reasons why utilizing solar energy is a complex task?


Now, let’s delve into the ethical theory of Aristotle, another influential ancient Greek philosopher. What the ethical theory of Aristotle is all about is this: he is basically guiding individuals on the path to happiness and uncovering the true nature of happiness itself. Now, have you ever wondered why Aristotle has such a keen interest in human happiness? It goes beyond the mere fact that it is a goal sought by all individuals. However, in order to grasp his perspective, we must first establish a crucial differentiation. Allow me to introduce two technical terms: extrinsic value and intrinsic value.

Okay, so far we have been looking at a few of the major areas of linguistics, such as syntax, phonology, semantics. Now, I’d like to talk about the field of historical linguistics, specifically the practice of comparing multiple languages or different stages of a single language. When undertaking such comparisons, if you observe significant resemblances between the languages, such as shared sounds and corresponding words that bear the same meaning and exhibit similar phonetic qualities.

In addition, there are signal words that give important information for opinion and theory speeches.

  • (opinion) I think, It appears that, It is thought that
  • (theory) In theory, the hypothesis is that

Look at the following TOEFL listening transcripts:

When it comes to wisely allocating your advertising budget, effective decision-making relies heavily on conducting thorough research. Research provides you factual information that helps in determining the appropriate target market and selecting the most suitable media channels, as we previously discussed. Additionally, research helps answer crucial questions such as when to advertise and…and how to secure the best rates. For instance, if you're promoting sports equipment, you might discover that your budget has predominantly been allocated during the holiday season when people are purchasing gifts for one another. In theory, advertising during the holiday season may appear to be an opportune time. However, thorough research might reveal an unexpected finding: customers who purchase sports equipment are less inclined to give it as a holiday gift but prefer to use it personally. In such a scenario, shifting the advertising focus to a different season of the year could yield more favorable outcomes and improved results.

Lately, we have observed a rise in cloud coverage over a specific region of the ocean surrounding Antarctica. This increase primarily consists of extensive low-level clouds, which have the ability to reflect a significant portion of solar energy back into space, resulting in a cooling effect on Earth. The cause behind this amplified cloud cover has been identified as an unusually high concentration of microscopic marine plants. According to the current hypothesis, these microorganisms are believed to release a chemical that interacts with atmospheric oxygen, resulting in the formation of the observed low-level, dense clouds. Well, this discovery holds significant implications, potentially opening doors to weather control. If indeed the microorganisms near Antarctica are responsible for this phenomenon, there might be a possibility of accelerating the process in any way.

Finally, there are signal words that connect ideas

  • reasons (because, since)
  • results (as a result, so, therefore, thus, consequently)
  • examples (for example, such as)
  • comparisons (in contrast, than)
  • an opposing idea (on the other hand, however)
  • another idea (furthermore, moreover, besides)
  • a similar idea (similarly, likewise)
  • restatements of information (in other words, that is)
  • conclusions (in conclusion, in summary)


As you practice with more and more TOEFL listening practice lectures, it’ll become easier to spot signal words and improve your TOEFL score.

Now, in addition to signal words, speaker’s intonation is another important concept to look out for. In the next post, we will talk about how you should listen for speaker’s intonation to get an even higher listening score.


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