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TOEFL® Listening Question Types

8 Types of TOEFL® Listening Questions

There are 8 types of questions in the Listening section. These types are divided into 3 categories as follows: Basic Comprehension Questions, Pragmatic Understanding Questions, and Connecting Information Questions. We will take a look at each of the three categories and the TOEFL listening question types associated with each.

1. Basic Comprehension Questions

 - Gist-Content
 - Gist-Purpose
 - Detail

2. Pragmatic Understanding Questions

 - Understanding the Function of What Is Said
 - Understanding the Speaker’s Attitude

3. Connecting Information Questions

 - Understanding Organization
 - Connecting Content
 - Making Inferences


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 may require you to generalize or synthesize information from what you hear.

How to Recognize Gist-Content Questions

What problem does the man have?
What are the speakers mainly discussing?
What is the main topic of the lecture?
What is the lecture mainly about?
What aspect of X does the professor mainly discuss?

Tips for Gist-Content Questions

Gist-Content questions ask about the overall content of the listening passage.
Eliminate choices that refer to only small portions of the listening passage.
Use your notes. Decide what overall theme ties the details in your notes together.
Choose the answer that comes closest to describing this overall theme.
Note that for Gist-Content questions the correct answer and the incorrect choices can sometimes be worded more abstractly.

Type 2: Gist-Purpose Questions

Some gist questions focus on the purpose of the conversation 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

Why does the student visit the professor?
Why does the student visit the registrar’s office?
Why did the professor ask to see the student?
Why does the professor explain X?

Tips for Gist-Purpose Questions

Listen for the unifying theme of the conversation.
For example, during a professor’s office hours, a student asks the professor for help with a paper on glaciers.
Their conversation includes facts about glaciers, but the unifying theme of the conversation is that the student needs help writing his paper.
In this conversation the speakers are not attempting to convey a main idea about glaciers.
In Service Encounter conversations, the student is often trying to solve a problem.
Understanding what the student’s problem is and how it will be solved will help you answer the Gist-Purpose question.

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 text, 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

According to the professor, what is one way that X can affect Y?
What is X?
What resulted from the invention of the X?
According to the professor, what is the main problem with the X theory?

Tips for Detail Questions

Refer to your notes as you answer. Remember, you will not be asked about minor points.
Your notes should contain the major details from the conversation or lecture.
Do not choose an answer only because it contains some of the words that were used in the conversation or lecture.
Incorrect responses will often contain words and phrases from the listening passage.
If you are unsure of the correct response, decide which one of the choices is most consistent with the main idea of the conversation or lecture.
Remember that new terminology is often tested in Detail questions.

Pragmatic Understanding Questions

Pragmatic Understanding questions test understanding of certain features of spoken English that go beyond basic comprehension. Generally speaking, 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 speaker’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.
Other functions that often lie beneath surface expression include directing, recommending, complaining, accepting, agreeing, narrating, questioning, and so on.
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 non-native speakers.

Some Pragmatic Understanding questions involve a replay of part of the listening passage in order to focus your attention on the relevant portion of the spoken text.
2 question types test pragmatic understanding:

Understanding the Function of What Is Said questions
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 replaying a portion of the listening passage.

How to Recognize Understanding the Function of What Is Said Questions

What does the professor imply when he says this: (replay)
What can be inferred from the professor’s response to the student? (replay)
What is the purpose of the woman’s response? (replay)
Why does the student say this: (replay)

Tip for Understanding the Function of What Is Said Questions

Remember that the function of what is said may not match what the speaker directly states.

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?

How to Recognize Understanding the Speaker’s Attitude Questions

What can be inferred about the student?
What is the professor’s attitude toward X?
What is the professor’s opinion of X?
What can be inferred about the student when she says this: (replay)
What does the woman mean when she says this: (replay)

Tip for Understanding the Speaker’s Attitude Questions

Learn to pay attention to the speaker’s tone of voice.
Does the speaker sound apologetic? Confused? Enthusiastic?
The speaker’s tone can help you answer this kind of question.

Connecting Information Questions

Information questions require you to make connections between or among pieces of information in the text.
Your ability to integrate information from different parts of the listening passage,
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 text.
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 listening passage,
or you may be asked about the relationship between two portions of the listening passage. Here are 2 examples:

How does the professor organize the information that she presents to the class? 

In the order in which the events occurred

How does the professor clarify the points he makes about Mexico?

By comparing Mexico to a neighboring country

The first of these questions asks about the overall organization of information, testing understanding of connections throughout the whole listening passage.
The second asks about a portion of the passage, 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 text.
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

How does the professor organize the information about X?
How is the discussion organized?
Why does the professor discuss X?
Why does the professor mention X?

Tips for Understanding Organization Questions

Questions that ask about the overall organization of the passage are more likely to be found after lectures than after conversations.
Refer to your notes to answer these questions.


It may not have been apparent from the start that the professor organized the information (for example) chronologically, or from least to most complex, or in some other way.
Pay attention to the comparisons made by the professor.
When the professor mentions something that is off-topic, you should ask yourself what point the professor is making.

Type 7: Connecting Content Questions

Connecting Content questions measure your understanding of the relationships among ideas in a text.
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 listening passage.
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.
You may have to predict an outcome, draw a logical conclusion, extrapolate some additional information,
infer a cause-and-effect relationship, or specify some particular sequence of events.

How to Recognize Connecting Content Questions

What is the likely outcome of doing procedure X before procedure Y?
What can be inferred about X?
What does the professor imply about X?

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.
In Connecting Content questions you will have to use information from more than one place in the listening passage.

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 listening passage.

How to Recognize Making Inferences Questions

What does the professor imply about X?
What will the student probably do next?
What can be inferred about X?
What does the professor imply when he says this: (replay)

Tip for Making Inferences Questions

In some cases, answering this kind of question correctly means adding up details from the passage 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 listening passage.