toefl guide

8 TOEFL Listening Question Types

James Liu October 12th, 2021

The listening section can be the most daunting section of the TOEFL test. The entire listening section will take you between 60 - 90 minutes to complete. You'll have to listen to several-minute long recordings and then answer questions on specific information mentioned in the recording. It not only tests your listening skills but also your ability to take notes and stay focused. No wonder many TOEFL students feel intimidated by the listening section. However, TOEFL Listening is actually one of the more straightforward sections of the TOEFL test. Knowing what to expect will make it a lot easier to do well on this section on test day. One of the things you need to know is 8 TOEFL listening question types. 

This article will look at 8 types of questions that appear in the TOEFL listening test. Once you know these question types, you will be much better prepared to get a high score. Here is a quick run-down of each question type you will encounter.

Detail Question


The detail question is often asked following a lecture, though is sometimes asked following a conversation, as well. The question asks why a minor detail is mentioned in the talk. This detail is often an example provided in the lecture. This question can be difficult because you can be asked any detail about the listening, even minor ones. It can be tough to remember every small detail while listening, but with enough practice, your memory will improve and so will your ability to hear and note down each detail efficiently. Here is an example of a detail question.

Question: Why does the professor mention that coral reefs support more than 4,000 species of fish?

  1. To find out what students know about tropical fish
  2. To contrast two types of ocean environments
  3. To imply that there may be species in the Southern Ocean that have not been discovered yet
  4. To imply that there may be fossil evidence of coral reefs in the Southern Ocean.

Inference Question


An Inference question requires you to understand an indirect meaning of a sentence stated in a lecture. This type of question requires you to look further than the surface and literal meaning of the speech, ideas, or sentences to find the correct answer. You can recognize inference questions because they use phrases like "What does the professor imply…?" or "What can be inferred…?". A little confused? This one is hard to understand at first. Let's start by taking a look at the example question below.

Question: What does the professor imply about the experience of mimicking the migration of the zooplankton?

  1. The tides of a large body of water like an ocean certainly impact the migration of the zooplankton
  2. It was difficult to see any movement created by the organisms in the tank, and therefore it is assumed that there would be little movement created in an ocean by similar organisms
  3. If eddies formed in a small tank with a much smaller number of organisms, then it is highly likely that the same would be true in an ocean with billions of organisms.
  4. There is not much validity about the experiment conducted in the lab so the results are flawed.

Attitude Question


The attitude question asks about the intention and attitude of the speaker when he/she talks about a specific detail. In other words, this question is about WHY the speaker mentions the detail. This question shows you details in the prompt, but does not actually ask about it. It can be tricky, but the most important technique to getting this question right is to look further than the surface. Here is an example.

Question: What is the student's attitude toward the Jazz group?

  1. She fears they haven't practiced enough
  2. She feels they might have deceived her
  3. She wants them to work together on a project
  4. She likes how they resolved their acoustical and sound issue

Function Question


The function question won't ask you what does the listening mean like other questions, but it asks you why the speaker says what he says. Many times, the speaker uses slang, idioms, or says things that are not directly relevant to what the question asks. Your job is to figure out what those seem-to-be-irrelevant information do in the whole dialogue or talk. Here is an example.

Listen again to part of the lecture. Then, answer the following question.

Question: Why does the professor say this? 

  1. To suggest that the citizens of the United States haven't changed much over time.
  2. To motivate the students to learn more about this particular time period.
  3. To point out why Emerson's essay has lost some of its relevance.
  4. To provide background for the concept she is explaining.

Gist-content Question


Gist-content questions ask you to identify the main topic or idea of the listening conversation or lecture. You can recognize gist-content questions because they use phrases like "mainly about", "mainly discussing". Here is an example.

Question: What are the main things about the Nightcap Oak that the professor discusses? Select two answers. 

  1. Factors about the size of the area where it grows.
  2. Its population over the last few hundred years.
  3. What can be done to ensure its survival.
  4. Why it hasn’t changed much over the last one hundred million years

Gist-Purpose Question

The gist of something is the main point or key idea. Gist-purpose questions ask you to identify what the main purpose of the conversation or lecture is. The purpose question often looks for the overall purpose of the dialogue or why the dialogue happens in the first place, but not any specific detail. You should only focus on the big picture of the dialogue for this question. Here is an example.

Question: Why did the student go to see the librarian? 

  1. In order to sign up for a seminar about using electronic sources for research
  2. To inform her that a journal is missing from the reference area
  3. To inquire about how to check out journal articles
  4. To get help looking for resources for a class paper.

Connecting-content Question


Connecting content questions ask you to show understanding of the relationships among ideas in a lecture and may require you to fill in a chart or table. This is one of the very few multiple choices listening questions. If there are three columns, the question is worth two points instead of one. The question can ask you to categorize answer options into categories or put the options in a specific order. Here is an example.

Question: Indicate whether each of the following activities describes a displacement activity by checking “yes” or “no”.

Instead of attacking the enemy, an animal attacks another object.  
During its mating ritual, an animal suddenly leaves or flies away  
When a predator confronts it, an animal falls asleep instead of eating its food  
After preening itself, an animal drinks water.  

Organization Question


Organization questions ask you to understand how the details and information are organized in the talk or lecture. The most typical question is ‘how is the lecture/talk organized?’ In order to answer this question correctly, you need to understand the organization of the lecture and the main theme and purpose of the talk or lecture. Knowing only the organization of the lecture may not be enough to answer it correctly. 

Question: How does the professor organize his lecture on blue jeans?

  1. In a sequence to explain the various methods of producing this faded and worn look of jeans
  2. Through introducing an abstract category like the idea of stone-washing to a specific example of how this is done
  3. By creating a question and answer format to involve the students in the topic of blue jeans
  4. With explaining the development of different kinds of pants and their impact on the popularity of blue jeans today

Final thoughts

There are over 8 different types of questions on the listening test. The more you understand each question type, the more likely you are to recognize an answer during the listening. Our comprehensive lessons will tackle each of these question types in detail. To view them, create a free account and start your 7 day free trial.

It is important to know that completing all those listening question type lessons won't help you get a high score on TOEFL listening. It takes a lot of practice to master listening skills and know how to answer different question types' questions, which is why we have created over 100 TOEFL listening practices for you. You can go to our TOEFL QUESTIONS section on our TOEFL APP at anytime to start practicing. 


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