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Tips and Strategies for TOEIC Listening

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Tips and Strategies for TOEIC Listening

The following TOEIC listening tips will help you beware of test traps, and direct you to the right answer. Remember, it is possible to get a score of 100% in the listening section. Many students have done so before you, and you can too, so keep your eyes and ears open and your motivation high.


In the first part of the TOEIC listening section, you will see photographs and then be asked to select a sentence which best describes the pictures. The key to doing well is to read each of the four options carefully. The three incorrect answers may have:

  • words that sound similar but are in fact different

  • the right words used inaccurately

  • the right words used in a confusing manner

  • answers that are only partially true

  • words that refer to a context other than the one shown in the picture

  • words related to, but not in the picture

The best way to approach these questions is to scan the picture completely and identify what’s happening, just like a journalist or a spy. Ask yourself: who, what, where, why? Listen for any words that are stressed, as they may hold a clue.


In the second part of the TOEIC listening section, you will be asked a question about almost anything and you need to choose a suitable answer. The trick here is to watch out for:

  • words that sound similar but have different meanings

  • wh- questions – who what, when, where, why, what – that need logical answers

  • questions with question tags

  • yes / no questions which may have no direct yes / no answers

To do well, keep the question clearly in mind as you scan the possible answers. Choose the one that makes the greatest sense. If in doubt, guess. You won’t lose points.


In the third part, you will hear a short dialogue and then be asked a question about what you have heard. You need to use your short-term memory well. The best strategies are to beware of:

  • similar-sounding words

  • inaccurate words

  • confused word order

  • words that change the meaning

  • negative words (hardly, not, etc.)

  • words associated with time (always, never, etc.)

It will help if you can read the question, and possibly even the answers, before you hear the dialogue. Check all the options and don’t choose too quickly. Try and picture the speakers and where they are.

Short Talks

Scan the questions quickly before listening to the talk. This way you will be able to have an idea about the talk. Then listen carefully for the answers to the questions. While listening to the talk, decide on the purpose of the talk and the main information provided in the talk. Then read the questions and mark your answer quickly. Once you have answered the questions, read the questions of the next talk.

Here are some things you need to do and to remember:

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Watch Out for Words That Sound or Are Spelled Almost the Same

The TOEIC will try to trick (fool) you.

There are two things you can do to make sure you don’t get tricked:

(1) Get used to similar sounding words before the test. You can start with a written list of similar words, and then move on to a list of business terms that comes with a recording of the pronunciation for each word.

The TOEIC is easier to take when you’re familiar with many work-related words. If you don’t have much time, you can focus on words that appear the most times in the test.

(2) Rely on words that you know for sure. Use them to figure out the overall meaning of the sentence. Then, infer from the context what the other, less familiar words could mean.

For instance, if the dialogue takes place at a restaurant, the waiter will ask if anyone wants to have apple pie for dessert — not desert (dry sand). (Remember: It’s better to have more for dessert. The dry and hot, sandy desert only has one “s”.)

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Practice Listening

In the listening section, since there’s no body language or visual information to help you, you’ll need to focus on two elements: the tone and the verb tenses. The tone is not the same as the accent.

An accent is the way people talk from a certain place. Remember, the “I” in TOEIC stands for “International,” which means the listening part will have voices with mild American, Australian, British and Canadian accents. The accents vary, but ETS makes sure there are no real extremes.

Tone, on the other hand, is the change in pitch (higher or lower) when someone is speaking. It’s used to express questions, affirmations and negations. Identifying the tone requires practice, but the TOEIC audio won’t try to trick you with tone.

Another hint can be found in verb tenses or changes in tenses. These show that something has happened or is going to happen, and the testers want to make sure you notice it. So, you need to write down anything you hear about the time. For example: yesterday, last week, within a month, tomorrow, in a couple of days, soon, shortly, it won’t be long, etc.

Practice Listening to English Spoken at Conversational Speed

Because the test is timed, and because there are no replays of the audio parts, you’ll have to take notes while listening to the audio.

Don’t try to write down everything you hear! It can’t be done, even by native speakers. Instead, write down as many key words as you understand. Try to figure out the location, the context, the time and dates, the names and the verb tenses (or changes in tenses).

This takes time. We need to be patient and practice listening to conversations in English with different accents.

A great way to practice listening is the Bloomberg live radio. There are a few good benefits to using this as a study tool:

  • The hosts usually speak very clearly.

  • The same advertisements are played over and over again, and they usually contain business-related words.

  • They often announce the time during the radio show, saying “it’s 58 past the hour, now.” Check the time on your computer as you hear this, to see if you heard correctly.

If you’re a bit lost in the beginning, start with videos that you can replay, such as interviews. Don’t be afraid to open the transcript (written text of everything spoken in the video), whose link is below the replay.

Know the Spoken Instructions Before the Test

On the listening test, you’ll hear instructions before a group of questions is played. Knowing these instructions before the actual test means you won’t need to focus on them so much during the test. You can then use that extra bit of time to look at the written questions for the audio part.

Here are the spoken instructions for the listening part:

You will hear ten short talks given by a single speaker. For each short talk, read the three questions and the four answer choices that follow each question. Select the most appropriate answer. Mark your answer by circling (A), (B), (C), or (D). You will hear each short talk only once.”

And then:

Questions 71 through 73 refer to the following report/talk/conversation.”

Finally the conversation or speech begins. The speaker won’t be the same person who told the instructions. This change of speaker means that you need to start taking notes.

There’s always going to be a general question, but the other questions are more specific. This means you need to take good notes, especially when you hear dates, numbers, places, locations, names or professions.

Also, to practice listening, try to watch English movies (without subtitles if you can). It will help you to listen to what the characters are talking about. If it is difficult for you, watch it first with subtitle and then try again without subtitle. You can actually choose a lot of movies from youtube or netflix. Any genre will do, as long as it is English. You may try action, comedy, fiction, horror, documentary, musical, classical, adventure, animation, drama, suspense, etc. Expose yourself not only to movies using American accent but also to other kinds of accent (since TOEIC Listening deals with some kind of accents like British, Australian and Canadian). It aids you to familiarize them and to be used to listen to them.

Another way to listen is to resort listening to English music. Don’t just listen to music in your own language. English songs are nice and good to hear. You can also select from different song genres. You can have pop, rock, rhythm and blues, classical, jazz, reggae, country music, musical theater, hip hop music, etc. When it talks about singers, there are many out there. Listen to them and listen starting today. Game?

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Christine is originally from Bohol. Her interests are on action movies, political issues, environmental issues, weird facts, history, as well as basketball (especially NBA). She's also into writing short poems. At some times, she's introvert but you can actually talk to her.

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