The TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) listening test involves a 5-minute-long lecture on a variety of subjects and topics. In The Official Guide to the TOEFL Test, it states the aim of the listening section is to test whether you can get the important details right, not all the details right.

My question is: How do I discern important details from unimportant ones in the TOEFL listening test? To be more specific, What are the logic traits or language context of important details?

For example, whenever the professor refers to previous knowledge on a certain topic, details are not important, because the questions are usually involved with what the professor implies by mentioning previous knowledge, or the rhetorical meaning of it.

  • It does appear that the question is about a practical problem encountered while learning English, and thus on-topic at ELL. It's not on-topic at ELU. Nov 8, 2014 at 9:26
  • Learning how to summarize and/or take notes should get you on the right track. Nov 8, 2014 at 10:22
  • Listen for differences in intonation. Teachers (anyone explaining something) will usually place some kind of tonal emphasis on facts they consider important or salient.
    – TimR
    Nov 8, 2014 at 11:13

1 Answer 1


I think that practice is the best way to get comfortable with the test. The ETS has some free test preparation tools available (scroll to the bottom of the page).

As far as being able to detect important details, I think that you would use the same skills that you would use to take notes on a lecture in your native language (although it will be understandably more difficult in English). In general, there are some clues to what may be important in a lecture:

  • Repeated ideas
  • Emphasis by tone or by the amount of time spent on an idea
  • Word signals like:
    first, second, finally that imply a list
    conclusion, reason for, as a result that imply cause and effect
    on the other hand, similar, different that imply a comparison or contrast

A good source of lectures to practice listening to might be TED talks by native American or British English speakers because they are usually high quality lectures, they are a reasonable length, they cover a diverse range of topics so that you may be able to find something that is interesting to you, and they include transcripts. You may want to avoid looking at the videos as you are listening so that you will not be biased by visual cues.

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