10 Tips for Successful TOEIC Listening and Reading Preparation
The best way to start is to download the TOEIC Examinee Handbook and try to read it up to page 7. Then stop! (Otherwise you’ll accidentally read printed
transcripts of the audio questions of the online sample test provided by ETS).
Then, take the sample test from the ETS site to evaluate both your listening and reading skills. Then, take a rest.
After 1-2 days, take a second test of 45 TOEIC training questions that’s online for free.
Compare the results between these two tests. Did you do better the second time?
Congratulations! We’ll see how that’s even possible in tip #2.
If you didn’t improve between the practices, don’t worry — we have ways (tips #3 and #4) to help everyone get better.
In any case, make sure you check all commented answers that show up once you finish the45 TOEIC training questions test. These comments will explain why wrong answers were wrong, and why correct answers were correct. This is very useful information to have.
While the ETS sample test doesn’t come with commented answers, the ETS site links to official, ETS-approved butpaid online preparations that do. It’s your decision whether or not you want to pay for that.
One other great — and free — source of information is the TOEIC Facebook page. Every week, they publish a tip on preparing for the test, together with sample questions and comments.
“Practice Effects” are real and scientifically proven: the second time you do something, you become better at it. Take a test once, and then take a similar one sometime later. Chances are very good that you’ll improve just because you’re now familiar with the technique of test-taking, even if you don’t do anything else to prepare for the second test.
The weird thing is that this works for almost any skill. It works forthrowing a ball, playing the violin, driving a car and even kissing. (My mom would add that it works for doing the dishes as well, but I say this has yet to be proven true…)
The great thing about the TOEIC is that you can take it as many times as you like. Your previous score(s) won’t affect the most recent one. However, it does cost time and money. So, the best plan is to practice taking the exam.
A good study method is to use a lot of written and audio questions that have commented answers (answers with comments explaining why other answers are right/wrong).
You need to be doing as many practice questions as you can. That extra work you’ll put in will change everything. Now that we’ve seen how practice can work like magic, let’s see what we can do tomake it more fun.
The more you practice, the better you’ll get.
The better you practice, the easier it all gets. You’ll practice better when things are more interesting for you!
It’s okay to spend time studying without the practice tests.
This is especially true if this studying time involves watching a TV show in English and trying to understand what’s happening. It’s best to watch a show that you’ve already seen, and be sure topick a show that has work-related scenes.
“The Office” and “House of Cards” constantly feature business conversations, and have actors who speak very clearly. Kevin Spacey’s accent in “House of Cards” is very close to the American male voices you’ll hear on the test.
You could also watch this old Tex Avery cartoon called “Symphony in Slang,” in which a cartoon character tells the story of his life — butusing only idioms, which are literally put into animated images. So when the character says he put his foot in his mouth, you see him literally (actually) put his foot into his mouth. But you also understand from the animation what the expression truly means (in this case, that the character had said something wrong, silly or embarrassing).
Once you get comfortable, and can understand conversations on your favorite U.S. TV shows without subtitles, you can move on to listening toan English radio station. This will bring you closer to the real conditions of the listening exam (no images, just audio).
So what’s the difference between a “right answer” and the “best possible answer?”
A right answer usually means that there’s only one correct answer and all the other choices are wrong.
But when you need to find thebest possible answer, there could be many correct answers. The best answer is supported by facts found in the exam material. Your job is to find out which answer is best, based on what you’ve heard, read or seen. We’ll call that thecontext.
So how does it work?
Often, the test will ask you to infer something from a conversation or chain of documents.
“To infer” means to deduce, to derive, to draw conclusions based on facts and reasoning” (not opinions). Inferring is not guessing, though, because you must have facts and reasons to support your answer.
So when the TOEIC asks you what you can infer from a conversation, it wants you tofind at least two valid clues in the text or in the conversation that support your conclusion.
Let’s look at this extreme example:
You hear a conversation between two coworkers. They discuss their schedule, complain about long hours and say they want to quit their current jobs and find better ones.
The test asks what you can infer from the conversation. It tell you to pick the best summary (short description) and gives you some options. Here’s one: 1. Long hours may affect (have influence over) your overall work productivity (how well you work).”
At first this looks okay. There’s nothing wrong with that statement. It’s probably true in most cases. The verb “to affect” is even used correctly (as we’ll verify in #6). It looks like an answer that could be right.
But the conversation summary doesn’t mention the co-workers’ productivity — how much they get done at work. So the choice, while a true statement, isn’t the best possible answer based on the context of the situation.
This is why the safest method is to check the text (or for the listening part, your notes), to see if they support your answer.
A great way to practice doing this is to ask yourself why each of the other answers is not as good as the best one. We’ll do that with Joey and Chandler in the next tip.
So remember how I said I’d never leave you high and dry? Let’s find out what I meant by that.
In “Friends” episode 6 (season 2) “The One Where Joey Moves Out,” Joey and Chandler (who’ve been roommates for years) have a fight. Joey, who now has enough money to live alone in a bigger apartment, tells Chandler he’s going to rent another place. Chandler doesn’t seem too happy about it.
Joey notices that Chandler isn’t very happy. Joey’s worried that moving out will leave Chandler without a roommate. Here’s the dialogue (the conversation) between them:
Joey: Hey, are you cool with this? I mean, I don’t want to leave you high and dry.
Chandler: No, I’ve never been lower or wetter. I’ll be fine. I’ll just turn your bedroom into a game room.
When Chandler answers, “I’ve never been lower or wetter,” he’s making a play on words by saying the opposite of “high” (low → lower) and “dry” (wet → wetter). This is like what Tex Avery did with idioms in the cartoon we mentioned in #3. But that’s not what the expression “high and dry” truly means.
To figure out what it means, let’s look at what we can infer (conclude) from what we know. So which of the following can be safely inferred from the text and the dialogue above?
1. Chandler is afraid he will experience high variation in temperature.
2. Joey is concerned because he is leaving Chandler without a roommate. 3. Joey is really slow at packing his stuff.
4. Chandler is about to look for another roommate.
5. Joey is going to get more dates.
So (1) isn’t a good choice because we know that we’re looking at an idiom, and not the actual meaning of the words.
(3) isn’t good either because there’s nothing in the text or dialogue that says Joey is packing.
(4) may become true in the next episodes, but if you only look at what we know, there’s nothing that says Chandler is already thinking about looking for another roommate. In fact, Chandler said he’ll turn Joey’s room into a game room.
(5) Although living alone in a bigger apartment can help improve your love life, that would just be a guess. The text never mentions Joey’s dating life. Can you see why this option is a “fake” good answer? Joey’s always going to get more dates, but this isn’t the best possible answer, using what we know from the conversation.
So our best possible answer is (2) — Joey is concerned because he is leaving Chandler without a roommate. Why?
The text says that Joey is worried, which is a synonym of “concerned.” Plus, in the dialogue, Joey asks Chandler if he’s okay (cool) with Joey moving out. So from this example, we can infer — and not guess — three things:
What matters is what’s actually written or said in the exam material.
You don’t need to know all the words and idioms to understand a conversation if you’re given the contex.t Since the TOEIC will always give you context, if you come across a word or expression that you don’t understand, don’t panic!Don’t try to guess, but instead look for clues (hints).They’re there.
To “be left high and dry” means to be left helpless, without options or in a difficult position. Joey’s worried he’ll be doing this to Chandler when he moves out, because Chandler will be in a difficult situation. Who’ll help pay rent? Where will Chandler find a new roommate?
Remember, use only the information in the exam. That’s where you can look for helpful clues.
The TOEIC will try to trick (fool) you.
It may ask you to choose a grammatically correct sentence from a list of possible options.
Consider this potential answer: “Long hours mayeffect your overall work productivity.”
Don’t choose this answer. It sounds alright but it’s not grammatically correct. There’s a similar sounding verb,to affect, that should be used in that sentence instead. Take a look:
To Affect is a verb that means “to have influence on/over,” as in, “Long hours affect my mood.”
Effect is a noun that means “consequence,” or “result,” as in, “This post will have a goodeffect on my TOEIC score.” 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 awritten list of similar sounding 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. This document has a list of words that show up often on the TOEIC (page 169).
(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 fordessert — not desert (dry sand). (Remember: It’s better to have more for dessert. The dry and hot, sandy desert only has one “s” because the other died of thirst.)
The TOEIC is timed. Even if you were allowed to bring a dictionary, there just wouldn’t be enough time for you to look up every word you’re not sure about.
Instead, you’ll need to be able to determine (figure out) the meaning of an unknown word or idiom using context.
Use the words and information provided, and trust your gut (instincts / initial reaction).
We think it’s best to use a dictionary as little as you can. Use a dictionary less and less as you get closer to your test date.
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.
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.
To start getting used to different accents at a normal pace, you can check out thiswebsite, Transcribeme! It provides audio samples of different English accents. The company has a number of audio transcription tests aimed at checking a person’s ability to transcribe (type what you hear). You can take these tests just for fun (and for free), if you wish.
It’s not exactly like the real exam, since you can play the conversation or speech as many times as you want. However, it’s great listening practice for your ears, and it’ll help you get used to different accents.
Another 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.
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.”
“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.
It’s not easy, I know, but with time and practice you’ll get there.
Be aware that the sound during the test may not be as clear as the sound from your home computer speakers, as theETS Examinee handbook does continue to refer to audio-cassettes (page 2).
You could be unlucky and have low volume or not the best audio. So, just in case, you might want to turn down (lower) the sound of the practice questions and of your favorite radio station. That way, if the sound is low on the actual test, you can survive because you’ll be prepared.
I didn’t leave you high and dry, but the ETS center might leave you lower and wetter, depending on where and when you take the test. The room could be too hot or too cold, so wear layers of clothes that you can put on or take off.
I took the TOEFL in the heart of a cold Parisian winter. The boiler (heater) was out of service and it was snowing outside, so we all wore our coats, gloves and scarfs during the exam. Be prepared for the worst!
So, folks, we’re near the end of this post. Almost. I’ll close with five important facts to remember about the TOEIC, and then list some vocabulary from this post that you’ll see on the exam.
These tips were brought to you from FluentU.