How to Develop an Ear for Making Accurate Inferences about Listening iBT Listening Passages

Michael Buckhoff says, "Learning to draw conclusions is an important TOEFL iBT listening skill."
Michael Buckhoff says, “Learning to draw conclusions is an important TOEFL iBT listening skill.”

When learning a new language, you will not only need to understand what someone says but how he or she says it and what can be inferred by the manner in which it was said. In other words, in addition to understanding the main and important supporting points of a listening passage, you will need to draw conclusions about conversations and lectures. A higher level skill than listening for main ideas, inferencing involves a deeper pragmatic understanding of the language.

Maybe you have heard these kinds of TOEFL iBT questions: “What does the speaker imply…? What can be inferred from this talk? According to this conversation, what is most likely true? What is probably true about…?” Therefore, being able to answer inference questions improves your listening proficiency, and you will be able to score higher on the listening, speaking, and writing sections, all of which will test your listening comprehension abilities.

Though developing this listening skill is important to passing the TOEFL iBT and for improving their overall listening proficiency of English, many English learners experience considerable difficulty. Case in point, English learners with limited English proficiency will have difficulty with inferencing because they are so focused on just getting the gist of the listening passage that are unable to draw conclusions about information that may not have been mentioned directly.

So how do you solve this problem? Practice, practice, and practice! It is important that you learn to use the context of a conversation or talk to help you draw accurate conclusions. For example, consider the following conversation between two speakers and the accompanying question:

Man: I can’t seem to get started on my writing assignment.

Woman: Maybe you should think about going to the writing center.

Man: Why should I? I don’t have very much time before I have to turn in my assignment.

Woman: If you go to the writing center, you can get help with all stages of the writing process. The tutors there will show you how to get started with your writing assignment.

Man: Maybe that might help after all.

Woman: You bet it will. In addition, they will read your written drafts, and then provide constructive criticism and encouragement, all of which will help you to strengthen and clarify your ideas through the process of revision.

What is probably true according to this conversation?

The man will probably not go to the writing center.

The man will not complete the assignment.

Quite possibly, the man has never been to the writing center before.

The man and the woman are taking the same writing class.

Since the man appears to not know much about the writing center and since he makes no mention of ever having used it in the past, the best answer to this question is three. It is likely that the man has not gone to the writing center previously.

As you can see from this example, making accurate inferences involves an ability to go beyond just what is said. Using the context of the conversation or lecture may help you in understanding why a speaker says something or how a speaker says something.

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Michael Buckhoff,

4 thoughts on “How to Develop an Ear for Making Accurate Inferences about Listening iBT Listening Passages”


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