12 TOEIC Tips to Prepare for Your Listening and Reading Test

Are you signed up to take the TOEIC yet? A TOEIC Listening & Reading Test certificate can be a great addition to your resume.

The exam combines both reading and listening comprehension tests, which could make you nervous, but don’t worry!

Want to know how to get a great score? In this guide, I’ll give you some great TOEIC tips on how to prepare for the test to maximize your chances of getting a great score!



1. Evaluate Your Level for Free

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?

In any case, make sure you check all commented answers that show up once you finish the 45 TOEIC training questions test. These comments will explain why wrong answers were wrong, and why correct answers were correct.

While the ETS sample test doesn’t come with commented answers, the ETS site links to official, ETS-approved but paid 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.

2. Make Sure You Know The Format of The Test

Understanding the format of the TOEIC Listening and Reading test before taking it is important for maximizing your performance and boosting your confidence. It will provide you with a roadmap to navigate through the test efficiently and calmly.

Knowing the format allows you to divide your time accurately between different sections and question types. This will reduce the chances of you getting stuck on challenging questions and ensures that you have enough time to spend on each part of the test. You can also use the test format to help develop your approach, deciding which questions to tackle first or the best way to answer certain question types.

The test is made up of the following sections:

Part 1. Listening comprehension — 100 questions (45 minutes)
– Photographs
– Question-response
– Conversations
– Short talks

Part 2. Reading comprehension — 100 questions (75 minutes)
– Incomplete sentences
– Error recognition or text completion
– Reading comprehension

Being aware of the question types beforehand will help you prepare for the kind of thing that could pop up in advance. You won’t be caught off guard by unexpected question formats, reducing stress and allowing you to focus on accurately answering the questions. You can practice relevant skills and strategies in advance, making your test-taking experience smoother.

3. Build Your Vocabulary

Building a robust vocabulary is a crucial preparatory step before taking the TOEIC Listening and Reading test. A rich vocabulary enhances your comprehension, increases your ability to decipher context, and ultimately leads to a more successful performance.

An extensive vocabulary contributes to your overall confidence. When you encounter unfamiliar terms or expressions, you won’t feel disheartened but rather equipped to deduce their meanings based on context and word roots. You’ll feel ready to tackle practically any question that comes up on the test if you know that you have a solid foundation of vocabulary going into it.

A well-developed vocabulary is an indispensable asset when tackling the TOEIC Listening and Reading test. It amplifies your comprehension, encourages accurate answers, and bolsters your self-assurance. Devoting time to vocabulary enrichment significantly enhances your test readiness and sets the stage for a more favorable outcome.

Here are some examples of words you might want to add to your vocabulary before going into the test:

To infer: to derive by reasoning, to deduce

A desert: a dry, sandy area

A dessert: a sweet course or dish at the end of a meal

An effect (noun): consequence, outcome, result

To affect (verb): to have influence over

Concern: worry

4. Use “Practice Effects” to Your Advantage

“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 for throwing a ball, playing the violin, driving a car and even kissing.

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 to make it more fun.

5. Put Some Fun into Your Practice

You’ll practice better when things are more interesting for you!

Try watching a TV show in English and see if you can understand what’s happening.

It’s best to watch a show that you’ve already seen, and be sure to pick 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 — but using 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 to an English radio station. This will bring you closer to the real conditions of the listening exam (no images, just audio).

6. Look for the Best Possible Answer, Not the Right Answer

When you need to find the best possible answer, there could be many correct answers. The best answer is supported by facts found in the exam material. Often, the test will ask you to infer something from a conversation or chain of documents.

So when the TOEIC asks you what you can infer from a conversation, it wants you to find at least two valid clues 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 tells 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.

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.

7. When You’re Unsure, Don’t Panic, Look for Clues

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 context. 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).

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.

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). But that’s not what the expression “high and dry” truly means.

From the text and the dialogue we can infer that 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.

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

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 may effect 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, hat 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 good effect 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 a written 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.

(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.

9. Don’t Use Your Dictionary Too Much and Practice Listening

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.

We think it’s best to 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.

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.

10. 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! 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).

To start getting used to different accents at a normal pace, you can check out this website, 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..

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.”

11. 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.

It’s not easy, I know, but with time and practice you’ll get there.

12. Prepare for Poor Sound and Extreme Temperatures

Be aware that the sound during the test may not be as clear as the sound from your home computer speakers, as the ETS 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.

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.

5 Facts to Remember About the TOEIC

  1. The exam scores are for employers. The TOEIC shows employers how well you understand work-related English — spoken and written — expressed in various accents (British, American, Australian, Canadian).
  2. Use context clues. The TOEIC will always give you context, clues and hints that support the best answer. You’ll just need to find them.
  3. Prepare for various test conditions. The TOEIC test conditions, such as timing, temperature and poor sound quality matter a lot. It’s best to be prepared for anything.
  4. Hold onto your score report. Official exam centers don’t have to keep your test results for more than two years, nor can they give you another copy of your results at the end of that time period. This is meant to encourage regular evaluation of your English level, but not all employers require such frequent testing. So, make sure you keep your score report, because it’s much better than not having one at all.
  5. You get better every time you practice. TOEIC is used by some companies as a learning tool, meaning companies know that just taking the test makes their employees improve their English. You should use that fact to your advantage and know that each practice session you take is an improvement in itself.


Now you know these useful TOEIC tips, get out there and practice, practice, practice! Good luck!


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