How to teach TOEIC Listening Part Two: Question Response
Summary: Teaching tips and classroom practice ideas for the question-response tasks in TOEIC Listening Section Two
TOEIC Listening Part Two is not the trickiest part of the test for most students, but is a chance to build up their confidence and get some points under their belts early on. Perhaps more importantly, teaching language for this part of the exam is likely to be useful for students’ real use of English in their work (something that can’t be said for most of the TOEIC test).
What students need to do in TOEIC Listening Part Two: question-response
In questions 11 to 40 of the TOEIC Listening test, students listen to someone say something and then listen to three possible replies, and should choose the one suitable reply, as in:
11. How often do you take this train?
A) Yes, quite often.
B) All the time.
C) I’m training for the marathon.
12. Would you like to come out for a drink?
A) Yes, I do drink.
B) A coffee, please.
C) That sounds nice.
As in the rest of TOEIC Listening, the accents are a mix of (not particularly strong) North American, British and Australian accents.
No further information is given about who the speakers are, where they are, what the situation is, etc. Unlike the other parts of TOEIC Listening (and most other language exams), there is also no written prompt on the question sheets and so candidates need to listen carefully to every word. As in the examples above, the other two replies are always actually unsuitable, rather than just less good choices. This means that if students can eliminate the two unsuitable ones, they can then just choose the one remaining one. And if they can eliminate just one option, then there is a fifty-fifty chance of getting the right answer.
As with the example questions above, the vast majority of questions in this part of the test are of two kinds:
- matches between particular kinds of questions and typical answers such as “The… one” with “Which…?”
- replies to functional phrases such as requests and invitations
The remaining questions are (pretty unteachable) random comments and replies such as:
13. The table is in the wrong place.
A) I saw someone move it earlier.
B) It’s not so long.
C) Do you think the table needs one more column?
Simple question and answer matching is the most common in the test, but is probably worth less class time than the functional language due to being easier and less useful for communication outside the classroom. However, a lesson or two on different kinds of questions can be useful with lower level students, and can tie in with useful topics like small talk questions with “How…?”, “How far…?”, etc. Common question types include:
- How often…?
- How long…?
- How many…?
- What time…?
- How far…?/ How close…?
- …, isn’t it?
- Has/ have…?
- Negative yes/ no questions (“Doesn’t…?” etc)
- What kind of/ sort of…?
- What colour…?
- How much…?
Common functions for the prompts include:
- requests/ asking for permission
- complaints/ negative comments
- small talk (especially about the weather)
- checking progress/ checking if things have been done
- making arrangements
- giving bad news
- asking for advice
- starting and ending conversations
- giving good news
Other useful functions that can come up in the answers include:
- positive responses
There are also commands/ orders/ instructions like “Tell him…” in both the prompts and responses, but these are often used in situations where requests would be more suitable in real life. These examples therefore need to be skipped over or taught quite carefully if you don’t want your students to copy such rude communication outside class! The same can also be said for statements such as “My coffee hasn’t arrived” and complaints with negative questions like “Haven’t you finished yet?” and “Why isn’t the delivery here?” The test also has a more general problem with levels of formality, often mixing up formal and casual or even rude phrases in a single exchange. This means that the test gives lots of raw material for lessons on formal and informal language, but doesn’t provide a good model.
Typical student problems with TOEIC Listening Part 2: Question-response
Most student issues with TOEIC Listening Part Two have as much to do with the format of the test as with actual problems with language. Many students would have no problem doing this part of the test if they had limitless time, were doing this part of the test on its own and/ or could read the prompts and answers. However, in reality many find it challenging due to the rapid speech, short gap between questions in which to decide on and write down an answer, and having 30 of these questions in quick succession in the middle of a pretty long and tiring test.
There are two common actual tricks that examiner use to fool students in this part of the test:
- key words from the question that are repeated in the wrong answer
- homophones, homonyms and minimal pairs of words in the question in the wrong answer
It is fairly easy to teach students how to deal with these, with one of the activities below and/ or with the tip that a repeated word, homophone etc in a response usually means that it is not the correct option.
A similar thing also happens with reference words like “it” and “they” in the responses, which can be a useful hint that they are the right option, a simple grammatical hint that they are the wrong option (e.g. if the reference word is “they” but the prompt is about “your desk”), or just a distractor. Work on picking out what reference words are used and what they refer to (if anything) can be useful for both TOEIC and real-life listening and reading skills.
A more difficult kind of trick option to avoid, especially for lower level students, is ones based on the wrong time. For example, if they hear “When was he here?” and don’t catch every word, they might be tempted to choose the wrong option “Very soon”. This can sometimes be due to students’ lack of language, e.g. not knowing that “at the moment” means “now” (and so is different from “at that moment”) and that “in…” is the opposite of “…ago” and is therefore in the future. More commonly, though, it can be a problem of catching and understand the key words that show the time/ tense, especially contractions and weak forms.
The most difficult contractions to catch are usually ones with “’ll” like “We’ll” and “It’ll”. There are also contractions that change meaning depending on the context, with “he’d” meaning “he had + PP” (and therefore being past) or “he would” (meaning the future or theoretical situations). The same is true for “he’s” for “he is” and “he has +PP”.
The problem with weak forms is that students often expect to hear the strong forms of “was”, were”, etc, as you would hear in “Yes, I was” and “Yes, they were”. Both in the exam and in real life, auxiliary verbs are much more likely to have shorter and weaker forms with schwa, as in “I was there too”, where “I” and “too” are stressed and “was” is unstressed and so almost sounds like “wz”.
Another common problem with how the scripts are pronounced in fast natural speech is with what happens between words. This is made more difficult to teach by the fact that the British English speakers will sometimes link words in sentences where the American English speakers will reduce or lose the final sounds of words.
Possible confusions with question words include not understanding the difference between:
- “How often”/ “How many times”
- “What”/ “Which”
- “How long”/ “How far”
Some students can also mishear “Where…?” and “When…?”, perhaps because the diphthong in “Where…?” is less clear in rapid speech and/ or because some accents lack a rhotic “r” at the end of “Where”.
Perhaps the most difficult individual question word is “How…?” The two most common meanings in the exam are “How good…?” (as in “How is the new product?”) and “In what way…?” (as in “How can I get to Central Station?”). My students often don’t really answer “How is/ was…?” questions, making for exchanges like “How was your weekend?” “(Yes) I went…”, and this can also be reflected in choosing similar wrong options in the test.
Students can sometimes misunderstand a functional phrase to be a simple statement or question, for example missing that a “My cup isn’t here” and “Don’t you have more sauce?” are complaints or not spotting that “Have you finished the report?” is a boss nagging someone. As with these examples, this is made trickier by the fact that most such phrases have both functional and non-functional meanings in real life and the exam provides no context apart from two lines of dialogue to help us work out which is meant. This means that sometimes even native speakers wouldn’t know what the first speaker really means until they hear the three replies.
Perhaps to keep the test short and to provide more of a challenge, the exam rarely includes linking words like “because”, leading to exchanges like “Why haven’t the books been burnt?” “We couldn’t find the matches”
How to practise TOEIC Listening Part Two: question-response
TOEIC Listening Part Two exam practice
Given that the chief challenge of TOEIC Listening Part Two for most students is exam conditions rather than the language, they should almost always do 30 questions in a row with a realistic (lack of) time between each question. At home they should mainly do this as part of a whole listening test. They should also do the whole Listening and Reading test at least two or three times straight through in the weeks before the exam, in order to learn to cope with the mental fatigue. In class you will probably want to focus more on one part of the exam in each lesson, but you can reproduce the real stresses of the exam somewhat by sometimes doing more than 30 questions in a row.
After listening and writing their answers, students should listen again before they check their answers, listening again and again if they are still not sure why the right option is correct, aren’t sure why the other two options are wrong, and/ or can’t catch key words. This is better than just checking all their answers and then listening again, as they will be much less motivated to listen carefully by that stage.
Classroom practice of TOEIC Listening Part Two should be done with a mix of realistic exam tasks and more specialised ones, e.g. a practice test and then 30 questions just on different kinds of question words or 15 real exam questions and then 15 questions just on how to answer “How…?” questions.
Writing your own TOEIC Listening Part Two questions
You should always do at least some real exam-style practice with a mix of 30 questions of the different kinds mentioned above. However, it can also be useful to make up some more intensive practice of, say, questions contrasting present and future. These can be adapted from exam practice books, making sure that you change the wording and/ or options enough that your students can’t use their memories to answer the questions (and that you aren’t breaking copyright).
Most of the functions above can be used for intensive practice in this way, e.g. 30 questions practising positive and negative responses to requests or invitations (and maybe responses to those responses). I’ve also done similar whole activities on meeting and greeting, small talk, and telephoning. If you want to make sure this kind of practice is also suitable preparation for the test, you’ll need to make sure that the other options are wrong for the reasons given above. You’ll also need to decide what to do about rude language in the test such as the imperative for (impolite) requests.
Classroom activities for TOEIC Listening Part Two
After doing exam-style practice, the questions can be made more useful and interesting by students then starting to check their answers with the transcript, checking their answers as a class, then testing each other by reading out random questions from the transcript. They can then move onto related activities from below such as just reading out the prompt for people to respond to and making up similar questions to test each other with.
TOEIC Listening Part Two race
Students listen to question and response questions and race to shout out “A”, “B” or “C”, not needing to wait for the other options if they are sure that “A” or “B” is correct. They get one point if they guess correctly before anyone else, but lose one point if their guess is wrong.
If shouting out will be too noisy or confusing, you can also ask them to hold up cards saying “A”, “B” or “C”. To make it livelier, you can also do similar things with three different gestures (e.g. right hand, left hand and standing up), throwing paper aeroplanes at the three letters on the board, etc.
TOEIC Listening Part Two stations
If you cut the tasks down to just one wrong answer and one right answer with each prompt, the games above can also be done with students holding up A and B cards, holding up their right and left hands, pointing at the front or back of the classroom, etc.
TOEIC Listening Part Two quick on the draw
This is similar to the games above but with students having just a single reaction and with the possibility of including more language.
Students listen to a whole string of TOEIC prompts and/ or responses and hold up the (single) card that they have whenever they hear something that matches it. For example, if they have a card that says “Future”, they ignore the present and past questions, phrases, time expressions etc that they hear until they hear “I’ll…”, “the day after tomorrow”, etc. Perhaps after labelling the phrases on the worksheet with P, Pr and F, they can then do the same listening activity with a different (single) card to hold up such as a “Past” one.
The same thing also works for functional language, e.g. ignoring commands and offers until they hear “Can I have…?”, at which point they hold up their “Request” card.
It could also work for sounds that students are having particular problems with such as “’ll” or the weak forms of auxiliary verbs.
Same word different meaning?
Students listen to a real prompt and an option which has the same word (or at least a homonym) in it, e.g. “Is this the right place?” “Please place them over there” or “Is that a new suit?” “Yes, I need to wear a suit in my new job”. They then repeat back the word which was said twice and say if it has the same meaning (as in the second example) or a different meaning (as in the first example). They could also hold up cards saying “The same” or “Different”.
What are you referring to?
Students listen to a prompt and a response with a referencing word or expression like “one”, “these” or “it”. They then repeat back the referencing word and what it refers to in the prompt (e.g. “It. The window”). They can then do a trickier stage where, as in the exam, some of the reference words in the wrong options do not refer to anything in the prompt, as in “Where is your case?” “It’s in case of emergencies”. In this stage, they still repeat back the reference word and what it refers to, but say “nothing” if the reference word doesn’t refer to anything in the prompt (e.g. “It. Nothing”).
One wrong listening
This is kind of the opposite of the real task exam, but adds more useful language. Rather than listening for one right answer, students listen to three or more responses and try to spot the one wrong answer. For example, if the first speaker says “Thank you” and the responses are:
A) You’re welcome.
B) Not at all.
C) Don’t mention it. It was my pleasure.
D) There’s no need to apologise.
then the students should choose D as the only response which isn’t suitable.
This is a more intensive way of giving useful language both for the exam and for communication in students’ real lives, and is something I use also in non-exam classes on telephoning, meetings, social English, etc. After checking their answers, they can then brainstorm suitable responses onto a worksheet that has only the prompts.
TOEIC Listening Part Two responses brainstorming and matching
Students brainstorm suitable responses for typical question starters like “Are you free…?” and “When did you…?” and then match cards to those questions. After checking their answers, they can test each other on the same phrases by seeing how fast they can respond, making as many suitable responses as possible, saying the question that would get each response, etc as their partner reads out phrases from the worksheet.
TOEIC Listening Part Two functions matching
This is similar to the matching questions and responses task above, but without the question and response format.
One of the best things about TOEIC Listening Part Two for actually teaching English is the wide range of phrases it has for functions like complaints. This can be exploited to teach language both for the exam and for real communication by students matching up cards saying things like “I’d like…” and “Can you…?” by function. After checking their answers they could then try to remember as many forms for each function as they can.
Although it’s not really good preparation for the exam, this can be made a way of presenting different levels of formality by the different cards having formal, medium-level formality and casual versions of the same function.
TOEIC Listening Part Two questions and responses list dictation
Students listen to a list of responses and try to guess what question would receive all of those responses. To extend the game, make it more challenging and make it into more of a game, you should probably insist on students guessing exactly what is written on the worksheet (with other possible questions not getting points in this game).
TOEIC Listening Part Two responses race
Students listen to a prompt and get points for the fastest response and/ or guessing exactly the response that is there.
TOEIC Listening Part Two roleplays
You can easily make roleplays by describing situations and exchanges from a practice test such as “Discuss where to have lunch” and “Look out of the window and comment on the weather”. This can be nice as a warmer and revision, and can be made more useful by getting students to roleplay the same situation over and over until they run out of different phrases that they could use.
Setting each other TOEIC Listening Part Two questions activities
As is also true for Listening Part One, this part of the exam is perfect for students to write tasks to test each other with. This can be done by:
- giving them the prompt and the right response and asking them to make up the two wrong responses
- giving them the prompt and asking them to make up the one right and two wrong responses
- giving them the three responses and asking them to make up a prompt that only matches one of those responses
- giving them the right response and asking them to make up the prompt and the two wrong responses
- just giving them the name of the function of the prompt and/ or response and asking them to make up questions with the right function
They then read out the questions that they created to test another group with.
TOEIC Listening Part Two shadow reading
The short exchanges in this part of the exam are a perfect length for shadow reading, in which students read, listen and speak at the same time, trying to match the rhythm and intonation of the speakers. Most especially, they should continue trying until they can start and finish at exactly the same time as the original speakers.
This can be done with pairs of students taking the two different roles, or with everyone saying both roles. It ties in very well with the task below.
TOEIC Listening Part Two pronunciation analysis
Students listen to an extract over and over and analyse it for:
- Number of syllables
- Rhythm/ Stressed and unstressed syllables
- Schwa (the weak vowel sound that is never stressed, as in the last syllable of “computer” and unstressed forms of “at”, “was”, etc)
- Sounds which are (nearly or completely) lost when words are pronounced next to each other
- Sounds which link words together
I wouldn’t bother with work on analysing intonation, as it is usually the same as or similar to L1, difficult to analyse (especially for non-musical people), and not useful for answering questions in the exam.