TOEFL consists of four sections, each testing one of the main language skills (reading, listening, speaking, and writing). To rock the test, besides improving these language skills, you also need to work on some bonus stuff too, like note-taking, paraphrasing, and summarizing. Let’s dive into the note-taking part.

Why should you take notes in TOEFL? 

Taking notes is not a must at the exam, but in three out of four test sections, it is your best buddy:

  • During the Listening section, all the questions pop up after the lecture, so you must rely on your memory and your notes with the main idea and details. Even if you have a phenomenal memory, test stress can mess with your head.
  • In the Speaking and Writing Integrated tasks, you will read a text and/or listen to an audio recording. Note-taking will help you grab crucial info and details, link what you read and heard, and build your responses.

You can take notes on any audio item throughout the test to help you answer questions.

Hot tips for note-Taking

1. What if you can’t take notes while listening? Practice makes perfect. Start small. During your preparation, while listening try to write down five words. Next time, try to write down ten words. Eventually, you’ll learn to listen and take notes at the same time. 

2. Learn how to identify the main information. Don’t try to write down everything you hear. The goal of the test is not to test your fast writing. Just jot down the main idea and supporting points. For example, during a historical lecture about a famous battle, note information about key figures (e.g., attackers, defeaters, civilians), actions (attacking, defeating, surrendering), and the sequence. Skip details like the general’s love life – that ain’t the main deal!

3. Catch the connections between events and how the speaker emphasizes stuff like making pauses or changing intonation. Don’t stress over memorizing everything; it’s all about understanding!

4. Fast note-taking is the game! Here’s how you win:

  • Do not write complete sentences; jot down keywords.
  • Use abbreviations and symbols – PR for Public Relations, w/ for with, w/o for without. 

+ for and, also, as well, with, together, include 

– for minus, without

= for become, look, equals, the same 

≈ for approximately, similar 

↑ for increase, rise, go higher, jump, improve, become more popular

↓ for decrease, fall, go lower, dive, ruin, become unpopular

→ for become, change, transform, affect, result in, move

  • Cut corners with words – fut. for future, diff-t for different, dpt for department.
  • Forget about articles (a, an, the).
  • No need for “is, are, was, were” – just replace them with a dash.
  • And spelling? Don’t sweat it, write it fast, you’ll figure it out later.

4. There are several note-taking styles, and you should choose the appropriate one for each task:

  • Column/Charting Method
  • Outline Method
  • Mindmap Method
  • Pyramid Method
  • Flow Chart Method

Tips for the Listening section 

In the Listening section, you will hear three lectures,each 3–5 minutes, and two conversations, each 3 minutes.

At the beginning of each lecture, there is always information about what will be discussed: process stages, problems, solutions, types of something, approaches, biographical data, etc. So first try to understand what the lecture is about and then choose the most suitable note-taking method. For example, the professor might say:

“The nineteenth century was the time that saw what we call ‘realism’ develop in the European theater. Uh, to understand this, though, we first need to look at an earlier form of drama known as the ‘well-made play.'”

Upon hearing this, you can assume that the lecture will discuss the development processes, and you can use the “flow chart” note-taking style to record information about each stage or create a diagram with arrows.

Always remember to note down the topic, main idea, major points, and important details. There are always signal phrases in the lecture indicating these points. For example, words like “first, next, now, another.” You don’t need to write these phrases, but they help you identify the details.

For dialogues, the column method is more useful. Divide the paper into two parts, one for each speaker. This way, you won’t get confused about who says what.

Tips for the Speaking section 

The first task in the Speaking section is the Independent task. You get 15 seconds to prep and 45 seconds to speak. Just jot down key words for your response, don’t overthink it. For example, if the prompt’s like:

“Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? Children should help their parents with household chores as soon as they are old enough. Use details and examples in your response.”

Your notes might look like this:


  • teach valuable skills
  • change to bond w/ parent

Tasks two and three are Integrated tasks.You read and listen, then answer in 30 seconds. Split your paper in two (one for the listening, one for the reading) and find connections between what you read and heard, like think cause/effect, compare/contrast, or steps. Catch words hinting at these connections.

Let’s break it down with an example. Here’s a bit from the passage, notes, and a sample response based on the notes.

The reading passage:

It is common knowledge that forecasting is an attempt by meteorologists to determine what weather will be like in the future. Hindcasting is the opposite of forecasting, an attempt to determine what weather was like in the past.
Meteorologists wish that records of weather had been kept in full for at least a few millennia, but it has been only in the last century that detailed records of the weather have been kept. Thus, meteorologists need to hindcast the weather, and they do so by using all sorts of information from other fields as diverse as archeology, botany, geology, literature, and art. These pieces of information from other fields that are used as a basis for drawing conclusions about what the weather must have been like at some point in the past are called proxies.

Audio transcript:

Now, let me talk about how hindcasting, which was used in one particular situation. This situation has to do with the weather in seventeenth-century Holland. It appears, from proxies in paintings from the time by numerous artists, that the weather in Holland in the seventeenth century was much colder than it is today. Seventeenth-century paintings show really cold winter landscapes with huge snow drifts and ice skaters skating on frozen canals. Since it’s unusual today for snow to drift as high as it is in the paintings and for the canals to freeze over so that skaters can skate across them as they are in the paintings, these paintings appear to serve as proxies that demonstrate that the weather when the paintings were created in the seventeenth century was much colder than it is today.

The fourth task is a lecture. Do the same as in the Listening part during the lecture.

Tips for the Writing section 

In the Writing section, you’ll have two tasks:

  • Integrated writing task (20 minutes) – You need to read a short passage and listen to a brief lecture, then write a response based on what you heard and read. Use the same tips as for Speaking questions 2-3.
  • Independent writing task (10 minutes) – No need to jot down notes on paper; you can directly type an outline on the computer in the response field.

To score well on the TOEFL, make sure to practice note-taking properly because during the test, you won’t have time to pause and think.