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Decoding English Language Proficiency Test Scores: TOEFL iBT

 This article covers:
  • What do different TOEFL test scores mean? How do I read TOEFL test scores?
  • What is the TOEFL exam format? How are TOEFL exam scores calculated?
  • How is the TOEFL listening section scored?
  • How is the TOEFL reading section scored?
  • How is the TOEFL speaking section scored?
  • How is the TOEFL writing section scored?
  • How to maximize student success with TOEFL iBT practice and test vouchers?

English language proficiency testing is a key part of applying to study abroad for many international students. Depending on where a student wants to study, they may take one or more English Language Proficiency tests (ELPs). Each ELP has a unique structure and scores, so it's important to understand the results for each one.

This article will help decode scores for the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) test. This includes the TOEFL iBT in-person test, the TOEFL iBT Home Edition online test, and the TOEFL iBT Paper Edition.

Curious about different English Language tests? Click here to learn about the differences between TOEFL, PTE, and IELTS tests. Or click here to learn more about decoding PTE test results.

TOEFL logo

Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL)

The TOEFL exam has been trusted by colleges and universities worldwide for over fifty years. ETS offers multiple TOEFL tests, but the one that’s recognized for international study is the TOEFL iBT.

Students can take the TOEFL iBT:

All TOEFL tests are scored in a central scoring network by both humans and computers. This encourages consistency and can help prevent bias.

Not sure which TOEFL exam format to recommend to your students? Click here to learn more about TOEFL iBT and TOEFL iBT Home Edition.

TOEFL Scores Decoded

Each test section (Listening, Reading, Speaking, and Writing) is scored from 0–30. These scores are then added together to give a total score between 0 and 120. Many institutions have minimum scores of 80–90, but some top universities may request scores over 100.

Each TOEFL section has four or five proficiency levels. These levels help describe how capable your student is at each skill.

TOEFL Listening section

Listening Section

  • 22 to 30 (Advanced): Understands conversations and lectures with complex vocabulary and ideas
  • 17 to 21 (High-Intermediate): Understands the main ideas and key details of conversations with abstract or complex ideas and complex sentence structure
  • 9 to 16 (Low-Intermediate): Understands the main idea and some key details
  • 0 to 8 (Below Low-Intermediate): The student has not shown proficiency at the Low-Intermediate level

TOEFL Reading section

Reading Section

  • 24 to 30 (Advanced): Understands academic writing at the introductory university level
  • 18 to 23 (High-Intermediate): Understands the main parts of academic writing, but struggles with complex ideas or unusual vocabulary
  • 4 to 17 (Low-Intermediate): Understands some main ideas, but has an incomplete understanding of ideas and information shared
  • 0 to 3 (Below Low-Intermediate): The student has not shown proficiency at the Low-Intermediate level

TOEFL Speaking section

Speaking Section

  • 25 to 30 (Advanced): Communicates fluently and effectively on many topics
  • 20 to 24 (High-Intermediate): Can usually communicate effectively on general topics, and make themselves understood in academic discussions
  • 16 to 19 (Low-Intermediate): Talks about general topics with relative ease, but may have longer pauses or mispronunciations
  • 10 to 15 (Basic): Can share simple information about everyday topics; speech is slower and marked by pauses or many simple linking words like “and”
  • 0 to 9 (Below Basic): The student has not shown proficiency at the Basic level

TOEFL Writing section

Writing Section

  • 24 to 30 (Advanced): Writes on academic and non-academic topics with clear and detailed prose
  • 17 to 23 (High-Intermediate): Writes well on general or familiar topics; when writing academically, some important source ideas may be missing or inaccurate
  • 13 to 16 (Low-Intermediate): Can write a simple text on general topics; prose has a lack of detail or language errors
  • 7 to 12 (Basic): Can share basic information; grammatical errors and sentence structure makes the writing harder to understand
  • 0 to 6 (Below Basic): The student has not shown proficiency at the Basic level

Wondering how TOEFL test scores compare to IELTS test scores? Check out this easy-to-use Total Score Comparison Tool.

TOEFL total score

Total Score

Your student’s total TOEFL score is the sum of each section score. Many schools have a minimum TOEFL iBT total score a student needs to be accepted. But some schools also require minimum scores in specific sections, such as reading or writing.

Students cannot pass or fail the TOEFL iBT. However, depending on where the student would like to study, they’ll need to meet that institution’s score requirements. Remember, a minimum score of 80–90 is acceptable for many schools. Getting accepted to a top university is more competitive and may require your student to score over 100 in total.

All TOEFL iBT scores are verifiable using ApplyProof. With ApplyProof, your students can share their score report with an unlimited number of institutions. Admissions agents can then verify the authenticity of your student’s scores quickly and securely.

TOEFL test results are valid for up to two years. TOEFL will keep any results scored within that time on record. When applying to select institutions, students can use TOEFL’s MyBest function to combine their highest section scores from all valid tests.

Smiling student

Maximizing Student Success

Before booking a test, verify that your student’s intended educational institution accepts the TOEFL exam. Also be sure to check which version of the test meets the eligibility requirements for the desired program or course.

Next, ensure you review each target schools’ application pages to set a benchmark with your student. Then, work with them to improve their skills. Official study materials and practice tests are a great way to test a student’s skill before the exam.

Don’t forget to offer your students amazing discounts on TOEFL tests and practice materials. And, with a prepaid TOEFL voucher, you can simplify their application process.

Ready to save up to 30% on TOEFL iBT and TOEFL iBT Home Edition practice materials and tests for your students? Purchase TOEFL test and prep vouchers now.

Not sure how to use TOEFL vouchers? Learn more about how to redeem TOEFL test vouchers and Official TOEFL prep vouchers.

Encourage your student to do their best to exceed the minimum test score for their target school. If they do, their application will be seen more favorably. This could change whether their acceptance offer is conditional or whether your student will need to take ESL courses.

Want to learn even more about TOEFL? Check out the links below: