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TOEFL Levels-making sense of the score.

Perhaps, you have recently taken the TOEFL test, and you have received your score. Maybe you have been reading university admissions websites and have seen that TOEFL scores required by different institutions and different programs vary.

What does it all mean? What does a TOEFL score of 95 signify?

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A quick overview of TOEFL scores

The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) is scored out of a total of 120 points. There are four sections to TOEFL: reading, writing, listening and reading. Each section is scored out of 30 points. The points for each section are added together, and that is how your score out of 120 is derived.

Performance Levels for TOEFL

The Educational Testing Service (ETS) provides test takers with performance feedback. The performance feedback breaks your score into range levels. For example, high, intermediate, and low. This information is a good way to get a general sense of your abilities in each of the four domains. Below is a breakdown of the levels for each domain.

Reading: There are 3 performance levels:

  • High: 22-30
  • Intermediate: 15-21
  • Low: 0-14

Listening: there are 3 performance levels:

  • High: 22-30
  • Intermediate: 14-21
  • Low: 0-13

Speaking: There are 4 performance levels:

  • Good: 26-30
  • Fair: 18-25
  • Limited: 10-17
  • Weak: 0-9

Writing: There are 4 performance levels:

  • Good: 24-30
  • Fair: 17-23
  • Limited: 1-16
  • Score of 0 (test candidate didn’t write anything)

Keep in mind that universities and other institutions will request an overall score with specific scores for each domain. For instance, an engineering program may require a high score in TOEFL’s reading and writing sections, but not a very high score in the speaking section of TOEFL. In contrast, a program that requires students to discuss and present work such as an economics program will require a high score in the speaking section of TOEFL as well.

A summary of what the levels mean

Here is a brief summary of what the official ETS performance feedback levels mean.

HIGH/GOOD: At the high level, you have a very good chance of being accepted by the best schools. A high score demonstrates excellent ability to function in English in the given domain (reading, writing, speaking, and listening).

INTERMEDIATE/FAIR: Intermediate TOEFL scores should meet the requirements of most schools. Intermediate scores indicate that you stand a good chance of being able to function in an educational setting in English; however, there will be gaps in your ability, and you will need to work on your skills while you are attending school.

LOW/LIMITED: A low TOEFL score is not good if you wish to be accepted to study in an English language institution. Consider more language study and then retake TOEFL. Not many universities will accept TOEFL scores in this range.

WEAK/ZERO: The advice is the same as for the low/limited level. You need to practice a lot more and give yourself time to reach a higher level.

It’s important to realize that your score on TOEFL and the designated level are a reflection of your ability to use and understand English. The scores and levels say nothing of your intellectual capacity or your chances of doing well in a given field of study. Many brilliant students around the world would not score well on TOEFL. Another consideration is that you can improve and move up a level. Any person of normal intelligence can learn a language with time and sustained effort.

How can I improve my scores and move up a level?

Practice, hard work and time will usually do the trick. To start, look online. There is a ton of material to choose from. Select things that appeal to you and work for you. Additionally, go to your local library and find a book of tests and a preparation guide. They will help. Take courses in general English if your level is low. Then when you are at an intermediate level, take a test preparation course.

A very important, albeit often overlooked factor, is time management. Set regular study sessions and set realistic goals for reaching your desired level. Follow your schedule faithfully. Without a plan, you are unlikely to succeed.