What are characteristics of different TOEFL iBT scores?

Jaime Miller TOEFL: Advice for Studying 0 Comments

This is a difficult question to answer.  Everyone is different, and each person knows different things in English.  I’m going to answer this question, but I’m also saying that there is no completely accurate way to characterize and organize all students and their TOEFL scores – especially before a student takes the test.

Some students need high scores in every section of the TOEFL iBT. Other students don’t. For example, when you look at my success stories, some of my students have gotten a 26 on the speaking section, but only a 20 or 21 in the other areas. Maybe you’re wondering, “But Jaime — couldn’t she get a higher TOEFL score? I mean, her speaking score was 26!” Yeah, she probably could have gotten a higher cumulative TOEFL iBT score, but she didn’t need to, or she didn’t want to.

Some people are exceptionally fluent and very comfortable having a conversation in English, but their academic English is really weak. Or they can understand the language and meaning of academic texts and lectures, but are totally uncomfortable with speaking or writing similar things.

Or they can talk but they just don’t believe they can talk.

Or they can write really well, but they don’t feel comfortable speaking.

Or they love reading and hate listening.

Or they love listening, but hate writing.

Or they take TOEFL iBT on a day when they are really stressed or feel sick.

Or… Or.. Or…

It is very difficult to make generalizations about total TOEFL scores.

However, since I’ve had students get scores in each of these target ranges, I can give you some insight.

Remember that these characteristics are not rules, and you might not fit all of the characteristics. So, this information should only be used for general advice.


Score Range: 0-30 points

Potential characteristics: This student’s level is pre-intermediate and s/he probably has trouble with basic social conversations. His/her academic English is probably not developed at all.

Score Range: 31-50 points

Potential characteristics: This student is still weak, and may be developing a larger vocabulary, but still can’t navigate academic reading passages, can neither understand most academic or social dialogues, nor take notes. This student makes a lot of grammar mistakes in speaking and writing.

Score Range: 51-74 points

Potential characteristics: This student could be studying at higher levels, and can read and listen quite well, but probably has more problems with expressing his/her ideas when speaking and writing. Grammar mistakes with basic English are common. Pronunciation may be unclear. Reading and listening comprehension of academic topics is also weak. Taking accurate notes is usually very difficult for a student at this level.

Score Range: 75-90 points

Potential characteristics: In this range, a student might have pretty strong reading and listening comprehension, but his/her speaking and writing are not as strong. S/he might make quite a few grammar mistakes, and maybe uses the wrong word form (saying “the true” instead of “the truth”). This student’s speaking and writing might not always sound natural – perhaps s/he often directly translates into English. This student can take some notes while s/he is listening to a dialogue or lecture, but it’s not easy.

Score Range: 91-100 points

Potential characteristics: At this level, a student’s English is at a solid upper-intermediate / advanced level. Academic reading and listening comprehension is high; speaking and writing comes more quickly and sounds natural most of the time. Pronunciation is clear but doesn’t sound “American.” S/he makes few grammar or word choice mistakes when speaking and writing.

Score Range: 100+ points

Potential characteristics: This student is definitely advanced and proficient with academic English. S/he can read academic topics with at least as much confidence as a native-speaker university freshman, listen to academic lectures and dialogues without feeling any panic, and then can answer 90%+ of the questions correctly. When speaking and writing, this person makes very occasional mistakes that never affect the meaning of the message. This student’s accent sounds very natural, very “American.”

Where do you think your English is now?  Where would you like it to be?

Click to learn more!

If you need help increasing your score, learn more about Right Notes — this is Jaime’s exclusive digital tutorial to improve your note-taking skills.