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TOEFL scores explained: What do they mean and how to retake the test

Amelia Carruthers
Last Updated: 17 September 2021 • 4 min read

The TOEFL test is one of the best recognised and most respected English proficiency tests out there.

TOEFL results are widely used by American universities, and a good score is essential for acceptance to many establishments, especially Ivy League colleges.

Students can spend months preparing for this rigorous language exam. From practice tests to familiarising yourself with the question types and requirements, there’s a lot to do.

But aside from the actual content – one of the most commonly asked questions is what are TOEFL scores?

In this guide, we explain everything you need to know about TOEFL scores. Read on to discover TOEFL meaning and scoring, how to understand your TOEFL results, set personal goals and arrange retakes if things haven’t gone exactly as planned. 

Let’s get started.

TOEFL scores explained

  1. TOEFL Meaning: What does TOEFL stand for?
  2. What is the TOEFL test
  3. What are TOEFL scores
  4. What’s a good TOEFL score?
  5. How to retake a TOEFL test

1. TOEFL Meaning: What does TOEFL stand for?

First things first, let’s get this out the way! Many students ask about TOEFL meaning something… it’s a slightly peculiar acronym after all.

TOEFL stands for “Test of English as a Foreign Language”.

Like many other test providers however, the full title is no longer in use – so TOEFL now just stands for, well TOEFL.

2. What is the TOEFL test?

Provided by ETS, the TOEFL test is a standardised assessment that evaluates a person’s ability to speak and understand English. The most popular format is an internet-based test (known as the TOEFL iBT), which measures all the key English skills.

The TOEFL test is split into four main sections (reading, listening, speaking and writing) and takes over four hours to complete.

What sets TOEFL apart from other exams is it focuses on English as it is actually used in classrooms and everyday life. It tells universities you are ready to follow lectures, write essays and participate in English-language discussions. For this reason, schools place great importance on prospective student’s TOEFL results.

3. What are TOEFL scores?

If you’re asking exactly what are TOEFL scores – then you’re not alone! In order to ace the test, understanding your score is key.

Given that 97% of all TOEFL tests are iBTs, we’ll focus on this internet-based version. If you need further information for computer or paper-based tests, here’s a handy conversion table

Roughly ten days after taking the TOEFL test, you’ll be able to see your TOEFL results. The score range is between 0 and 120 for the entire exam, and 0 to 30 for the four sections.

Your total TOEFL score is the sum of all four sections (30 + 30 + 30 + 30 = 120 points). Each of the four sections are equally weighted – meaning that your reading, listening, writing and speaking skills are equally important.

120 is the highest TOEFL score and 0 is the lowest possible score.

Most universities care about your total TOEFL score, although some might also look at individual results (such as speaking) – so it’s worth working on your skills across the board.

4. What’s a good TOEFL score?

The important question here is what TOEFL score do you need for admission?

Each educational establishment has their own requirements for TOEFL results, so knowing your personal goal is vital. To find this out, go to the admissions pages of your prospective schools. Language requirements for international applicants will be specified – with TOEFL scores (if required) listed.

Whatever the minimum TOEFL score is for your school – this is a good TOEFL score for you.

Here are the most frequently asked questions on “good” TOEFL scores for university acceptance:

  • What TOEFL score is required for US universities?

Generally speaking, TOEFL results of 90 or above are sufficient for most US universities. The more competitive a school is, the higher score it will typically ask for.

To compare admission requirements, here’s a guide to TOEFL scores for many leading US colleges. Always do your own research by checking the respective course pages however, as this may change from year to year!

  • What’s a good TOEFL score for Ivy League colleges?

For acceptance into an Ivy League college, TOEFL scores generally need to be above 100. For this, it’s wise to aim for a score of 105 or more – with a sectional score of at least 26.

Whilst most universities only care about total scores, Ivy League colleges tend to have an additional “sectional TOEFL cut-off”. This means you can’t drop below a certain level for any of the reading, writing, speaking or listening sections.

  • What is the minimum TOEFL score for acceptance?

Minimum TOEFL requirements vary widely. Whilst many colleges ask for scores of 90 or above, others ask for scores in the 80s, 70s or even 60s. It’s worth also remembering that some schools don’t ask for TOEFL scores at all!

As a final piece of advice, don’t worry too much about exceeding minimum scores. Although this certainly won’t do any harm to your application – TOEFL results really just show admissions staff that your English skills are up-to-scratch.

5. How to retake a TOEFL test

The TOEFL test providers recognise that English proficiency naturally changes over time. For this reason, TOEFL results are valid for two years after taking the test.

Organising a TOEFL retake is easy. Students can retake the TOEFL test as many times as they like (and as soon as three days after your previous test) – but no more than once every twelve days. Tests are administered more than 60 times a year at authorised test centres around the world. This gives you plenty of options especially if application deadlines are looming.

If you’ve already registered for the TOEFL test, then simply use your previous logins to book a test slot. This can all be done online via your existing ETS account. Whilst initial registration fees vary by testing location, rescheduling costs $60 per test.

For anyone taking the TOEFL test, we wish you the very best of luck. Get started today and discover how we can help you achieve your study abroad dreams.

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Amelia Carruthers
Written By
Amelia Carruthers

With a background in academic publishing, education and digital marketing, Amelia Carruthers is a freelance writer with a love of history, philosophy and the written word.

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