What's a Good TOEFL Score?

January 8, 2019

More than likely if you're preparing for the TOEFL or even thinking about preparing for the TOEFL, you're wondering, "What makes a good TOEFL score?" This is only natural, as you want to strive to do your best while also understanding where you fit in in terms of your school's requirements and expectations. The TOEFL has four different sections: Reading, Listening, Speaking, and Writing. All four sections are graded separately and then contribute to a composite/total score.

A "good" TOEFL score depends on your own abilities as they relate to your speaking, reading, listening, and writing skills. Universities tend to set the bar for specific score requirements. However, there may be many questions roaming around in your head regarding what different scores mean, the exact range, how the averages may differ from one another. Let's delve into all of these specifics so you can walk away with a better understanding about your own projected score. Hopefully, this will give you insight and confidence in regards to your own application.

TOEFL Scoring Fundamentals

Before we delve into specific TOEFL score details, it's important to understand what the TOEFL looks like from a macro perspective. Let's cover our basics so we can move forward with more specifics. The following is derived from ETS.org.

TOEFL SectionTime Constraint# of QuestionsSpecific Tasks
Reading60-80 minutes36-56 questionsRead 3 or 4 passages from academic texts and answer questions
Listening60-90 minutes34-51Listen to lectures, classroom discussions, and conversations, then answer questions
Break10 minutes------
Speaking20 minutes6 tasksExpress an opinion based on a familiar topic, as well as reading and listening tasks
Writing50 minutes2 tasksWrite essay responses based on reading and listening tasks

Minimum TOEFL Scores For Universities

More than likely, if you are applying to specific colleges and universities, you will need to meet the minimum TOEFL score requirements. Below is a table featuring a handful of elite schools, their TOEFL paper-based minimum, as well as computer-based minimum. This data is derived from a report recently published by American Exam Services.

UniversityTOEFL PaperTOEFL iBT (computer)
Boston University550-600100
Brown University600100
Carnegie Mellon600100
Columbia University600100
Fordham University57590
Harvard University600100
MIT577 (600+ recommended)90 (100+ recommended)
Northwestern UniversityN/A111
University of ChicagoN/A104
Yale University600100
University of San FranciscoN/A65 (80+ recommended)

As you can see, many of the minimums revolve around a 100 average. Sometimes, there may be a section-by-section TOEFL score minimum. All of this depends on a particular school, your proposed major, and the requirements of the admissions committee.

A Good TOEFL Score According to ETS

The following scoring guidelines comes from ETS.org, the makers of the TOEFL. These are the three main categories that are used for scoring purposes as it relates to Reading, Listening, Speaking, and Writing. It's important to take stock of them and ask yourself, "Which one do I fall under? Which one do I strive to fall under?" These will help structure your preparation.

TOEFL Performance Levels by Section
TOEFL SkillScore RangeLevel
Reading0-30High (22-30)
Intermediate (15-21)
Low (0-14)
Listening0-30High (22-30)
Intermediate (14-21)
Low (0-13)
Speaking0-30Good (26-30)
Fair (18-25)
Limited (10-17)
Weak (0-9)
Writing0-30Good (24-30)
Fair (17-23)
Limited (1-16)
TOTAL SCORE120

Clearly, if you are seeking an elite score for admission to an elite school, you must strive for a High score on both the Reading and Listening sections, as well as a Good score for the Speaking and Writing sections. Specific breakdowns of these scores and categories are available at ETS.org.

TOEFL Score Percentiles

Understanding your percentile and where it aligns with your own projected score is important when sizing up your competition for admissions purposes. Often top schools will want to accept students in the 80th percentile or higher. The below chart shows you scores and how they match up with percentiles—take note from your most recent practice exam where you match up!

TOTAL TOEFL SCORETOEFL PERCENTILE
120100
11699
11296
10892
10487
10080
9672
9264
8856
8448
8041
7634
7228
6822
6418
6014

When it comes to percentiles, it's important to remember: the higher it is, the more test-takers you have outperformed, thus making your TOEFL score all the more impressive. The 50th percentile is the middle range. All in all, this is a tool used to help both you and the admissions committee determine how well your English abilities are in comparison with other applicants. Strive for the 99th percentile and study hard!

Average TOEFL Scores

In order to better understand our own scores it's very useful to examine averages. ETS publishes data annually about score averages, in addition to averages per demographic. We will list some of those findings below. The first is an average all across the board. You may be surprised it's higher or lower than you expected.

TOEFL Section2017 Average
Reading20.5
Listening20.2
Speaking20.4
Writing20.9
AVERAGE COMPOSITE SCORE82

This data reveals that any score between the range of 83-120 is an better-than-average one. Good news, right? Also worth noting is each section average is roughly between 20 and 21. Let's examine the average TOEFL score by gender.

GenderReadingListeningSpeakingWritingTotal
Male20.620.119.920.781.4
Female20.420.220.821.182.5

As you can see, scores are roughly comparable with the average total score being nearly a point higher for females. Below is a breakdown of average scores by education level, which can inform and highlight differences by age/grade/education level, courtesy of ETS.

Academic LevelReadingListeningSpeakingWritingTOTAL
High School16.417.119.119.272
Two-Year College18.217.919.019.372
Undergraduate19.419.420.220.580
Graduate (Non-Business)21.921.320.821.786
Graduate (Business)21.821.321.121.786
English-Language School20.019.419.720.079

In this chart, we see that the highest average TOEFL scores are from Graduate (Business School) students as well as Graduate (Non-Business School) students.

Finally, when examining international averages, let's examine those by country. Due to limited space, we aren't able to list all of the countries published by ETS in their annual report, but by listing a handful, hopefully, this gives you an idea on where you fall within your country's range.

Average TOEFL Scores by Native Language
LanguageReadingListeningSpeakingWritingTotal
Arabic1619201873
Chinese2119192079
English2223242493
French2121212185
German2325252498
Japanese1817171971
Korean2221202184
Russian2022222185
Spanish2122222185
Turkish1920202078

Where do you align with your native tongue's TOEFL average? Take time and find out with a diagnostic mock exam to determine how you compare and add up!

The Takeaway

In the end, your required TOEFL score depends on your university's score averages and minimums. Also, keep in mind that each program or school may require a specific TOEFL minimum per section and that minimum may vary by section. Studying thoroughly will aid you in increasing your score, as will diagnostic mock exams. Get going on your own rigorous course of study right away to attain the score you need, want, and deserve to attend the school of your dreams.