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TOEFL Tip #83: TOEFL Scores And Admissions

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on January 21, 2011

Strictly English noticed that there has been discussion throughout the web about whether high TOEFL scores play a big role in admissions decisions. The question is: do you only need to get the  minimum TOEFL score requested by the university or can a higher TOEFL score sway the decisions of college admissions?

Some internationals are convinced that a high TOEFL score will get you into the university of your choosing. For example, two non-native students are trying to get into an MBA program where the TOEFL requirement is a 90 on the iBT. If one student scored a 99 on the TOEFL iBT and another student scored a 110, then most test-takers erroneously assume that the higher score would get admitted into the university while the lower score would be declined. According to this view, even though both students made the minimum requirement, only the higher score would be accepted.

Luckily, this is not the case. Even if the applicant with a 110 got accepted and the person with the 99 did not, it was definitely not because the applicant with 110 had a higher TOEFL score. Rather, the person with the 110 must have had a better application essay, and he or she probably interviewed better. Application essays and interviews are where a student is critiqued on whether he or she will be able to excel in a university classroom. For example, an essay on the TOEFL with a perfect score is at best a C+ essay in a university classroom. TOEFL graders have different criteria about what makes a good essay than admission officers have.

To recap: If the applicant who scored a 99 submitted a great application essay while the applicant who scored a 110 wrote a terrible, or even a mediocre, application essay, then the score of 99 would be admitted and the 110 would be declined acceptance. The perspective of most American college admissions officers is that the applicant who scored 99 would be admitted because he or she achieved the minimum TOEFL requirement and had a good application essay. This applicant had two positive points while the applicant with the 110 only had one positive point (a high TOEFL score, but a poor essay). Remember there are a lot of people who speak perfect English, but are not capable of college-level thinking.

Having now explained why a higher TOEFL score won’t help you get into college, there are two possible caveats to this rule. One, the Speaking section of the TOEFL exam is important to admissions. A high Speaking sub-score will benefit the student applying to schools because verbal articulation plays a vital role in the university classroom. Your TOEFL’s overall score does not need to be higher than the requirement, but the Speaking score must be as high as possible if you want to sound your best in the admissions interview and in the classroom. Also, a high overall TOEFL score may be vital to the applicant indirectly. The preparation needed to acquire a top TOEFL score does not only develop one’s English skills but also his or her communication skills in general. If applicants can harness these skills during their TOEFL preparation, then they have a higher chance of putting together a competitive and outstanding application packet.

So a higher TOEFL score will not directly improve your chances of acceptance, but the skills you learn in order to get a higher TOEFL score might make all the difference in how you present yourself in your written and spoken communication to the school.

Categories: Admissions Advice,Speaking,Writing

44 comments so far. Leave a comment.

  1. Alice

    wrote on October 30, 2011 at 8:54 pm

    Hi, thank you for the useful advice. Actually, I have a same problem on the TOEFL score. So I got 83 on the test: reading is the lowest -17, and the speaking is the highest- 24. But I’m wondering whether I should improve it because the college requirement is 79 or less. And the problem is if I take it again I can make it within 90 not higher. So my point is that is there a big difference and influence on admission between 83 and 90 or more?

  2. Strictly English TOEFL Tutors

    wrote on October 31, 2011 at 5:10 pm

    There is a VERY big difference. I would say that an 83 is Intermediate, and a 90 is pushing high intermediate. But the most important thing to think about is: WHAT DOES THE SCHOOL WANT. If they want a 90, then you have to get a 90. If they only want an 80, then your 83 is GREAT!

  3. Alice

    wrote on November 1, 2011 at 3:27 am

    Thank you for your reply. Actually, the schools I’m applying have the requirements of 79. So I currently have 2 problems. First one is that I really want to know if I improve my score to 90 will there be more chances to get accepted and maybe get scholarship or some commendation? Second one is that instead of spending my time on preparation on TOEFl to take it again I should do my best on essay and show my capabilities by it? And do you mean the TOEFL requirements of school by “WHAT DOES THE SCHOOL WANT”?

  4. Strictly English TOEFL Tutors

    wrote on November 1, 2011 at 7:35 am

    a higher score will not be more appealing to the admissions office. I promise! They just want that 79 for admissions. That’s it. Nothing more *for admissions*. BUT a scholarship might have a different TOEFL requirement. Therefore: ASK THE SCOOL DIRECTLY. Don’t guess. ASK. This *is* what I meant by “What DOES THE SCHOOL WANT”. You have to talk to them directly and ask them what their requirements are for TOEFL and for scholarships.

    You are absolutely right to spend your time working on your essays instead of working on a higher TOEFL score FOR ADMISSIONS. But I will say that a 79 on the TOEFL does not suggest that you’re ready for an academic program in English. You might want to work on your Critical Thinking and Analytical Writing skills instead of TOEFL. We offer a program that is taught by a University Professor who has his Ph.D. This course is designed to strengthen your college academic skills.

  5. Amir

    wrote on November 22, 2011 at 9:17 pm

    I got score of 98 with speaking of 22. I appealed my speaking part because I previously got 24. Is there any chance that I get a better score?

  6. Strictly English TOEFL Tutors

    wrote on November 26, 2011 at 11:09 am

    Hi Amir.

    Re-scoring is a tricky business. You might even get a LOWER score. It is totally up to ETS. We have found, though, that many of our students do score HIGHER on a re-score than what ETS says is the average for a higher re-score. Please read our other entries on this issue here and here.

  7. StrictlyEnglish | Blog » The Year In Review

    wrote on December 30, 2011 at 6:43 pm

    [...] the results when a native English speaker who is in high school took the TOEFL, discussed whether a high score on the TOEFL improves a student’s chances of admission, outlined the timeline for TOEFL preparation, discussed [...]

  8. Rania

    wrote on July 7, 2012 at 2:30 am

    I had 88 in IBT and the scholarship i am applying for needs 88 but they also need not less than 22 in each section and the only section I got below 22 is the speaking section so do i have to repeat the exam knowing that i would miss the submission period.

  9. Strictly English TOEFL Tutors

    wrote on July 8, 2012 at 8:29 pm

    The best thing to do is talk to the admissions office. How far below the 22 were you for the speaking? if you were close and if you sound strong on the phone when you call, they *might* let you submit your scores after the deadline. But you have to talk with them to get approval. GOOD LUCK!

  10. Rania

    wrote on July 10, 2012 at 5:07 am

    Thank you for the advice. I will try o call them.

  11. Strictly English TOEFL Tutors

    wrote on July 10, 2012 at 6:07 am

    Please let us know how it turns out!

  12. Suraj

    wrote on January 3, 2013 at 8:48 pm

    I had 88 in IBT and the scholarship i am applying for needs 88 but they also need not less than 20 in each section and the only section I got below 20 is the listening section so do i have to repeat the exam knowing that i would miss the submission period.

  13. mounika

    wrote on September 3, 2013 at 10:54 am

    i have a toefl score of 79 which is disappointing.Should i re-take it or apply with the score i got?

  14. Krishna

    wrote on September 11, 2013 at 5:06 am

    i scored 99 in TOEFL and my individual scores are 26, 26, 22, and 25 in reading, listening, speaking and writing respectively. Most of the universities ask for 79 . Would you recommend me to re-take the test considering my individual marks ?

  15. Rakesh

    wrote on October 1, 2013 at 8:21 am

    I have got a score of 88 in TOEFL iBT( Reading 20, listening 23, speaking 22, writing 23). With the score splits mentioned, could you please let me know what are my chances of getting into top 50 US universities? I’m yet to take my GRE and I want to know where I can improve my admission possibilities in order to get in to good universities.


  16. Strictly English TOEFL Tutors

    wrote on October 3, 2013 at 9:51 pm

    There is no clear answer to your question about how likely it is that your scores will help you get into top graduate programs. The key to answering your question is to remember that each admissions office (as well as individual departments and even individual programs within a department) have their own TOEFL requirements. If that requirement is a 105, then you need a 105 regardless of the sub-scores. But if the requirement is a 95 and it mentions specific sub-scores, then you need to meet each of those requirements. For example, if the requirement is a 100 with no section below a 25, and you get a 105, but with a reading score of 24, then you will have to take the test again. :(

    I hope this answer helps!

    And remember, we’re here to help if you need any tutoring!

  17. Strictly English TOEFL Tutors

    wrote on October 4, 2013 at 6:52 am

    Whether you need to take the TOEFL again depends on the specific programs you are applying to. Each program has its own requirements, so we can’t give you one answer that applies to all of them. If the program asks for an overall score of 79, be sure to check if there are required sub-scores for each section. You need to meet (or exceed!) the overall score, and any sub-scores if they’re mentioned.

    If you need any tutoring, contact us!

  18. Strictly English TOEFL Tutors

    wrote on October 4, 2013 at 6:57 am

    We can’t tell you whether to retake the TOEFL exam, or to apply with your current score. You need to find out what each program requires. Some schools only want a specific overall score; other schools want a specific overall score as well as specific sub-scores on each section. For example, one school might want an overall score of 95, and that’s the score you have to get. But if the school wants a 95 AND mentions sub-scores, you need to meet each of those sub-scores as well. For example, if the requirement is a 100 with no section below a 25, and you get a 105, but with a reading score of 24, then you will have to take the test again, unfortunately.

    I hope this helps! Contact us if you decide that you’d like some tutoring.

  19. Deep

    wrote on November 6, 2013 at 12:47 pm

    I got 80 in toefl.R-23,l-19,S-20,W-18.Should I take toefl again?can we send toefl scores after the online application to the university.

  20. kiki

    wrote on December 12, 2013 at 6:45 am

    I got only 71 in toefl before deadline,GPA only 3.0,i would like to transfer to top 100 USA university.can I ask for a second toefl score sending after the deadline?or is there other solution for me?I’m not willing to language school.

  21. Strictly English TOEFL Tutors

    wrote on December 12, 2013 at 7:54 am

    Hi KiKi

    I’m a little confused by what you’re asking because I don’t understand which deadline you’re talking about. Do you mean the school’s application deadline? If so, every school has it’s own policy about whether they will accept more scores after their deadline. Many do, but it is not a guarantee. Call them and ask. GOOD LUCK!

  22. Tim

    wrote on December 18, 2013 at 4:44 am

    Hey, i have received my toefl score today. R-21, L-23, S-19, W-20. little disappointing for me. so i decide to retake. i have 2 questions.
    1. How can i improve my speaking? when i taking toefl, i answered all of questions with non-stop talking, i understood every lecture, talking in this section, but the result is too bad for me which i expected 20+ on speaking. Again how to improve? accent is essential? only core info better than non-stop answer?
    2. is this possible to get scholarship with 83?
    thank you. waiting for your response.

  23. Strictly English TOEFL Tutors

    wrote on December 18, 2013 at 6:05 am

    Hi Tim.

    Yes. Talking non-stop will definitely HURT you. We can explain the necessary public speaking skills you need for the TOEFL in probably only 2 hours of tutoring. Regardless: GOOD LUCK next time!

  24. Tim

    wrote on December 18, 2013 at 9:58 pm

    thanks so much, appreciate

  25. Ahmad

    wrote on February 5, 2014 at 11:08 am

    I received my TOEFL scores with an unlucky 99 ( R-26, L-25, S-23, W-25). This is so unfortunate because I really wanted a 100. There is no time for retake and the scores were already ordered so I can’t cancel anyway. My application is strong (I think so) in other parts. The schools I applied too all mention they require a 100. Do you think I might be rejected because of this? Do you know anyone similar to my situation and he still made it in? Thank you very much for your time

  26. Strictly English TOEFL Tutors

    wrote on February 5, 2014 at 1:18 pm

    I’ve been to conferences for MBA programs and they are very strict about what they want. If they ask for 100, then you need a 100. But I know that other schools are more flexible. Most likely it depends on the competativeness of the school. If they are flooded with candidates, then a firm cut off of 100 will help weed out the applicants. If they need more candidates, then they might be willing to take people who fall 1 or 2 points short. GOOD LUCK!

  27. Ray

    wrote on December 19, 2014 at 7:20 am

    Recently I have received my score for the Toefl Ibt. My score were 102 ( R – 24 , L – 25 , S – 27 , and W – 26); despite getting 100+, my aim was to attain a score of 110. Can you give me some additional advice on the reading, and listening section? Cheers.

  28. Strictly English TOEFL Tutors

    wrote on December 19, 2014 at 10:24 am

    Listening: take notes notes notes, but then do not look at them while you answer. This will slow you down. Just use the notes to stay focused while you listen.
    READING: Do all the VOCAB first in less than 4 minutes. Use the ONE sentence that you read for EACH vocab question to learn about the passage’s content. With this knoweldge, you can answer the other questions WITHOUT READING! ^_^

  29. vastav desai

    wrote on January 26, 2015 at 11:22 am

    My toefl score is 89 and all universities I am applying have cutoff of 80.They want 20+ in each section which is also fulfiled.My overall profile is very decent except the toefl score. If a student with 100+ in toefl get a preference over me in admission ?
    Should I retake or take a chance?

  30. Strictly English TOEFL Tutors

    wrote on February 14, 2015 at 8:14 am

    Keep studying! A 100 is possible! ^_^ GOOD LUCK!

  31. Michelle Schejtman

    wrote on July 7, 2015 at 9:14 pm

    Hi I need a score report to my university in mexico and a copy for the university in NY that I want to apply where can I asked for the score report?

  32. Strictly English TOEFL Tutors

    wrote on July 8, 2015 at 1:15 pm

    If you have access to your ETS account, you can log in and make the request there. GOOD LUCK! If you have problems, I might be able to help you on Skype to find out how to do it.

  33. dhatri

    wrote on November 20, 2015 at 12:21 pm

    Hi,plz help asap..
    I got 88 on toefl (R-19,L-23,S-22,W-24) ..The problem is that one university requires minimum 18 in all sections,but as i scored 19 in reading,is it okay to apply? or should I retake toefl? It is my dream uni. So i don’t want a reject just because of it..Plz rep asap

  34. Aakash

    wrote on November 26, 2015 at 1:00 pm

    Hi. I got 79 on my TOEFL and the university I’m applying to requires 80 with sub-scores of 19 in R, 17 in L, 20 in S and 21 in W. I did fulfil their requirement in each section but not in total. I have few doubts, first one is that will the university evaluate my profile in spite of my low toefl score ? secondly, is there any chance of getting my application declined because of that 1 point less than their required score?

  35. Shafiqul

    wrote on December 5, 2015 at 5:01 am

    Hi, thanks for the helpful write up. I want to have your opinion about TOEFL score requirements. I have got 99 on iBT, but unfortunately some of the universities I intend to apply require one point above mine- 100.
    Do you think they would consider my application with 99?

  36. Aadesh Bansal

    wrote on January 5, 2016 at 7:15 am

    I got 105 in toefl and my university requires 90 only but my speaking score is just 23 !!! and the university requires a minimum of 24!! what do I do now? I donot pass the minimum required English proficiency. will this be a drawback in my application …? will they reject me because of this?? I don’t even have time to give it again and send scores to the university !! Please advise me ASAP

  37. Strictly English TOEFL Tutors

    wrote on January 5, 2016 at 10:15 am

    When they say a minimum of 18, that’s what they mean. A 19 will be fine. GOOD LUCK!

  38. Strictly English TOEFL Tutors

    wrote on January 5, 2016 at 10:17 am

    Many of these questions can only be answered by the institution you’re applying to. I don’t think a score 1 point below should be a problem, but technically, they can reject it if they want to because it does not meet the requirement.

  39. Strictly English TOEFL Tutors

    wrote on January 5, 2016 at 10:17 am

    Same response as I previously posted.

  40. Strictly English TOEFL Tutors

    wrote on January 5, 2016 at 10:20 am

    You could be rejected for being low in the speaking.

  41. Gresa

    wrote on April 21, 2016 at 11:08 am


    University requires 80 TOEFL iBT scores, I just got 79.
    Do you know if my application will be considered or not?
    Best regards.

  42. ADITYA

    wrote on May 12, 2016 at 3:06 pm

    My TOEFL score is 75=reading20+listening16+speaking20+writing19
    Shold I apply for universities having min. criteria 79.Is there any chance of getting admit if overall profile is very good.

  43. Strictly English TOEFL Tutors

    wrote on October 9, 2016 at 7:25 am

    YES! If you meet their minimum, then you’re fine!

  44. Strictly English TOEFL Tutors

    wrote on October 9, 2016 at 7:27 am

    It might not be. They make cut-off scores for a reason. SOOOO many applicants. So they can be picky. :(

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