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TOEFL Tip #128: How TOEFL Scores Correspond to Native Ability in English

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on October 28, 2011

 If you’re taking the TOEFL, you’re probably trying to get a specific score. Perhaps the score is part of a college application, or perhaps you need it for professional certification. Whatever your reasons, you have an end goal, a number that indicates your mastery of English, according to TOEFL.

 But what does a 30 mean, in daily life? How can you recognize the difference in skills between a 24 and a 27? Understanding the real-world equivalents of TOEFL scores can help you gauge your own performance, and get to the ability level that matches the score you need.

 In the following list, which Strictly English developed from its work with students who have a wide range of ability in English, notice that the crucial division is between 24 and 26.

 At 24 and below, a student’s ability in English still clearly marks him or her as someone who has learned English as a second language. This could be for any one or more reasons – a strong accent which obscures the speaker’s meaning, frequent errors in basic grammar, poor ability to follow conversations and lectures, and so on.

 Scores of 26 or above, on the other hand, signal that the student is on par with native speakers of English. The key difference at this level is in the sophistication of the speaker’s vocabulary, the variety of sentence structures, the skill with developing details.

 As you prepare for the TOEFL, keep in mind that the score you’re trying to reach has an equivalent that you can use for comparison with your own skills.

 30 : Professional public speaker (for example, Oprah Winfrey)

29 : University professor

28 : Really smart graduate student

27 : Really smart college senior

26 : “Straight – A” high-school senior

24 : “Fluent” ESL

22-23 : Advanced ESL

18-21 : High-Intermediate ESL

14-17 : Intermediate ESL

10 – 13: Low Intermediate ESL

below 10: Beginner ESL




Categories: TOEFL Preparation

4 comments so far. Leave a comment.

  1. insomnie

    wrote on November 2, 2011 at 8:48 am

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  2. Jon Sumner

    wrote on December 15, 2011 at 7:34 am

    I’m from the U.K. and when I was teaching English in Korea I did a TOEFL “practice run”. I was seriously surprised at how challenging some of the questions were, even for a native speaker of English. If students can get a high TOEFL score they are seriously good at learning English.

  3. StrictlyEnglish | Blog » The Year In Review

    wrote on December 31, 2011 at 10:18 am

    [...] the “J-Curve” of learning, fossilized grammar, possibilities for rapid improvement, and how TOEFL scores correspond to a native speaker’s ability to speak [...]

  4. StrictlyEnglish | Blog » TOEFL Tip #154: Effective Intermediate English

    wrote on May 6, 2012 at 10:52 am

    [...] Last fall , we presented a list of how TOEFL scores correspond to everyday life. Professional public speakers, such as Oprah Winfrey, correspond to a TOEFL score of 30. With that in mind, we’ve taken a sample from Oprah’s commencement speech at Howard University in 2007 and altered it somewhat, introducing the sort of errors that might easily happen on the TOEFL exam. [...]

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