What’s a Good TOEFL Listening Score? How Is It Calculated?

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Listening is an important part of the TOEFL, and if you want to get into your top schools, you’ll need a solid score on this section. But what’s a good Listening score? What TOEFL Listening score should you be aiming for?

In this guide, we’ll explain how the TOEFL Listening section is scored, what a good Listening score is, how you can figure out what score you need on this section, and how to calculated the number of questions you need to get right with out TOEFL Listening score table.

 

 

What’s a Good TOEFL Listening Score?

The TOEFL Listening score calculation is straightforward: you’ll receive one point for each question you answer correctly, and the sum of those points is your raw score. Your raw score will then be converted to a scale from 0-30 to get your final TOEFL Listening score. Check out our TOEFL score calculator if you’re interested in learning more about raw and converted TOEFL scores.

So your TOEFL Listening score can be anywhere from 0 to 30, but what’s a good Listening score? There are two ways to determine what a good TOEFL Listening score is. The first is by using percentiles, and the second is by using score requirements for the schools you’re applying to. We’ll look at both methods in this section.

 

Using Percentiles to Determine a Good TOEFL Listening Score

Percentiles show how well you performed on the test compared to everyone else who took the TOEFL. The higher your percentile, the better you did on the TOEFL. For example, if you scored in the 30th percentile, that means you scored higher than 30% of people who took the TOEFL and lower than 70% of all the people who took it. And if you scored in the 90th percentile, then you did better than 90% of everyone who took the TOEFL.

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Below are the TOEFL Listening scores that correspond to some key percentile ranks.

Percentile Rank Listening Score
10th 11
25th 16
50th 21
75th 26
90th 29

There is no single standard for what a good TOEFL listening score is. You might define good as anything that’s above average, or the 50th percentile. Under that definition, any Listening score higher than 21 would be a good score. A slightly higher standard would be anything in the top quarter of test-takers, or at least the 75th percentile, which would require a Listening score of at least 26.

An excellent Listening score in the 90th percentile would mean you scored higher than 90% of other test-takers on the Listening section. This requires a score of at least 29.

 

Using School Requirements to Determine a Good TOEFL Listening Score

While percentiles are useful for getting a general idea of what a good score is, you’ll probably need more information to set your own TOEFL Listening score goal. The other, and usually more effective, way to figure out a good TOEFL Listening score is to look at the TOEFL requirements of schools you’re applying to or thinking about applying to. Almost every university or graduate program will list its TOEFL requirements on its website, typically on the “Admissions” page.

Using this guideline, a good TOEFL Listening score is simply one that gets you into each of the schools you’re interested in. In the next section, we go over step-by-step how to use school requirements to set your TOEFL Listening goal score.

 

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How to Set a TOEFL Listening Goal Score

Follow these four steps to figure out which TOEFL Listening score you should be aiming for. We’ll use Simone, an international student applying to several universities in America, as an example.

 

Step 1: Make a List of the Schools You’re Interested In

Your first step is to make a list of all the schools you’re interested in attending and put them in a table, like the one you see below. Right now you only need to fill in the first column. At this point, you don’t need to have a final list of the schools you want to apply to; a rough guide of schools you may be interested in attending is enough.

Simone is applying to four schools: MIT, University of Michigan, Michigan State University, and American University. Below is her table.

School Minimum Listening Score Minimum Total Score Notes
MIT
University of Michigan
Michigan State University
American University

 

Step 2: Find Each School’s Average/Required TOEFL Scores

Next, you need to find the required TOEFL Listening score and total TOEFL score for each school. Schools will usually post this information on their admissions page. Some schools have required scores for each TOEFL section. This makes it easy to know what the required Listening score is. For others, there is simply a required total TOEFL score. This means you’ll need to do a bit of math to figure out about what score you’ll need for Listening. To do this, just divide the required total score by four, since there are four sections on the TOEFL.

For example, University of Michigan has a required total score of 100. That means Simone will need an average of 25 on each section, including Listening, to meet that total score requirement. You may want to make a note in your chart that this is just an estimated minimum Listening score, and not required.

School Minimum Listening Score Minimum Total Score Notes
MIT 25 (estimated) 90 (100 recommended)
University of Michigan 25 (estimated) 100
Michigan State University 17 required

20 (estimated)

79
American University 20 80

 

Step 3: Make Adjustments

Now you know the minimum requirements for your list of schools, but should you be aiming higher than those scores? Will getting higher than the minimum required score increase your chances of getting accepted? In most cases, the answer is no. Getting a TOEFL score that’s significantly higher than the requirements definitely won’t hurt your application, and it will likely make navigating an English-speaking school easier, but, in most cases, it won’t help your application that much.

Most schools choose their TOEFL requirements based on the language skills they believe are required to do well there. As long as you meet the requirement, it’s assumed you’ll be able to manage the language barrier well enough. However, this isn’t true for every school, and there are some schools where a higher than required TOEFL score can help improve your chances of getting in.

Sometimes this is mentioned directly on a school’s website. The admissions page may state that any TOEFL score that meets or exceeds the requirements is enough, or it may say that scores higher than the requirement help your application. For example, MIT has a required TOEFL score minimum of 90, but a total score of at least 100 is “recommended.” In this case, you should be aiming for a total score of 100 in order to be sure your TOEFL score doesn’t bring down the rest of your application.

Some schools may consider students with TOEFL scores below their minimum requirements. You should still aim to meet their TOEFL requirements, just to be safe, but it is something to consider if you can’t meet your goal. In most cases though, if you don’t meet a school’s TOEFL requirement, you’ll have to prove your English skills in other ways such as a well-written essay, high scores on English sections of standardized tests and/or an interview with admissions. Other schools don’t require TOEFL scores if you meet other requirements, such as a certain number of years of schooling at an English-speaking school or a high enough score on the Critical Reading section of the SAT.

Next to each school, include any of this additional information you find to give yourself a complete picture of what TOEFL score you should be aiming for. If you can’t find this information on the school’s website, it’s a good idea to call or email the admissions office directly to be sure you have the most accurate information.

School Minimum Listening Score Minimum Total Score Notes
MIT 25 (estimated) 90 (100 recommended) 100 recommended
University of Michigan 25 (estimated) 100 Section scores 23+ in Listening & Reading and 21+ in Speaking & Writing. Can be exempted from taking the TOEFL if your SAT critical reading score is 600 or above, or both your ACT reading and English scores are 27 or higher.
Michigan State University 17 required

20 (estimated)

79 No subscore can be below a 17.
American University 20 80 Each sub-score must be at least 20

 

Step 4: Find the Highest Score From Your List

Now that you have your list of required and desired TOEFL scores for the schools you’re interested in, look through the list and find the highest score. This is your goal score, and getting it would mean you got a “good” TOEFL score since it would meet the requirements of all the schools you’re interested in.

For Simone, she would need a Listening score of at least 25 in order to have the best chance of meeting the requirements of all the schools she’s applying to. Once you’ve found this score, write it down and tape it somewhere where you’ll see it, such as your desk. Keep it visible while you’re studying to remind you of the score you need to earn and motivate you to reach your TOEFL goal.

 

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How Many Questions Can You Get Wrong for Your Goal TOEFL Listening Score?

Now you know which score you need to aim for, but how many questions does that mean you must answer correctly? We’ve got that info for you in this section. Each Listening question is worth one point (and you don’t lose any points for incorrect answers on the TOEFL).

The raw score range for Listening will vary depending on how many questions the section has. The maximum raw points you may have on a TOEFL Listening section is 34, but some tests may have slightly fewer questions. ETS converts your raw score into a scaled score, which is the score you see on your score reports.

The TOEFL Listening score table below shows about how many raw points you need to reach your target score. Find your goal score on the Scaled Score column, then look at the Raw Score column to see how many questions you need to answer correctly (and how many questions you can miss) in order to get that score. Because each TOEFL has a slightly different scoring conversion, this chart won’t always be exact, but it will give you an estimate of how many questions you can get wrong.

Raw Score Scaled Score
34 30
33 29
32 27
31 26
30 25
29 24
28 22
27 20
26 19
25 18
24 17
23 16
22 15
21 14
20 13
19 12
18 10
17 9
16 8
15 7
14 6
13 5
12 4
11 3
10 2
9 1
8 0
7 0
6 0
5 0
4 0
3 0
2 0
1 0
0 0

 

As you can see, to get a 50th percentile Listening score of 21, you’d need to get about 27 or 28 questions correct out of 34. To get a 75th percentile score of 26, you’d need to get about 31 questions correct out of 34, so you could only miss three questions.

Going back to Simone, in order to get her goal Listening score of 25, she’d need to get 30 raw points, which means she could only miss four questions on the Listening section. Again, use this chart as an estimate, and be aware there will always be slight variations in different exams.

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Summary: What’s a Good TOEFL Listening Score?

What is a good TOEFL Listening score? You can use TOEFL Listening score tables and information from the schools you’re applying to in order to figure out which score to aim for. Using percentiles, the average Listening score is 21 out of 30, but you should research the admission requirements of the schools you’re interested in to figure out your own score goal.

Once you know what score you’re aiming for, you can also use our TOEFL Listening score calculation to figure out how many questions you need to answer correctly (and how many you can get wrong) to reach that goal score.

 

What’s Next?

Looking for more information on the TOEFL Listening section? Learn all the tips you need to know in order to ace TOEFL Listening! 

Want more tips on how to prepare for TOEFL Listening questions? Check out our guide to the 7 best ways to prepare for TOEFL Listening! 

Want more resources to help you prepare for the TOEFL? Prep books are one of the best ways to raise your score. Read about the five best TOEFL prep books and learn how to choose the best one for you.



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Author: Christine Sarikas

Christine graduated from Michigan State University with degrees in Environmental Biology and Geography and received her Master's from Duke University. In high school she scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT and was named a National Merit Finalist. She has taught English and biology in several countries.

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