TOEFL Total Score: Do You Need a Maximum Score?

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After taking the TOEFL, you’ll get four section scores and one total score on your TOEFL score reportBut what exactly is the TOEFL total score? What kind of scoring scale does it use and how important is it to schools?

In this article, we’ll explain the total TOEFL score and discuss whether it’s possible to attain the maximum TOEFL score. After, we’ll go over the importance of your total score and give you step-by-step instructions on how to set a TOEFL total score goal.

Feature image credit: Steve Bowbrick/Flickr, resized from original

 

What Is the TOEFL Total Score?

The TOEFL total score is the overall score you get on the exam and is equivalent to the sum of your four section scores for Reading, Listening, Speaking, and Writing. This score is calculated on a scale of 0-120 in 1-point increments, on which 120 is the maximum and 0 is the minimum. Meanwhile, each section uses a smaller scale of 0-30. So for example, if you were to get 25 on Reading, 26 on Listening, 24 on Speaking, and 19 on Writing, your total TOEFL score would be 94 (the sum of these four scores).

All of your section scores, as well as your TOEFL total score, are scaled scores. Your section scores begin as raw scores equal to the number of questions you answered correctly. These raw scores are then converted into scaled scores (on a scale of 0-30) through a special equating process that differs with each TOEFL. As a result, you can never know ahead of time exactly how a raw score will convert into a scaled score. For more information about TOEFL scoring, check out our detailed explanation of how the test is scored.

 

Can You Get the Maximum TOEFL Score?

According to the score range, a total TOEFL score can get as high as 120. But is this maximum TOEFL score actually attainable? The answer is yes! That said, getting a perfect TOEFL score is extremely rare.


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To score 120 on the TOEFL, you’d need scores of 30 on each section of the exam. (Note that because section scores are scaled, it may be possible to miss a question or two on a section and still get a perfect 30.) According to current data, very few test takers score at the highest (120) and lowest (0) ends of the scale. At present, the average TOEFL total score is 82 — 38 points below the maximum TOEFL score.

By examining TOEFL score percentiles, we can see that a small percentage of test takers were actually able to achieve perfect TOEFL scores. As a reminder, percentiles tell you what percentage of test takers you scored higher than on a certain section or overall.

Here are the percentiles for each maximum TOEFL score:

Reading Listening Speaking Writing TOTAL
Maximum Score 30 30 30 30 120
Percentile 96 96 99 99 100

Source: Test and Score Data Summary for TOEFL iBT Tests

According to this chart, a perfect total TOEFL score would put you in the 100th percentile. But a 100th percentile score isn’t technically feasible, as this would mean you’ve scored higher than all other test takers. So in this case, we can assume that ETS (the creators of the TOEFL) has simply rounded up the percentile (meaning that the actual percentile is between 99.5 and 100). Regardless of what the exact number is, this percentile is undoubtedly high and clearly indicates that few test takers managed to hit the maximum TOEFL score.

But what about the percentiles for each maximum section score? As you can see above, a perfect Speaking or Writing score would put you in the top 1 percent of test takers, whereas a perfect Reading or Listening score would put you in only the top 4 percent of test takers. This means that more test takers are able to get perfect Reading and Listening scores than they are Speaking and Writing scores. In other words, perfect Reading and Listening scores are slightly more common than perfect Speaking and Writing scores.

Ultimately, you don’t need to aim for a perfect TOEFL score, as barely anyone actually achieves a perfect TOEFL score. What’s more, schools don’t expect perfect TOEFL scores. But what kinds of scores do they expect, then? Read on to find out!

 

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How Important Is Your TOEFL Total Score to Schools?

If a school requires you to submit TOEFL scores, your total TOEFL score will be an important component of your application — typically, more important than your section scores. Why is this the case? Many schools require applicants to attain certain minimum total scores in order to qualify for admission. So if you fail to meet your school’s minimum, your application will (most likely) be rejected.

TOEFL requirements vary depending on the school, but generally more competitive schools require higher TOEFL scores and less competitive schools require lower scores. For example, Harvey Mudd prefers total TOEFL scores at or above 100 (80th percentile), whereas Penn State requires a minimum score of 80 (41st percentile). That’s a vast 39-percent difference in percentiles!

While your total TOEFL score is usually more important than your section scores, some schools may require you to attain certain minimum scores on each TOEFL section. In these cases, your section scores will be more important than your total TOEFL score. For example, Cornell’s graduate school requires the following minimum TOEFL section scores (but does not specify a minimum total score):

  • Reading: 20
  • Listening: 15
  • Speaking: 22
  • Writing: 20

So what does all of this mean for you? Most schools that require TOEFL scores simply want to see that you can fulfill their score requirements — and that’s it! So as long as you can meet (or exceed) your school’s minimum required TOEFL score, your score should be good enough for admission.

According to US News, the average total TOEFL score required for admission to US universities is 78 — that’s 42 points below the maximum TOEFL score and four points below the average TOEFL score. But what total TOEFL score should you aim for specifically? Read on to find out!

 

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How to Set a Total TOEFL Score Goal

In order to get accepted to your schools, you’ll need a total TOEFL score that’s high enough to meet all of your schools’ TOEFL score requirements. This ideal TOEFL score is called a goal score. Below, we walk you through how to find your total TOEFL score goal.

 

Step 1: Create a Chart

First off, make a chart with all of your schools and write “TOEFL Required?” “Minimum TOEFL Requirement,” and “Notes” across the top.

For example, Pierre is applying for undergraduate programs in California. Here’s his chart:

School TOEFL Required? Minimum TOEFL Requirement Notes
UCLA
USC
UC Berkeley
UC San Diego

 

Step 2: Search for TOEFL Score Information Online

Next, begin your search for TOEFL score information for each of your schools. On Google, look for “[School Name] TOEFL minimum score” or “[School Name] TOEFL requirements.” Spend some time browsing your school’s official website, paying particular attention to any pages concerning admission requirements, application materials, FAQs, and international students. I suggest using ctrl + F on various school pages to look for key words such as “TOEFL,” “English,” and “proficiency.”

Back to our example: Pierre discovers that both UCLA and USC are looking for certain total TOEFL scores and section scores. He also sees that the UC system (which includes UC Berkeley and UC San Diego) requires a minimum TOEFL score of 80. But while UC Berkeley upholds this minimum, UC San Diego recommends a slightly higher minimum of 83.

Here’s Pierre’s chart again, with his schools’ TOEFL score information filled out:

School TOEFL Required? Minimum TOEFL Requirement Notes
UCLA Yes 101 to be competitive Minimum 23 on each section to be competitive
USC Yes 100 Minimum 20 on each section
UC Berkeley Yes 80
UC San Diego Yes 80 83 recommended

 

Step 3: Find Your Goal Score

Once your chart is filled out, look for the highest TOEFL total score on your chart; this will be your goal score, as it’s the score most likely to get you into all of the schools to which you’re applying. If any of your schools require certain section scores, be sure to note the highest score for each section as well (these will be your individual section goal scores).

In our example above, Pierre’s highest total score is 101 (with scores of at least 23 on all sections). Therefore, Pierre’s total TOEFL score goal is 101 — a relatively high total score in the top 20 percent of test takers.

 

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Summary: What the TOEFL Total Score Means for You

The TOEFL total score is the overall score you get on the TOEFL and the one most commonly used by schools to determine whether applicants are proficient in English. Your total score uses a scale of 0-120 and consists of your four section scores — Reading, Listening, Speaking, and Writing — which are each scored separately on a scale of 0-30.

Although it is possible to score 120 (i.e., the maximum TOEFL score), doing so is extremely rare. Moreover, schools don’t expect applicants to attain perfect TOEFL scores; rather, they simply want to see that you’ve fulfilled their TOEFL score requirements. Minimum required TOEFL scores vary depending on the school. The average score required for admission to US universities is 78.

To figure out what TOEFL total score you’ll need for your schools, make a chart and search online for information about your schools’ minimum TOEFL score requirements. Once you’ve filled out your chart, the highest score on it will be your goal score. This is the score most likely to get you into all of the schools to which you’re applying.

 

What’s Next?

Got more questions about TOEFL scoring? Read about what are considered good and bad TOEFL scores and learn how the TOEFL score ranges work for the TOEFL iBT and PBT.


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Need help getting ready for the TOEFL? Our guide on how to prepare for the TOEFL teaches you what you can do to raise your English abilities and get the score you want on test day. You can also purchase a top-rated TOEFL prep book.


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Author: Hannah Muniz

Hannah graduated summa cum laude from the University of Southern California with a bachelor’s degree in English and East Asian languages and cultures. After graduation, she taught English in Japan for two years via the JET Program. She is passionate about education, writing, and travel.

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