You can't 'fail' the TOEFL exam, you just get a score. Source: Christin Hume

You no doubt know that if you want to study in the US or another English-speaking country, you have to prove your language skills are up to scratch by taking the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or a similar exam.

TOEFL is the most widely accepted exam in the US, though the IELTS or Cambridge Language exams are also accepted at many institutions across the US and the world.

Firstly, it’s important to know you don’t pass or fail the TOEFL, instead, you receive a score. The scoring system works out at 30 marks per section of the four-part test. With 30 points each for reading, listening, speaking and writing, students’ total score is out of 120.

So, just what is a ‘good’ score?

According to information obtained by US News, the answer lies with the universities themselves.

US universities and colleges are in charge of setting their own minimum scores for admission, so what determines a good score depends on where you want to study.

“There’s a range of scores that could be considered good,” Vice President of Operations in North America for English language test-prep organisation Kaplan International Daniel Kovacs told US News.

“Different universities have different requirements, but in general they range anywhere from 60 to about 90,” he said.

Among highly ranked schools with an emphasis on research, US News data revealed the average minimum TOEFL score was 78.1 for undergraduate applicants from overseas in the 2016-17 academic year.

When national liberal arts colleges were looked at, however, this score rose to 82.5.

Two experts, Mandee Heller Adler and Nat Smitobol, told US News that students who apply to very selective institutions should be aiming for scores around the 100 mark.

And according to an annual survey by US News, half of Ivy League schools required a minimum score of 100 for admissions in the 2016-17 academic year. The other half did not respond to the survey so it is possible their requirements were this high, too.

However, Smitobol admits 100 is a “pretty tough score.”

How important is your score?

According to a National Association for College Admission Counselling (NACAC) report, 80.3 percent of US institutions surveyed feel English proficiency test scores are a “key factor” for considering international applicants.

The report found that TOEFL scores were even more important to admissions officers than students’ qualifications and grades, and even their college application essays.

So, it’s safe to say it’s pretty important to meet the required score.

But don’t despair if your score didn’t quite reach the mark. If you have a strong application – i.e. a wonderful college essay, great grades and some impressive experience – but your score is a tad low, you may be offered conditional admission.

With conditional admission, you are essentially put on an intensive English language course on campus before you can to fully enter the degree programme once your skills improve.

Some colleges and universities have minimum score requirements for each separate section of the TOEFL. However, Adler stated this is uncommon for undergraduate admissions.

Of course, the minimum score varies depending on the institution, so it’s crucial you check and check again what score you need to meet.

How about postgraduate students?

Postgraduate students tend to face stricter criteria, particularly for those hoping to enrol on business programmes.

“Most top-ranked MBA programs require a minimum TOEFL score of 100 to 105,” University of Illinois Business School Assistant Dean of Graduate Programmes Jeff Beavers told US News.

He went on to claim for that the majority of highly ranked MBAs, the average TOEFL score is between 108 and 112.

But the most important thing to bear in mind is that a good score is certainly “achievable for international students,” Kovacs said.

“Keep at it – don’t get discouraged,” he added.

So, don’t worry yourself too much with the idea of ‘good’ and ‘bad’, aim for the score you need for where you want to go and don’t concern yourself with the rest. We wish you luck!

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