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Should I Retake the TOEFL?

So you took the TOEFL, and you’re not happy with your score. What should you do now? How important is your TOEFL score, really? Is it important to retake the TOEFL and get a higher score?

These are good questions, but the answers are different for individual people. Maybe you scored a 96, but you were hoping for over 100. Or maybe you scored a 68, and you don’t know what you need. Those are very different situations. But here’s the good news: it’s not too hard to figure this out.

Find Your Target Score

The first thing to do, if you haven’t done it already, is to research what your target score should be. Conveniently, minimum TOEFL scores are often posted on university programs’ websites. Unlike other admissions tests–such as the SAT, GRE, or GMAT–the TOEFL gives information to schools that isn’t in other parts of your application. Whereas your math abilities might be given by both your GRE score and your grades in classes, your ability to communicate in English is only directly measured by your TOEFL score. So while a program might accept a student with a low GRE (or SAT, or whatever) score because the other parts of the application are good, if your English level isn’t high enough, then there is little else to consider.

My main point is this: you can usually find the scores you need for the programs you want by researching on their websites. If you can’t find a minimum TOEFL score, then if you email the admissions office, they will probably help to answer the question.

Once you know your target score, you’re making progress.

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Below the Target Score

If you didn’t reach your target, but the program you’re interested in says that score is the minimum, then there is no question; you have to retake the TOEFL.

If the program doesn’t say it’s a requirement, only a preference, then you might consider 5 points under the preference to be the limit. If the school says they prefer 80 or over, and you got 74, you should retake the test. If you got a 78, then it’s probably a good idea to focus on the other parts of your application.

You should also consider your deadline and what went wrong the first time. If you must apply to your program within a month, and you already studied a lot for the TOEFL before taking it, then you will probably not make a big improvement so quickly. There’s no point in retaking the TOEFL and getting the same score again. On the other hand, if you didn’t really study the first time, and the format and strategies of the test were new to you, then one month might be enough time to make the improvement you need–but you’ll have to study for it! It’s possible to make a 5-10 point difference from simply learning how to take the test, rather than by raising your English level very much.

If you have longer than a month to make an improvement, but you already know the test very well, it really depends on how much you need to improve. Building English skills requires time and practice–even more than learning to take the test requires. How much time and how much practice varies from person to person, of course. But in general, if you need to make a large improvement and you already know the test format well, then you will probably need anywhere from a month to a year (or more) to bring up your English level. If this is the case, remember to focus on not only grammar. Speak and write in English as much as possible.

At the Target Score or Above

Unlike the other admissions tests, there’s no real reason to retake TOEFL just to get an extremely high score. If the school wants 70 or above and you get a 70, then you’re fine. You don’t need a 90–it won’t really help you. The other parts of your application are more important!

So, Should I Retake the TOEFL?

Hopefully after reading the above, that’s a question you’ll have a little bit easier of a time answering. Just try to make your decision an informed one!

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58 Responses to Should I Retake the TOEFL?

  1. Siddharth May 23, 2014 at 4:25 am #

    Hi,

    Thanks for the great post.
    I took the internet based test last November, and got 110. Though I am satisfied with the overall score, the problem is that it is very skewed.
    I got 23 in the speaking section, and 29 in the other three. I intend to apply to top b-schools in the coming months. Do you think I should go in for a retest.

    Would really appreciate your advice.
    Thanks!

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas May 23, 2014 at 9:07 am #

      First, congratulations on the 110! That’s an awesome score. Whether you should retake depends on your program’s requirements. You might find that in order to get a TA position (teaching assistantship), for example, the program requires a higher speaking score specifically, even if the overall TOEFL requirement is only 100. I can’t say for certain what you personally will need, but some schools require a 26 or higher. In that case, you might want to practice the speaking section quit a lot and retake the test. There’s a very good possibility that’s not true, but it’s something you should look into just in case!

      • Siddharth June 4, 2014 at 3:01 am #

        Thanks a lot Lucas!
        I am planning to apply to b-schools in the US. Most of them mention the overall cut-off, and not sectional ones. Luckily, I am clearing most of them.
        I think I will hold on to these scores.
        Thanks again!

        • Lucas Fink
          Lucas June 6, 2014 at 9:15 am #

          You’re welcome! Good luck. 🙂

  2. student1 June 3, 2014 at 2:20 pm #

    Dear Lucas,

    Please answer my question. I have been acquainted with English as a foreign language for about 5 years. I have gotten 90 on TOEFL IBT. I can see a post in which someone has gotten a 110 score on IBT. How does it happen? I think it is a little more than knowing the language on a common sense or a standard preparation course. It seems more like building skills for the exam? Can you help me to get a score of that level?

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas June 6, 2014 at 9:21 am #

      Getting a score as high as a 110 is mostly about experience with English—very likely, that person has been using English in their daily life (reading, speaking, hearing, writing, or all of the above) for many years. But learning about the TOEFL and learning the best ways to answer questions can absolutely help your scores! And yes, part of that may be building skills; somebody who scores a 110 is probably very good at taking the right amount of notes, eliminating wrong answers, timing themselves well on reading, planning essays, etc. That’s definitely an important part of preparation if you’re not very comfortable with the test. We can help you raise your score, yes, by teaching you about how to take the test, but whether you can achieve a 110 depends on how much time and energy you can devote, since it might require improving general English ability, too.

  3. Deepak June 5, 2014 at 9:52 am #

    Hello my TOEFL score is 76(R-17,L-15,S-23,W-21)…Gre- 300 & B.Tech-81% (No Backlogs).Should I retake the TOEFL again?. I need your suggestions, please !!

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas June 6, 2014 at 9:15 am #

      Hi Deepak,

      That depends on where you’re applying and what the minimum scores are, but you will probably need a higher score. The rest of your application rarely matters if your TOEFL score isn’t past the minimum. Find our what the minimum is at the schools you’re interested in, then decide whether you’ll retake the test.

      Lucas

  4. DONALD June 6, 2014 at 7:44 am #

    pls help me. are the TOEFL scores of may 23th out already. i have not yet receive my score up till now i wrote on may 23th in Cameroon

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas June 6, 2014 at 9:13 am #

      Hi Donald,

      I’d love to help, but I’m afraid that’s a question for ETS! I know that generally speaking, TOEFL scores are released earlier than that, so you should definitely email ETS to find out what’s happening in your case. They’re more responsive than you might expect.

      Lucas

  5. Pulkit July 1, 2014 at 7:25 pm #

    My TOEFL scores are as follows :- R-22,L-26,S-23,W-25,total-96. How far is my possibility to get through the requirement of good universities in USA for an MBA course? Should I retake the test?

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas July 7, 2014 at 11:37 am #

      That depends on where you’re applying, Pulkit. Many business schools require a 100 or even a 110, but some only ask for a 90 (or less). You should know which schools you want to apply to first. Find their requirements on their websites to know if your score is high enough.

  6. Santigo July 24, 2014 at 7:21 pm #

    Dear Lucas,

    Does universities care if you take the toefl three times?

    Thank you.

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas July 28, 2014 at 8:04 pm #

      Nope! For the most part, how many times you take the TOEFL doesn’t matter. After all, your English will continue to improve over time, so schools only care about your most recent English ability. If you take the TOEFL 5 or 6 times in a year, it’s possible that a school will ask you about it or be a bit worried about it, but 3 times is definitely fine.

  7. raghu August 14, 2014 at 10:06 am #

    I took TOEFL last month: 92(r22,l16,s26,w28)

    Though many of the universities I’m planning to apply shows a minimum cut-off of 80 in their portal, I’m not sure if I can apply with a low sectional score in listening. Does listening score matters a lot for admission? Could you please give your suggestions ?

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas August 19, 2014 at 2:41 pm #

      That depends on the school, Raghu. This blog post can help illustrate: http://magoosh.com/toefl/2014/toefl-scores/

      Basically, some schools have minimum scores on each section, while some scores only have minimum total scores. Very often, if a program has a minimum for a specific section, it’s for the speaking section. Minimum listening scores, if existent, are often lower than the others. Check with the programs you’re applying too!

  8. Osama Aljarrah September 1, 2014 at 1:24 pm #

    Dear Lucas,

    I have recently took the TOEFL iBT exam and my score was 78 (R:17, L:23, S:20, W:18). The problem is most university needs 79-80 minimum score, but most admitted student for graduate programs had TOEFL iBT test score of 100 or more. I’m very frustrated the deadlines for admission is approaching so do you have any advice recommend me for. please help!

    regards,

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas September 2, 2014 at 4:47 pm #

      You’re so close, Osama! If you had a 78, and the schools you are going to apply to had minimums of 80, you can definitely reach the minimum by retaking the test. 🙂 Don’t worry too much about reaching that 100—aim instead to get above the minimum.

      Think about your experience last time: what caused the most trouble for you? Did you run out of time on the reading or writing sections? Were you able to find the answers in the reading passages? Did you know how to structure your answers in the speaking section? Find your weaknesses and spend the time between now and the next time you take the test practicing those specifically. And keep reading, speaking, writing, and listening to English, of course! Between learning the test and continuing to use your English, you can definitely make the improvement of just a few points that you need.

  9. Eman September 4, 2014 at 7:52 am #

    I got 78 in TOEFL and most universities want 79 or 80
    I’ll take the test again but I’m afraid that I’ll get a lower score ):
    The only thing i do these days is preparing for the test by studying Gre vocabulary
    Do you think it’s good to study this or i’ve to study s.th else ?
    Is it possible to be accepted at any grad school if the school want 80 or ,79 ,78 ?
    Thank you so much

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas September 8, 2014 at 3:48 pm #

      If the school you’re applying to has a minimum score of 80, and you got a 78, you will probably not be considered. Check with the schools you’re going to apply to if you want to be sure! A preference is different from a minimum.

      The good news is that I definitely think you’ll get a higher score the next time, and I expect you will score higher than 80. 🙂 Don’t just study vocabulary, though (especially not GRE vocabulary—that won’t help you much for the TOEFL.) Instead, get as much English experience as possible learn how to take the test! Check out my book reviews if you need material to start studying with.

  10. Bappy September 4, 2014 at 8:21 am #

    Dear Lucas,

    I got a TOEFL score of 96, where R-28, L-24, S-19, W-25. I am very much worried about speaking section. Everybody says that to get TA, at least 23 in speaking is required. Moreover, I am going to miss some school where at least 20 is needed in individual sub-section. My poor score in speaking was due to the center environment. Anyway, problem is that there is no available date with convenient center within November and I have not done my SOP and LOR yet. I also have not shortlisted the universities. If there is date within October, then I might not vacillating. Could you please give me some suggestion? There is date for 26th October and 2nd November, but the test center is very bad and if I retake through this center, then perhaps my score will be more worse. Will it be a problem to get TA/RA with this speaking. If it is possible, then I won’t do this.
    MY GRE: 315 (Quant- 164, Verbal-151, AWA-3)
    CGPA: 3.26
    Publication: 3 International Journal and 2 Conference Paper
    Thank You.

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas September 8, 2014 at 3:55 pm #

      Hi there,

      I’m afraid I don’t have a straight answer for you: answers to these types of questions depend on what schools or programs you’re applying to. Even then, we’re not experts in admissions like we are in test preparation—it’s better to get an answer by narrowing down the schools you want to apply to and asking them specifically about their requirements for TA/RA positions. From what I have seen, most schools do require higher than a 19 (many require 24 or higher), but it’s possible that the programs you want to apply to will give you other options, such as an ESL class. Your first step should be researching schools and finding out what they require!

  11. Medha September 7, 2014 at 4:04 am #

    Hello Lucas.
    I find myself in a weird situation and am hoping someone can shed light on it. I took my TOEFL in July 2013 and got a great score (117). I got accepted to a couple of universities in the US but could not go and had to get my admission deferred. Now I am considering applying to Europe as well for Fall 2015 and then take a call. The problem is, I’m not sure if my scores will be deemed valid by the other universities I’m applying to. Should I retake the test? And if I do so, will my deferred admits still be valid?

    Thanks

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas September 8, 2014 at 4:10 pm #

      Hi Medha,

      First, ETS only sends scores from tests taken within two years, so if you ask them to send your July 2013 test scores any time after July 2015, they won’t be able to. As for the deferred admission, although I want to help, that’s a question you should ask the schools you’re applying to. We have more experience with test preparation than with admissions advice, and I don’t want to mislead you or give you bad advice!

  12. John September 9, 2014 at 3:00 pm #

    I got 26-26-17-23 for RLSW, I know my speaking is not so good and with some stress it get worse but I can’t believe I have done so bad! Is there any way I can find the problem and correct it before taking another exam? I don’t understand how people can do better in speaking than listening.

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas September 12, 2014 at 3:26 pm #

      It sounds like test pressure caused the problem. But there’s good news! Practicing the speaking section as much as possible can solve that. Your goal should be to know exactly what type of question each task is (for example, what do you have to do in speaking task 4?) and how you will structure your response. If you know the type of task and the appropriate structure before you start, it’s much easier to give a full answer.

      Keep speaking English every day and learning more about those speaking tasks and you’ll see improvement before your next test!

  13. tamilmani September 15, 2014 at 4:04 am #

    Hi Lucas,
    I planned to do Ms in CS. I got 93 in toefl(r-29,s-20,l-20,w-24). Is it advisable for me to retake toefl as avg. toefl score for some grad schools is >100. What if I get low score in my second attempt. Will my first score gets replaced?Do I have the option to select which score I need to send to universities?
    Thanks in Advance.

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas September 16, 2014 at 2:54 pm #

      If the schools that you’re applying to all ask for 100 or more, then yes, you’ll probably want to retake the test. Between now and then, you should prepare so you definitely get a higher score. 🙂 How schools consider multiple scores varies, but most schools consider only your higher scores. You do have the option to choose scores—every time you take the test, you select which schools to send scores to. Then, the results of that specific test day will be sent to those schools.

  14. Mat September 15, 2014 at 9:48 pm #

    Hi! I’m hesitating about retake the TOEFL! I got R-25 L-26 S-23 W-20 Total Score-94, I need a total score of 92, that’s good, but I also need a 22 at writing section for the scholarship that I want to apply. Since I finished the exam, I knew I didn’t do a good job with my essay, because I took a bad approach on my answer.

    I must send the scholarships application documents this december, so If I want to retake the TOEFL I should do it the next month. Do you think I could improve enough to obtain at least a 22 at the writing part (2 more points) in only one month? Or I should wait to take the toefl and apply for the scholarship the next year?

    Of course, whether I retake it also exist the possibility to get a lower score, so I don’t know what to do?

    Thanks for your opinion!

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas September 16, 2014 at 3:07 pm #

      One month is definitely enough time to make that 2-point improvement, if you can devote the time and energy to practicing your essay! I recommend you get to work studying and practicing as soon as you can and take the test again.

  15. Abhilash Vimal October 13, 2014 at 10:22 pm #

    I got 313 in my gre (quant -156 and verbal 157).I got 4.5 in awa. I got 110 in my toefl test. my undergrad cgpa is 7.1 on a scale of 10. I wanted to know whether my toefl score would help in getting funding through TA . I plan to apply for fall 2015 Ms in computer science.

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas October 17, 2014 at 10:58 am #

      That’s a questions for the program you’re applying to, Abhilash—we’re more experts in the test than we are experts in the details of admissions and various schools’ requirements for teaching assistantships. But I can tell you that often, for a TA position, schools require specific sub-section scores, such as 25+ on the speaking section. If you’re above the minimums that they tell you, then you should be okay. 🙂 Again, though, contact the programs you’re applying to for details!

  16. John October 16, 2014 at 2:44 pm #

    Hi Lucas,
    I just got my TOEFL results and I got R-19 L-20 S-24 W-20 with total score 83. I want to apply for Bachelor of Animation at Sheridan College. The minimum score required is 80, but with 20 minimum in each section. Should I be worried that they won’t exept my score, and should I think of retaking the test?

    Thanks!

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas October 17, 2014 at 11:47 am #

      That’s a difficult question. You’ll want to email them personally to be sure, but the short answer is yes, you probably should retake. I’m very confident you could score higher after some practice, and since your reading score is below their minimum, with your current scores they would probably either reject you or give some type of conditional acceptance. Again, it’s hard to say for certain (some schools are more lenient than others), so contact them to try to get more information!

  17. arwa October 21, 2014 at 3:23 pm #

    hi Lucas
    i received my score today and i want to retake the test, i’v got only 85 but i don’t know how to increase my score?
    i have a problem taking notes while listening & i don’t know how to work on that?
    i need to get 100.

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas October 28, 2014 at 12:32 pm #

      Improving your note-taking skills takes time! It helps to have a book that guides you through, such as Cambridge TOEFL—that has a large section devoted to improving your notes and listening (although you need to buy the CDs separately). Above all, practice is key. Listening to real English lectures regularly can be a great help, on top of TOEFL-specific material. This post has some links to great listening material: http://magoosh.com/toefl/2014/best-free-toefl-resources/

      Of course, it also helps to know more about the format of the test and how to take it. Books like Cambridge or Magoosh TOEFL can be a great help with that. 🙂

  18. Ritesh October 28, 2014 at 9:28 pm #

    Hi lucas,
    I scored 99 in Toefl IBT. But some universities has 100 as a minimum score requirement. So will my application be considered by universities? or should i retake the test?
    Thanks in advance.

  19. payel1986 October 29, 2014 at 9:23 am #

    Hi Lucas! I am from India, applying in Fall 2015 for chemistry graduate programs. I have a GRE score of 312 with q 162 and AWA 4 with strong research experience, publications and good GPA. However, my TOEFL score is just 99 with 23 in speaking. I am wondering should I go on applying to universities with TOEF cut-off 100. Can I be still considered for TA/RA. I don’t have time at all to retake as the deadline is approaching. Please help! Any suggestions are welcome.

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas November 3, 2014 at 2:35 pm #

      Requirements for a TA are often slightly different than minimum application scores—check with the programs you’re applying to and find our the requirements! As for the rest of your question, see my response to Ritesh, above.

  20. Vaishnavi October 30, 2014 at 6:24 am #

    Dear Lucas
    Firstly, I really appreciate all the amazing help that you guys do to go out of your way by answering all the queries.
    I scored 99 in my TOEFL (R-25, L-25,S-28, W-21) and the colleges I am interested in requires a minimum of 100. So I retook TOEFL and this time I did not perform well. So I am expecting a lower score.
    Can I select which score to send to the universities? Will my multiple attempt have any effect on application acceptance?
    Also In my second attempt, I haven’t listed any schools to send my score.
    Thanks a lot in advance.

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas November 3, 2014 at 2:40 pm #

      Good question! You can choose which scores to send if you pay to send them after the date of the test. Since you didn’t choose any schools to send scores to for free in your recent test, those scores will not be sent unless you pay to send them. The same is true of your previous score of 99; if you pay to send scores after the test is finished, you can choose which dates to send. Schools usually consider the most recent score as the most important one, but if the test dates are close together, they might consider the higher score of more importance.

  21. Chopra October 30, 2014 at 7:02 am #

    Hi,
    I am Master’s in Computer Science aspirant.
    I got a score of 102 in TOEFL. R-29, L-26, S-26, W-21. I have a GRE score of 324.
    I qualify some of the universities, but in others I will be accepted via some adjustment, specially the top tier ones..
    How important a role do you think TOEFL score would play?

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas November 3, 2014 at 2:41 pm #

      Your application is about more than just test scores! Your academic history, job history, recommendations, and statement of purpose are the majority of your application. 102 is a high enough TOEFL score for most universities. Very few programs require higher than that.

  22. Lakshman November 3, 2014 at 2:11 am #

    Hi Lucas,

    On First attempt of TOEFL i scored 79. I am retaking the test in following week.
    My Question is that on worst case if my score goes less than 79 in my second attempt. Can i still apply with high score ?

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas November 3, 2014 at 3:03 pm #

      Yes, you can always choose whether to send scores and which scores to send. Before you take the test, you have the choice of sending scores for free. After you take it, you can pay to send specific scores to specific schools—you choose which test date’s score to send.

  23. amir November 17, 2014 at 8:49 am #

    Greetings sir,

    I am two weeks to my second retake for my toefl I scored 82 for my first test and my institution requires me to score above 90. So is it possible to achieve that score in this two weeks time and kindly i am very glad if you can share some important tips to score above 90

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas November 18, 2014 at 6:17 pm #

      That depends on what you need to work on. 🙂 There is no single way to improve. You need to identify what causes you problems, and then try to improve that. For example, do you have trouble taking helpful notes? Are there long pauses in your spoken responses? Do you have trouble transitioning from one sentence to the next? Find the areas that cause you trouble, and then work on them with focus. 🙂 Keep learning from your mistakes, building your vocabulary, and improving your grammar, and you’ll improve your score!

  24. Aicha bouanai November 19, 2014 at 12:12 pm #

    hi
    I am from Morocco , applying in Fall 2015 for cultural studies programs. and the intended score for that programme is 79 . I started preparation for toefl IBT one week ago and i ll take the test on 26th january. do u think i can achieve such a score ? is the days left enough for preparation ? what are the advices u can give me to get that score ? im using a book named the complete guide to the toefl test
    thx in advance plz i need answers cuz i’m totally confused

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas November 24, 2014 at 4:46 pm #

      It’s certainly possible that you’ll score 79+, but that depends completely on your starting skill level. For example, if you had just started studying English last month for the first time, I would say that you should study for a few more years before taking the test—but clearly, that’s not true of you. 🙂 From now until January 26th gives you just over 2 months, which is enough for most students to learn the format of the test and the best strategies for answering each question. If you need to improve your core language skills, it sometimes takes longer to make the needed improvement, but I think it’s very possible that you will be ready to dominate on test day. That book is a great resource! Just keep practicing, learning from your mistakes, and using English every day. Happy studying!

  25. Jeremy November 22, 2014 at 9:18 am #

    Hi,

    Thanks for this post.
    Just had a question is still not very clear.
    I took the toefl and did not send any score to any school.
    I will retake it and will neither use the 4 free scores to send to any school.
    Is my second score is lower than the first one I will be abble to send only the first score to the school (oaying the 19$ fee to ets) and they will not see my second score. In summary as long as I don’ t use the 4 free score report there is no risk at all in retaking the toefl. Is that right?
    Thx

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas November 24, 2014 at 5:47 pm #

      That’s right! You can choose which scores to send if you select schools after the test and pay the fee. Only scores that you choose will be sent.

  26. Dianne November 29, 2014 at 5:13 pm #

    Hi! Is it possible that I will just retake the speaking part only?

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas December 2, 2014 at 12:07 pm #

      Good question! Unfortunately, the answer is no. In order to receive scores, you must take the whole test.

  27. chandana November 30, 2014 at 7:30 am #

    Hi lucas,
    I took my toefl ibt on 26 October 14, still my results were not available, and they are telling that they kept my result on hold.. How much time it will take for their investigation?

    thanks..

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas December 2, 2014 at 2:16 pm #

      That’s a tough question! That only happens very rarely, so it is hard for me to say—I don’t hear that often. Contact ETS to ask. They will have more information on why it’s on hold than I do. Sorry I can’t be of more help!


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