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How to Compare the TOEFL and CEFR

Europe on the world map

Photo by Ssolbergj

There are a lot of different tests and scales out there to assess your language skills — the TOEFL, IELTS, TOEIC, the Pearson Test of English. The list goes on! For our students in Europe, you are all probably very familiar with the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (or, CEFR for short). According to the Council of Europe, the CEFR describes foreign language proficiency at six levels:

A1 and A2, B1 and B2, C1 and C2. It also defines three ‘plus’ levels (A2+, B1+, B2+). Based on empirical research and widespread consultation, this scheme makes it possible to compare tests and examinations across languages and national boundaries… It also provides a basis for recognising language qualifications and thus facilitating educational and occupational mobility.

A TOEFL and CEFR Comparison: What does it mean?

European students likely already know what CEFR “level” they are when it comes to communicating in English. But, if you’re currently studying for the TOEFL, what does this mean? What score can you expect on the TOEFL and how does your CEFR level compare? Below is a comparison to help you estimate how well you’ll do on the TOEFL, according to your CEFR level.

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TOEFL and C1 or C2

The C1 level (proficient) is important for studying at a university, so we’ll start there. According to ETS, a C1 CEFR level is a 95 or above on the TOEFL. More specifically, a C1 or above translates to a 24 on the Reading section, a 22 Listening, a 25 Speaking, and a 24 Writing.

If you’re at this level or above (C2), you likely won’t need to study extensively for the TOEFL. But you should definitely still familiarize yourself with the format of the exam and take a few practice tests to guarantee you’re on track to hit your target score. If you’re not, then you’ll need to study just like everyone else. 🙂

TOEFL and B1 or B2

B1 and B2 students can interact with native speakers, but potentially not at a level of fluency needed for undertaking a masters or a PhD at an English-speaking university.

A B2 level is about a 72 on the TOEFL. Most universities require a TOEFL score that is much higher than this (more info on minimum scores here), so you will need to study for the TOEFL. Using a study plan is a good place to start.

A B1 level is about a 42 on the TOEFL. Studying for the TOEFL will also be extremely necessary at this level. However, you’ll need to determine if you’re ready to start studying the actual contents of the exam, or if you’d be better off improving your general English skills first.

TOEFL and A1 or A2

There are no TOEFL score comparisons for the A-level. This is because this is a very “basic” level, and speakers at this level are probably just starting their language-learning journey. 🙂

For more information on score comparisons, you can check out these charts on ETS’s site.

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4 Responses to How to Compare the TOEFL and CEFR

  1. Prakhar September 25, 2016 at 9:02 am #

    You mentioned “C1 CEFR level is a 95 or above on the TOEFL”. Does this mean A score of 95 is enough to be considered C1, or are the subscores a hard limit too?
    For example, if a person scores: 26 on the Reading section and a 20 in Listening (and 25 Speaking, and a 24 Writing), will they be C1? If not, what would be the level there?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert October 1, 2016 at 9:03 am #

      Good question! There’s a couple of ways you could look at this. You could say that the student is a C1 in English overall, but that listening is their weakest skill. Or you could view this as a case where the student has C1 ability in Reading, Speaking, and Writing, but is at B2 (a somewhat high B2) in Listening.

      In other words, it’s possible to look at CEFR in terms of whole-language skill (analogous to a whole test TOEFL score), or in terms of individual language skills (analogous to TOEFL subscores).

  2. Laurence February 9, 2017 at 1:56 am #

    Hi, thanks for the interesting article but you state that ‘The C1 level (proficient) …..’ but I thought it was C2 that is proficient and C1 advanced.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert February 9, 2017 at 6:20 am #

      Hi Laurence,

      Please note that the CEFR levels range from A1 to C2. C1 represents effective operational proficiency or advanced, and C2 represents mastery or proficiency. Both C1 and C@ represent proficiency, but C2 leans towards mastery. I hope this help! 😀


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