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TOEFL Tuesday: Do Native Speakers Get Perfect Scores on the TOEFL?

Because the TOEFL is a test of how well you can communicate at an English-only university, you may expect that all native English speakers would get perfect scores on the test. But the truth is that sometimes, they don’t. It depends on the person—in particular, it depends on whether they already know the TOEFL.

Teachers like me should get perfect scores if they want to. But I’ve taken the test before, and I’ve taught it for years, so there is no part of the test that will cause problems for me. If you already know the format of the TOEFL well, then 120 is reasonable.

But if you don’t have experience with the TOEFL before you take the test, even if you are a native speaker, you might lose points because you’re surprised by some aspects of the test. This native English teacher, for example, took the test and scored a 105. He admits that he didn’t know anything about the test before he took it, and that is almost certainly why his score wasn’t above 110.

For example, let’s consider the listening section. In order to get a perfect score, you need to remember a lot of detail from the conversations and lectures, so you can answer questions. What if you stop paying attention for a moment? You can miss a detail that is in a question later, and lose points.

Or consider the speaking section: you have to answer very specific types of questions, and have only 45 or 60 seconds to answer. If you don’t structure your answer, and don’t know what to expect, it’s easy to miss key information because the timer finishes too soon. I recently spoke with a native speaker who took the TOEFL and scored a 24 on the speaking section. With some preparation, he would certainly score higher—likely 28 to 30.

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Native Speakers Rarely Need the TOEFL

The TOEFL is specifically for people who speak English as a foreign language. In general, universities require it from people who cannot prove that they speak English natively. But sometimes, it does happen. Even if you grow up speaking English, if you don’t attend a high school or university that speaks only English, and you’re not a U.S., U.K., or Australian citizen, then you might still be asked for TOEFL scores.

But if you have any proof that you speak English as a native language, contact universities that you are applying to—you probably won’t need to take the TOEFL.

But if you do need a TOEFL score, and you are a native speaker, you would probably score over 100 with no preparation. That’s enough for some universities, but not all—especially if they have requirements for specific sections. Some programs, for example, require 26+ on the speaking section. So even if you are a very advanced English speaker, I recommend preparing for the test. Learn the format before you take it, so you don’t lose points just because you are surprised.

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One Response to TOEFL Tuesday: Do Native Speakers Get Perfect Scores on the TOEFL?

  1. John November 30, 2016 at 3:24 pm #

    I appreciate this post a lot… I’ve been stressed about the TOEFL lately. I’ve been in the states for over 7 years now and I speak English almost as well as my native language Chinese. I still have a slight accent but it’s very subtle, most people wouldn’t know I’m foreign unless I tell them…

    And yet, the TOEFL is concerning me because I’m applying to several Ivy League schools and they require a minimum of 104 and a 26-28 to be exempt from taking a language prep course. The test itself isn’t hard at all: I recently took the GRE and that difficulty is in a whole different universe. The vocabs are easy, the readings are easy, the listening is easy, everything is easy. However, I end up getting the some wrong answers because the questions adds another level of difficulty to the test. In the end, It’s the silly prepping things such as the correct strategies to answer a question, or simply just being prepared to bullshit your favorite childhood experience that would help you get a perfect score.

    The test shouldn’t be constructed in a way that even native speakers need to prepare for it. It’s way more than an evaluation of English as a second language. I absolutely hate it because i know my English is good and it will be so awkward if I don’t get a good score with preparation lol I graduated from a U.S. high school, got my bachelor’s degree here and work a full-time job here. Last thing i want is to be forced to take a language course because this stupid test doesn’t reflect my proficiency in English correctly… Oh well, sorry about venting… You guys are great.


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