TOEIC Exam Score and Proficiency

toeic exam score

Understanding TOEIC Exam Scores

Whenever you take an exam, the first question on everyone’s mind is; “What score do I need to achieve?”. This can be a difficult question in most situations, but the system TOEIC uses doesn’t make it easier. To help you understand how to interpret the TOEIC exam score, here are a few things you should know.


Understanding how TOEIC is graded

Perhaps you have already done some research about the TOEIC exam. If you did, you may already have seen many articles mention that TOEIC is not a pass or fail exam. This is important to understand, because most of us are familiar with exams that are graded with a pass/fail system. The reason why TOEIC does not issue a pass or fail, is because its purpose is to indicate someone’s level of proficiency of the English language. This means that receiving any score on the exam indicates some level of proficiency. In general, there is one proficiency system that is accepted globally, called CEFR. You may already be familiar with hearing about a ‘B2’ or ‘C1’ level of proficiency. This is referring to the levels of language proficiency determined by CEFR.  The CEFR system, which stands for Common European Framework of Reference (for languages), is a universally accepted standard that defines six levels of proficiency. A1 is beginner level, up to C2 for ‘fluent’.

ETS, the organisation that provides the TOEIC exam, assigned different scores to five levels of proficiency. These are the CEFR scores up to C1 (A1, A2, B1, B2, C1), and excluding C2. These levels are then distributed over the range of scores that you can achieve at the TOEIC. There are two TOEIC exams: Listening & Reading and Speaking & Writing.


A1 Proficiency: Beginner/Breakthrough

A1 proficiency is the beginner phase of language learning, also known as the ‘breakthrough’ stage. Real efforts to learn a language become noticeable at this point. This is somewhat comparable to the level that is taught and learned in primary schools. Don’t be discouraged by this analogy though, it simply indicates the first stages at which a basic proficiency is present. It includes being able to say, read, write, and understand basic, trivial phrases such as asking/telling personal details and factual statements (e.g. My name is Adam / the car is blue). It is the first level of understanding a language that is measurable (with a basic set of vocabulary and phrases).


A2 Proficiency: Elementary/Waystage

During the A2 phase of language learning, you become sufficient in the ability to use practical sentences in real situations. Asking and being able to follow directions and describing situations. At this stage, also known as the ‘waystage’, the first noticeable progress is being made towards higher levels of proficiency. Although the ability to call oneself ‘fluent’ or ‘proficient’ does not have any merit, the fundamental basis of the language is being built. The waystage is arguably the most difficult stage to pass, as after this stage you will learn more difficult aspects of a language, such as understanding complex grammar.


B1 Proficiency: Intermediate/Threshold

B1 is a common level for those who have learned a second language in school. You have now reached a higher level of understanding of the grammatical rules and a decently broad vocabulary. You are able to express thoughts, events, and reasons in written and spoken forms. Topics such as (travel) plans, news items, and opinions can be used effectively in conversation. You are able to speak or write about topics you have researched and are able to answer simple questions regarding these topics.


B2 Proficiency: Upper Intermediate/Vantage

B2 is one of the more difficult stages to achieve and requires serious learning for a longer period of time. We have now crossed the barrier of casual language skills and are in the domain where more complex situations can be understood and explained in a foreign language. Spontaneous conversations can be held without prior research, and longer conversations can be held at this stage, both in spoken and written form, where both parties are able to interact with each other with minimal confusion or misunderstanding. This is the level that most higher-education universities and companies will require from their applicants.


C1 Proficiency: Advanced/Effective Operation

At this point you have entered the ‘C’-class of proficiency. You have proven to have sufficient proficiency of a language in order to maintain long and detailed conversations about specific (technical) subjects. Even native speakers of a language will often reside in the C1 level of proficiency. At this point you have reached a professional working proficiency that allows you to discuss detailed and specialised topics. This is subsequently the highest level that the TOEIC is able to test.


C2 Proficiency: Mastery/Fluent

A C2 proficiency is the single highest level that you can attain, and is not tested by the TOEIC exam. This level of proficiency is commonly used by high-level academics and requires extensive knowledge of grammar and complex vocabulary. As mentioned, many native speakers actually do not have a C2 level of proficiency, as this level is not required in most daily use.


TOEIC and Proficiency Levels

ETS has assigned various points scores to the CEFR proficiency levels. To complete TOEIC entirely, you will need to take the Listening and Reading exam as well as the Speaking and Writing exam. These two exams have different scoring systems and different point scores you can achieve. Subsequently, they have a different allocation of points to proficiency level. To help you judge your level of proficiency according to your exam result and CEFR system, below is an overview of the minimum scores you need to achieve in each topic to reach each level of proficiency.

Listening: Reading:
   60  points | A1
  110  points | A2
  275 points | B1
  400  points | B2
  490  points | C1
   60  points | A1
  115 points | A2
  275 points | B1
  385 points | B2
  455 points | C1
   50  points | A1
   90  points | A2
  120 points | B1
  160 points | B2
  180 points | C1
   30 points  | A1
   70 points  | A2
  120 points | B1
  150 points | B2
  180 points | C1



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