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Understanding the TOEFL Test. What the scores mean. Jennifer Morris, M.A. International Writing Specialist Western Oregon University. TOEFL Testing Options. Continuous administration world-wide by Educational Testing Services (ETS).

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understanding the toefl test

Understanding the TOEFL Test

What the scores mean

Jennifer Morris, M.A.

International Writing Specialist

Western Oregon University

toefl testing options
TOEFL Testing Options

Continuous administration world-wide by Educational Testing Services (ETS)

  • Paper-based test (TOEFL pBT): The paper-based test is still used in countries where computer access is limited.
  • Internet-based test (TOEFL iBT)
  • The TOEFL® test measures ability to communicate in English in colleges and universities.
  • It is the most widely accepted English-language test in the world.
          • ETS (2008)
toefl internet based test ibt
TOEFL Internet Based Test (iBT)

TOEFL Internet-based Score Scales







Score Range



0-30 converted from 0-4 score scale

0-30 converted from 0-5 score scale


toefl ibt total score requirements
TOEFL iBT Total Score Requirements

Western Oregon University 61

University of Washington 57

Portland State University section minimums:16/30 & 14/30 60

University of Oregon 61

California State University System 61

Oregon Institute of Technology 68

Southern Oregon University 68

Eastern Oregon University minimum 14 each section 70

Oregon State University minimum 15 on each section 71

level determination by section
Level Determination by Section
  • WOU’s admissions policy is 61 on the TOEFL iBT with no section requirements.
        • An average of 15.25 (30) per section







Levels as determined by ETS

  • International Writing Specialist – Writing Center
  • M.A.: Applied Linguistics and TESOL
  • 15 years working with international students
        • Instructing and developing curriculum
          • Conversation – Taiwan and Japan
          • Composition and discussion – Tunisian and French students in UK
          • Business English instruction – Osaka, Japan
          • Composition, speaking, and listening – Hokkaido University, Japan
          • Writing and grammar – Palm Beach Community College
        • Editing
  • 3 years rating TOEFL writing section
        • Anonymous student-writer and country of origin
        • Over 50,000 essays read and scored
toefl ibt writing section
TOEFL iBT Writing Section
  • Students write 2 short essays (less than 300 words each)
  • 30 minutes for each task
  • Both tasks are independently rated by 2 ETS certified raters using a holistic scale of 0-5 and the scores are averaged
sample prompt and responses
Sample Prompt and Responses

Prompt: Tell the Truth

Students read the following:

Read the question below. You have 30 minutes to plan, write, and revise your essay. Typically, an effective essay will contain a minimum of 300 words.

Students respond to the following:

Do you agree or disagree with the following statement?

Always telling the truth is the most important consideration in any relationship.

Use specific reasons and examples to support your answer.

writing test rubric ets high range
Writing Test Rubric (ETS): High Range
  • An essay at this level largely accomplishes all of the following:
    • effectively addresses the topic and task
    • is well organized and well developed, using clearly appropriate explanations, exemplifications, and/or details
    • displays unity, progression, and coherence
    • displays consistent facility in the use of language, demonstrating syntactic variety, appropriate word choice, and idiomaticity, though it may have minor lexical or grammatical errors


  • An essay at this level largely accomplishes all of the following:
    • addresses the topic and task well, though some points may not be fully elaborated
    • is generally well organized and well developed, using appropriate and sufficient explanations, exemplifications, and/or details
    • displays unity, progression, and coherence, though it may contain occasional redundancy, digression, or unclear connections
    • displays facility in the use of language, demonstrating syntactic variety and range of vocabulary, though it will probably have occasional noticeably minor errors in structure, word form, or use of idiomatic language that do not interfere with meaning


writing test rubric mid to low range
Writing Test Rubric: Mid to Low Range
  • An essay at this level is marked by one or more of the following:
    • addresses the topic and task using somewhat developed explanations, exemplifications, and/or details
    • displays unity, progression, and coherence, though connection of ideas may be occasionally obscured
    • may demonstrate inconsistent facility in sentence formation and word choice that may result in lack of clarity and occasionally obscure meaning


  • An essay at this level may reveal one or more of the following weaknesses:
    • limited development in response to the topic and task
    • inadequate organization or connection of ideas
    • inappropriate or insufficient exemplifications, or details to support or illustrate generalizations in response to the task
    • a noticeably inappropriate choice of words or word forms
    • an accumulation of errors in sentence structure and/or usage


score of 3
Score of 3

When we were children, we were taught to tell truth. Telling truth and being honest also become the criteria of judging a person. I do think that most people prefer to live in a world of pure truth and it is also the best wish of all kind hearted people. However, what we have to face is not the dream land.

Telling truth all the time could only exist in our dreams. In another word, lies could not be avoided.

I will illustrate my opinion with the following facts. In the business world, always telling truth equals to commit suicide. For example, when competitor company is asking the content of a tender or the cost of a major product, telling truth is nonsense. Furthermore, we could learn from old collegue that to keep the business secrete is to keep the position.

For those people whose profession is politics, lies is their favorite language. In order to stablize the mood of anxcious people, some times president has to tell lies to comfort the peolple so that no more serious result will hapen.

Among friends, allways telling truth will also cause lots of avoidable confllicts. For example, when a 49 years old lady ask her froend whether she is beautiful or not. If the answer is No (truth for sure). We could imagine the accompanied results. This is why we are using the term white lie to find the suitable reason to use minor lies.

However, despite all these difficulties, we should always try to be honest and tell truth as much as we could. In lots of situation, to tell truth can strengthen the relationship and deepen the communication and understanding among people. Especially among family memers, telling truth is quite necessary for every one. A family full of lie will bankrupt immediately. In a word, in different situation, we should tell different words.

writing test rubric very low range
Writing Test Rubric: Very Low Range
  • An essay at this level is seriously flawed by one or more of the following weaknesses:
    • serious disorganization or underdevelopment
    • little or no detail, or irrelevant specifics, or questionable responsiveness to the task
    • serious and frequent errors in sentence structure or usage


An essay at this level merely copies words from the topic, rejects the topic, or is otherwise not connected to the topic, is written in a foreign language, consists of keystroke characters, or is blank.


what would you score this essay
What would you score this essay?


Telling the truth is the most important consideration in any relationship between people once you are going to deal with this person because you first of all must trust in this person, second nobody likes to be treated as a fool, and the truth makes a solid relation perdure.

Firs of all, the trust is going to keep a relation going on with confidence and confidence is something really important and you’re going to trust in a person only once. If you lose the trust in someone I think that you will never more be able to trust in this person again. Will you trust a very important value to someone that has already stolen you? I bet you won’t.

Second, nobody like to be seen as a fool. It’s not nice been as a glown. It’s not a good sensation to be kept in lies while there many people who know the truth. Can you imagine the sensation of been betrayed? How can you look at someone’s face that betrayed you? A relationship, in this way, won’t be nice and trustful. Once I saw that for a relationship be solid you must trust in person at the point of let yourself fell back in the person arms. I mean, you trust that the person is going to be on your back to hold you on. It won’t be possible with a person that lies to you.

The truth means that you can’t lie and if you can’t lie you won’t be able to betray, once you won’t be able to hide anything. If you can’t betray you’re going to have a perfect relationship. The truth is really the basis of a relationship.

As a conclusion, I think that the truth is really important in a relationship because it gives you some safety in this relationship, the sensation that you won’t be betrayed..

realistic expectations vocabulary ranges
Realistic Expectations: Vocabulary Ranges
  • 5 year old native English speaker:

4,000 to 5,000 word families

  • Average native English speaking university student:

17,000 to 20,000 word families

  • 20-year old non-native English speaker:

Fewer than 2,000 word families

Nation, I.S.P. (1997) and Hinkel, E. (2004)

english assessment options
English Assessment Options
  • TOEFL – Test of English as a Foreign Language
  • IELTS – International English Language Testing System
          • British-based test that has gained popularity in the U.S.
  • TWE – Test of Written English
          • Formerly a component of the Computer-Based TOEFL
  • TOEIC – Test of English for International Communication
          • Used for workplace English skills
  • MELAB – Michigan English Language Assessment Battery
          • Similar to TOEFL but administered only in the U.S. and Canada
innovations in the writing center
Innovations in the Writing Center
  • Spring 2009
    • Partnership between Business Faculty and Writing Center
        • As a result of this supplemental lab, students will
          • Receive targeted writing help for each assignment
          • Gradually increase their discipline specific vocabulary and progressively reduce grammar errors
          • Understand how to correctly cite and synthesize sources
  • Expanding to include partnerships with the Art Department and Master of Information Systems
innovations continued
Innovations Continued
  • Fall 2009
  • Partnership between Writing Center and Academic Advising to provide acculturation for students entering directly into degree programs or transitioning from IEP
  • As a result of this course, students will
      • Understand expectations of American university life
      • Find and utilize available and appropriate resources on campus
      • Understand their strengths in English with regards to the 4 skills – writing, reading, listening, and speaking
      • Be able to choose appropriate courses for their major
      • Develop study skills for success in their major
      • Understand the use and correct citation of sources
international student support needs
International Student Support Needs

Writing Center




writing center support
Writing Center Support

2 faculty members

2 professional staff

3 professional tutors

12 student tutors from across disciplines

  • Students
        • In-person and online tutoring
        • Day and evening hours
        • Writing workshops
  • Faculty
        • Writing assignment design assistance
        • One-on-one professional writing guidance
        • In-class visits and whole-class workshops
        • Professional development workshops
        • Supplemental writing labs
what faculty and staff can do
What faculty and staff can do
  • Put the Writing Center on your syllabus and resource lists.
  • Recommend study groups in your classes.
  • Create a mentoring group in your disciplines to provide guidance for students.
  • Invite me to your discipline meetings to discuss issues and workshop solutions.