What S26 represents at TOEFL iBT (and why you

“What does S26 represent at TOEFL iBT?”

Not only must your tutor know this — but you also need to have some kind of idea for yourself of what it represents. If neither you nor your tutor know what S26 represents, how will you know when you arrive? How will you know if it’s wise to register for a real TOEFL iBT test? Or is it smarter to keep improving your accuracy?

Since I started teaching TOEFL in 2010, I’ve talked many times about what a speaking score of 26 represents — and maybe you’ve heard me before. 

Hopefully you agree that by repeating something, we get better and better… and I really think that my most recent answer for this is my best response yet. 😉

If you need a TOEFL Speaking score of 26 or higher on the test, I want to talk with you about what that number represents because after nearly 11 years of working in this industry, I can say that there is a lot of confusion about what that 26 means. And when you see success stories from schools or tutors or friends of yours, you probably are wondering like why people get the scores that they do.

And I want to share some of my perspective with you, which is also based on the way that the test for TOEFL iBT was built and how it matches to an international standard about a measurement for English. So I’m going to start by just sharing this particular document with you here. I wrote out a little scale, as you can see, we’ve got increments 1 through 30,

This represents the highest speaking score that you can get. And this is how ETS kind of ranks your English. So when somebody is getting a higher score on TOEFL Speaking, that represents somebody who has got very purposeful sentences. They’re very fluent. They have a very clear accent. It’s really easy to understand, and they don’t make mistakes with grammar, vocabulary or phrasing.

We can compare that with these lower scores where the person’s English is getting kind of aimless. Maybe we don’t know what’s the point? Like, why are they talking or what are they talking about? The speed can be slow. The accent can be hard to understand, and there can be a lot of mistakes with grammar, vocabulary and phrasing. Okay. So the thing is that all of these numbers that ETS gives to the score really represent something.

And maybe from English classes that you took before in the books that you had back in school, you might recognize some of these numbers, but I’m just going to show these here to you. “A2” represents the bottom part of the TOEFL Speaking score. “B1” are these points here. “B2… C1, C2” and then all the way over here,

we have Proficiency. You can see that there’s these different cutoff points — like a score between 10 and 16 represents “B1.” 16 to 20 is “B2.” 20 to 25 is “C1” and 25 to 28 is “C2.” And then anything at 28 or higher is that “proficiency” like a native speaker-like level. Okay. I didn’t make up these numbers. In fact,

I can show you here they come off of ETS’s website. So we’re just going to go take a quick look there, here. You can see that when we compare the scores to the CEFR, which is the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages or CEFR, that’s what that corresponds to. Okay. So all of these numbers are international standards that are commonly recognized in terms of what they mean,

right? 28. I mean, basically I just, I took this information off of this page and I transferred it onto this document that I was showing you over here, right? So these numbers or the combinations of the letter and the number, give us these different bands of ability level and skill. Now, what do the numbers mean? Well, maybe you’re more familiar with these phrases or these words to describe that. “A2” is commonly talked about as like “pre-intermediate” or something like “pre-

intermediate plus” where the person is getting closer to an intermediate level. “B2” is “intermediate plus.” “C1” is “upper intermediate.” “C2” is an advanced level. And “P” is “Proficiency.” Okay. So the reason why this is so important to pay attention to is because when you see a success story on the internet, like the one that I saw the other day, where I was scrolling through Facebook and all of a sudden on my screen,

I saw this… “Pass! No more TOEFL for me. I needed to pass TOEFL for my master degree requirement with minimum of 80 and speaking section 26 plus. It was my first attempt and no material or books to prepare. And it was just the six day course with the teacher. Thank you so much for the support. Good luck, everyone.” Indeed.

Good luck everyone. Because the thing is that when I look at that, I understand something about that person’s level of English. And I want you to understand it too. I’m happy for that student. It’s excellent that they got the results, but what it tells me and what it should tell you also is that if somebody studies for TOEFL Speaking for six days…

That’s it! Six days… And they’re able to get an advanced score, which in this case, right, this little green X over here, that’s 26. Like if we count out these increments, 30, 29, 28, 27, 26, that’s 26, right there. If somebody is getting a 26 or an advanced level, after only six days of studying for the exam, that means the person already had past tense already had an advanced level of English before they started studying for TOEFL.

And that may or may not be the case for you. I don’t know who you are that’s watching right now. We may or may not know each other. But you know, when I put these videos out into YouTube, I’m kind of worried because like anybody can watch them. But the thing is that some people begin studying for TOEFL and they have an advanced level when they start,

because maybe they took a lot of English classes. Maybe they studied in America, or they had a particular social opportunities that like, let them develop that advanced level. And other people begin studying for TOEFL and their English level may be anywhere in between here, right? It depends a lot on your environment, your opportunities, the way that you learned English,

how confident you were, how, how much you pushed yourself, right? So it’s just such a different kind of situation if people begin studying for TOEFL and they already have an advanced level — OR when they begin studying they are at the pre intermediate or the upper intermediate (level), or somewhere in there — they’re going to need very different programs from each other. And the reason why this is so important is because when somebody has an advanced level of TOEFL or sorry,

an advanced level of English, who they choose, which tutor they choose, it doesn’t matter as much because they have an advanced level of English. They’ve got the grammar. They’ve got the vocabulary. They’ve got the phrasing. They need to learn strategies. And they need to learn time management. And they need to learn how to be confident at the exam, you know.

And that process can be fast — very fast — compared to people who don’t have the grammar or don’t have the vocabulary, or they don’t have the accent or the pronunciation accuracy that contributes to that advanced level. So when people are at a lower level of English, like if they’re more down here, you know, are they they’ve taken TOEFL many, many times and they continue getting 23, 22, 24,

you know, something in that area. That’s indicating that there may be errors with grammar or vocabulary or accent that can’t — CAN’T — be fixed in just six days or just a little bit of hard studying. They need more than that. Right. So I think that it’s really important. You know, I’m so happy for that student who posted that success story on Facebook,

but it’s not the same kind of success as for somebody who has studied TOEFL and been trapped with it for years and needed to develop much more accurate English grammar, much more accurate vocabulary, or the accent that goes with that. Right. So we need to look at these things kind of carefully and see who is posting the success story. And what does that mean about that person that,

you know, if they were able to just study for a very short period of time, it’s an indication that they were already at an advanced level. They already had a lot of the characteristics of a 26, that the TOEFL graders are listening for, and they just got those strategies. Right. You know. And a few weeks ago, one of my students got a 28 on the Speaking section and I was really happy for her.

It was very exciting, but I can tell you, I wasn’t surprised. And she didn’t work half as hard or half as long as most of the people who come and study with me. Because I work with a lot of pharmacists and physical therapists and health care professionals that never got the score before. And most of my students come to me and they don’t have that level yet.

You know? So this woman, a couple of weeks ago who got a 28 on the Speaking section, had a conversation with me, we did a free consultation. That’s one of the reasons why I do it. So I can listen to people and see where you’re at. I had a conversation with her and in that conversation, it was incredibly clear from the first 30 seconds that I talked with her that she had an advanced level of English.

So I was like, “OK, we can do a little bit of coaching. We can do a little bit of strategy work. And with that, if we can work on her confidence, she would be able to get the score.” And she did, you know, she got that 28, but that’s a very different situation from a lot of my other students who come in and may be making dozens of grammar

mistakes, dozens of vocabulary or pronunciation issues, or when people have systemic difficulty with intonation or rhythm and syllable stress. Those are issues that can take months to change. So I want to just put this out there. Please do not compare yourself to people out there. These kinds of success stories that, you know, you may see from time to time.

Don’t let that make you sad. I, it shouldn’t make you sad. It just means that that person already had advanced English. You’re working on developing your advanced English. And if you feel like you need a clear path to understand how to develop that advanced level of English and fix your fossilized errors and develop automatic habits so that you can show up at TOEFL and get your 26 — Come over to my website,

Jaime Miller.com and look at the offerings that I’ve got and check out and see if you want to do a free consultation. I can get to know you and we can figure out where you’re at. I look forward to meeting you.


Don't compare your journey with English and TOEFL to anyone else's. ❤

Focus on improving and just take it one step at a time.

I modified the image above by adding the arrow and star. I found the image above on Badges4Languages’ WordPress blog and I wasn’t sure who to attribute it to — so if you find out, let me know and I’ll add the attribute. 

Retrain fossilized errors → Get S26

When non-native speakers take the TOEFL iBT and score 22-24 on Speaking, it’s common for them to be making around 100 mistakes with grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation and strategy. 

After using my program, The Effective Speaking in Action Method, learners can reduce their spontaneous mistakes by 80% — and then the score of 26 is finally possible.

Free 45-minute Lesson for TOEFL Speaking

Discover which popular Task 1 Introduction sentence is a “score-killer” and the “perfect” alternative for rapidly earning points and contributing to a high score like 26

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