What is the CEFR and how it correlates with the TOEFL

This is something that is not very obvious for a lot of students in fact when I mentioned it to my students they are usually oblivious and don’t understand a word I’m saying until I tell them exactly what the CEFR is in a simple language. The quickest way for me to explain this is by saying:

The CEFR is, at the moment, the most reliable source that we have to categorize student according to their knowledge and experience in a broad number of languages in 6 levels which are organized on a proficiency scale from lowest to highest A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, and C2.

This of course includes English which is the language with which it started. The largest problem with many similar systems was that the student would be different level depending on the person that was speaking to him or her. 

For example a student may be speaking in English to his friends and they can understand each other quite well, which is a very different situation if the student is working and needs to communicate in English and a more technical language may be required. 

So what normally happened was that some people placed the student in one level but others placed the students in a different level which can obviously lead to a lower self-esteem and the reduction in motivation to continue improving.

As I said before, the CEFR categorizes students into 6 Elemental levels that range from A1, the most basic, to C2, the most proficient. Where the CEFR manages to go beyond a quantitative categorization is by explaining in general terms the capacities that a student has in each level. 

Let me develop that a little bit here.

  • At level A1 a person can understand and use basic phrases related to Everyday Life. They can talk about simple things like introducing themselves to others and respond basic questions like talking about their family and where they live.
  • At level A2 the student can talk about relatively repetitive topics like what they work or study the weather or their needs such as a Direction to a Subway or to a restaurant.
  • At level B1 a person is more independent and can understand more specific topics related to work school or everyday life. They can describe experiences and ideas.
  • At level B2 the student is able to understand main idea of more complex content found in a newspapers or have more technical discussions in their fields of work. They are able to speak with native speakers with close to no pressure on either side.
  • At C1 the student is considered a proficient user. They can use the language effectively in all social and professional circumstances.
  • At Level C2 the student is able to understand virtually everything they get exposed to and is able to produce the language as well as a native speaker.

If you wish to browse through the longer version of the chart, you can click in this link.

The CEFR is relatively young as it was released in 2001, but in its short life span it has gained a lot of traction and is now the world’s leading system in categorizing students according to their language proficiency.  

Virtually every textbook that focuses on language skills will include a chart explaining for the students to whom it is targeted in accordance to the CEFR. The TOEFL is no stranger to this and in 2015 did the final research on their correlation and posted the following information in the link where you can find a lot of their research and statistical correlation. 

Here I share a small chart that you can find in the previous link where they show the approximate score that a student may get depending to their level in the CEFR.


C1 or above 24 22 25 24 95
B2 18 17 20 17 72
B1 4 9 16 13 42
A2 n/a n/a 10 7 n/a

Bear in mind that this is the approximate score this does not represent what you will score during the TOEFL test. There is a range a variables that will affect your score such as: how well you prepared for the test, how your spelling is, your endurance through a 4-Hour test, how rested you are before and during the test, how organized you’re spoken and written answers are, and many more. 

I hope you notice that in the chart C1 student is likely to get approximately 95 points. In another post I mentioned that a native speaker’s score in the TOEFL would oscillate between 80 and 120 points. 

I obtain that range from the CEFR and my own personal statistics.


The message that I want to get through here, is that yes, the better your English level is, the higher your score will most likely be in the TOEFL, there is no question about it. But beyond that, having a good level of English will not suffice if you are aiming higher. 

To give you an idea the University of Stanford requires a minimum score of 100 for their pre graduate entry level. Which means that if you have a C1 level and you follow the information in the statistics you will probably score 95 points and will be rejected.

In general terms colleges and universities around the globe request a minimum score of 70 points in the TOEFL for their pre graduate programs. Which means that they will need to be at least a B2 level. 

At this stage students will be able to comprehend a good amount of the academic topics in college and university. There are precedents where colleges and universities have admitted students with a lower score, usually because those students are attractive to them due to advance achievements in athletics, cultural or other fields. 

In these cases the students’ academic loads during the first few semesters is increased with classes of English as a Second Language or ESL. At times this can have a negative effect on students as they do not only have to adapt to a new University or College with a higher academic load but they are adapting to a new country and in many cases a whole new culture. 

The best thing you can do for yourself is to be prepared before you enter college or university in order to reduce the initial shock and be able to adapt smoother.

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