How to get a TOEFL score of 110

Getting a TOEFL score of 110 will put you in the 95% of all test takers. Only 5% of all students ever achieve a score this high. Therefore, you can imagine that I was delighted when one of my online TOEFL course students sent me the following picture:

TOEFL score of 110
TOEFL score of 110

Scoring 116 is even rarer, so around 2-3% of all test-takers ever score this high.  Scoring this high means you need to understand five important factors: background, motivation, intelligence, practice, and exposure. All of these factors will have an impact on how high you will score on the TOEFL iBT.

TOEFL Score of 110: Your background directly influences your score.

How much English exposure you get directly influences how high you can score on the TOEFL iBT.  Sibi, who scored 116, lived in Saudia Arabia.  His parents received higher educations in the United States. His mother graduated with a Master’s Degree in Psychology from Columbia University. Sibi’s dad graduated from University of California, Los Angeles with an MBA degree. Both of Sibi’s parents emphasized the importance of an education for their son. Therefore, when Sibi  turned 10, his parents hired an English tutor to introduce Sibi to English.  Sibi studied with the tutor every day for about an hour. Later  when Sibi turned 12 until  age 17, he went on an exchange program to the United States  in which he lived with a homestay family.  He went on this exchange program every year during the summer for about 6 weeks.

In addition, during high school, Sibi enrolled in two English-learning classes for three years. Therefore, by the time Sibi turned 18, he had already had 8 years of exposure.  Like Sibi, if you have an extensive background using and practicing English, you will dramatically increase your chances of getting a TOEFL score of 110 or higher .

TOEFL Score of 110: Your motivation will influence how hard you practice.

Why you want to learn English and why you want a high TOEFL score will also influence how high of  score you will get.  Your genuine desire to learn English will motivate you to put in the necessary effort  to get a TOEFL score of 110.  There are two types of motivation: extrinsic and intrinsic.  Your extrinsic motivation means that you want to learn English because of outside factors such as getting a job satisfying someone’s else wishes such as your parents.  If you have intrinsic motivation, you have internal desires to learn English and to score high on the TOEFL iBT.  Research shows that you are more likely to reach a TOEFL score of 110 if you have intrinsic motivation.

In Sibi’s case, his parents obviously wanted him to learn English and to get a high TOEFL score. However, Sibi’s desire to score higher was connected to his lifetime desire to become a practicing doctor. Since Sibi had traveled abroad during his teenage years, he had grown to love the United States and had had built a strong network of friends.  Long ago, therefore, Sibi had decided to live and work in the United States.  Furthermore, he had the support of his parents to fulfill his goals.  As a result, Sibi completed his Bachelor’s Degree in the United States in Biology and got accepted in medical school at UCLA. He had already taken the  TOEFL and had gotten a score of 102/120. However, to more fully secure his medical residency, he wanted to improve his score to 110/120.  As you can see from Sibi’s example, he was intrinsically motivated to improve his English and his TOEFL score.

TOEFL Score of 110: Intelligence directly affects your language learning capabilities.

Sibi was lucky to have been born to parents who had above-average intelligences. Sibi had always gotten  high grades in elementary, middle school, and high school.  Most importantly, Sibi excelled academically during his undergraduate studies in Biology, which is what qualified him to enter medical school. Having an above-average intelligence made it more likely for him to reach his target TOEFL score.

TOEFL Score of 110:  Your practice over an extended period of time will influence how high you score.

Just because Sibi was smart did not exempt him from the need to practice.   Since his initial score was 102/120, he decided to join an Online TOEFL Course called “The 7-Step System to Pass the TOEFL iBT.” His reading and listening subtotal scores were already high, so for three consecutive months Sibi began practicing pronunciation, speaking, and writing with his TOEFL Mentor Michael Buckhoff.

During these three months, Sibi got into a routine of sending his speaking mentor 3-5  practice tests every week.   After each practice test, Buckhoff pointed out delivery, language-use, and topic development problems. Then Buckhoff would recommend specific lessons to give Sibi the practice that he needed to improve.  Sibi reviewed those lessons and completed all the practice exercises.  It was hard to get corrected almost every day by a speaking mentor. It was also tiring to study all the pronunciation and speaking lessons in his course. During all of this hard work, Sibi stayed focused on his ultimate goal– studying in the US to become a doctor so he could serve sick people in the United States.

Similarly, Sibi needed to make improvements in his writing subtotal score. Therefore, he completed 3-4 independent and integrated writing practice tests each week. His writing mentor would evaluate and score each practice test. If appropriate, Buckhoff would recommend specific writing lessons to help Sibi create more sharply-focused thesis and topic sentences. After about two weeks of writing practice, Sibi realized that he put too many details in each of his body paragraphs. Here is an example of a paragraph with too many details:

Example paragraph with too many details:  First of all, studying alone is better than group study since I do not have to worry about distractions.   One time when I was preparing for a test, I studied alone.  It was very easy.  Even when I  study for the TOEFL exam, I find it easier when I study alone. I have a friend named Tomas, who also likes to study alone. He tells me that he gets a lot more done because he can concentrate better on his studies. Students who study alone do not have to worry about other people distracting them from their studies.

Instead of putting many details into the same paragraph, Sibi learned that he could create more depth and progression of thought by using one detail and spending 80+ words elaborating on that one point:

Example paragraph with one detail + elaboration: First of all, studying alone is better than studying in a group because I do not have to worry about distractions.  To  illustrate, right now I am preparing for the TOEFL so that I can score higher. This week I have been preparing 500 vocabulary words. As I am creating my vocabulary note-cards, I do not have to talk to anyone so I am not distracted.  In fact, in just three days, I have been able to create more than 345 vocabulary flash cards. Had I done this in a group, I would have had to chit-talk and talk about  irrelevant topics, which would have taken me away from my purpose of learning my vocabulary.  

By learning to limit his focus in his body paragraphs, Sibi was able to improve his writing. All in all, Sibi’s practicing his speaking and writing skills over a period of a few months gave him the practice that he needed to reach his target score and subtotal scores.

TOEFL Score of 110: The type of exposure you get while you prepare can help you score higher.

In addition to studying his TOEFL lessons, Sibi lived in the greater Los Angeles area where he studied to become a doctor. As a result, everything in Sibi’s environment was in English.  Each day Sibi had to drive to Los Angeles from Riverside, a more affordable place for him to live.  His daily drive took more than 90 minutes each way.  During his drive, Sibi listened to talk radio AM 640.  Hence, he got about 3 hours of listening practice each day driving to and from school.  As he listened to the news station, Sibi would sometimes pause the radio to re-explain what the newscasters and reporters said.

Since Sibi attended school in Los Angeles, he made a point of making many native English speaker friends. He often hung out with them in between classes and on weekends.  On some occasions, he would have to repeat what he said because of his pronunciation issues. This motivated him to practice his speaking and pronunciation even more.  Usually, 1-2 times a week, Sibi would go to the movies with his friends. After each viewing, he and his friends would talk about what they liked and disliked about the movie. Moreover, they would often bring up current culture and political issues related to the topics in the movie. The more Sibi talked with his friends, the faster his pronunciation and speaking seemed to improve.

In this case, you can realize that  studying TOEFL  is not enough. It is important to put yourself in an English-speaking environment in which you have daily contact with native speakers of English.  Sibi’s first language is Arabic, and, as you can probably guess, UCLA has plenty of Arabic speakers at its school. Nevertheless, Sibi chose to talk in English with native speakers most of the time. He realized that this type of practice would surely help him to improve his English and his TOEFL score.

TOEFL Score of 110: Final comments

Now you now a lot more about Sibi. Many of the students who post their 110+ TOEFL scores on the Internet do not tell you their entire story. Some may even claim that they studied TOEFL for a just a few days and then scored 110+.  However, they are not telling you their entire stories of how they  prepared during their entire lives to score high on the TOEFL exam. Therefore, what can you learn from Sibi’s story?

Scoring high on the TOEFL often involves your having an extensive background with English that lasts for 8-10 years.

Having an internal motivation to improve your English and your TOEFL score helps you to stay focused during your journey to reach a TOEFL score of 110.

Having above-average intelligence will help you to score higher on the TOEFL. However, just because you are super-smart doesn’t mean that you do NOT have to study. If you are like me and have an average intelligence, you will have to put forth a lot more effort into your studies to achieve 110+.  For example, perhaps it takes a super smart student  three months to prepare. Conversely, it could take an average in intelligence student 6-12 months to achieve the same result.

Getting a score of 110 will definitely take you a lot of practice over a period of several months even if you are smart and have an extensive background using English.

Taking lessons is not enough if you want a TOEFL score of 110. You should put yourself in an English-speaking environment so that you get many hours of English exposure each day while you prepare for the TOEFL iBT.

If you want to reach a high TOEFL score of 110+, do what ten of thousands of students have done over the last 8 years: Choose a course, study your lessons, complete your practice tests, finish the TOEFL, and move on with your life.

Good Luck!

Michael Buckhoff,






2 thoughts on “How to get a TOEFL score of 110”

  1. Pingback: TOEFL Speaking Task 1 Strategy (90 practice topics!) - Better TOEFL Scores Blog

  2. Pingback: Seven Must-Have TOEFL Resources - Better TOEFL Scores Blog

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