TOEFL Scoring: How Does It Work?

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The TOEFL is a long and somewhat complicated test. It can be hard to determine the basic facts about the test, like how the TOEFL is scored, which is where we come in. The more you know about the exam before going in, the better prepared you’ll be to conquer it, so we’ll explain everything you need to know about TOEFL scores.

In this guide, we’ll take you through how the TOEFL scoring system works, how each section is graded, and how (and when) you’ll receive and be able to send out your final scores.

 

How TOEFL Scoring Works: Raw and Scaled Scores

On the TOEFL, you’ll earn points for every correct answer you choose (or prompt you fulfill) and zero points for incorrect answers. There is no guessing penalty on the TOEFL, so always make a guess if you don’t know the answer!

The points you earn from correct answers are called “raw” points. For instance, if the reading section has 45 questions and you answer 40 correctly, you’ll have earned a raw point score of 40. Your raw point score is then converted into a “scaled” score out of 30 for each section. Your scaled TOEFL scores will be the score you see on your test results. Universities will only look at your scaled scores, not your raw scores.

How the raw score converts to a scaled score depends on the test, so there’s no definitive match-up between your raw score to your final, scaled score. You can use a general conversion chart to get an idea of how your raw score will translate to a scaled score, but the results will only be approximate.

To understand why raw scores and scaled scores don’t always translate directly, think about how people are likely to perform on different tests. A slightly easier TOEFL means that more people will get more answers correct, resulting in higher raw scores for everyone. So getting a raw score of 40 on a more difficult test where fewer people earn high scores might mean you earn a scaled score of 29. But getting a raw score of 40 on an easier test where more people earn high raw scores might mean you earn a scaled score of 27.

In general, the test-makers try their best to make TOEFLs similar to one another, so there shouldn’t be too much discrepancy between tests. But there will still always be some. This is why general conversion charts can act as a basic guideline but are not always perfect. If you take a practice test with ETS.org (either online or from one of their books), or you take the official TOEFL, you will be given both your raw and your scaled score. So no need to try to convert those scores yourself!


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TOEFL Scoring for the 4 Sections

The TOEFL has four different sections: reading, listening, speaking, and writing. Each section has its own TOEFL scoring and grading system, so let’s break it down section by section. (We’re covering the TOEFL iBT here — if you have questions about the less common PBT version, head to the next section.)

 

Reading and Listening Sections

The reading and listening sections are always multiple choice. On these sections, you’ll earn one to three points for marking correct answers and zero points for every incorrect answer. Again, there is no penalty for getting a wrong answer, so always guess if you don’t know the answer to a question.

There two general types of questions in these sections: single answer questions and multiple answer questions. The test will always tell you if a question has more than one right answer.

Single answer questions only have one correct answer out of four possible answers. Each single-choice question is worth one raw point.

Multiple answer questions have multiple correct answers. These include questions that have two or more correct answer options, and reading section questions where you must organize answer choices into summaries or charts. Each multiple answer question is worth either two or three points, depending on how many answer choices you have to choose from. You can earn partial credit on multiple answer questions by getting one or more correct answers, even if you didn’t get every part of the question right.

Overall, you can earn a maximum of 45 raw points on the reading section and 34 raw points on the listening section. Here is the general scaling score chart for raw to scaled scores for the reading and listening sections. (Remember: this is just a general guide and will not always fit your test exactly.)

 

TOEFL Scoring for Reading

Raw Score Scaled Score
45 30
44 29
43 29
42 29
41 29
40 28
39 28
38 27
37 27
36 26
35 25
34 25
33 24
32 23
31 22
30 21
29 20
28 19
27 18
26 17
25 16
24 15
23 14
22 13
21 11
20 10
19 9
18 8
17 7
16 5
15 4
14 3
13 2
12 2
11 1
10 1
9 0
8 0
7 0
6 0
5 0
4 0
3 0
2 0
1 0
0 0

 

TOEFL Scoring for Listening

Raw Score Scaled Score
34 30
33 28
32 26
31 25
30 24
29 23
28 22
27 20
26 19
25 18
24 17
23 16
22 15
21 14
20 13
19 12
18 10
17 9
16 8
15 7
14 6
13 5
12 4
11 3
10 2
9 1
8 0
7 0
6 0
5 0
4 0
3 0
2 0
1 0
0 0

 

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TOEFL Scoring for Speaking

The speaking section is free-response. This means you’ll have to speak your own thoughts and opinions instead of choosing between answer options. You’ll earn points based on your mastery of English and your ability to follow the prompts. If you leave a section blank or fail to speak in English, you’ll earn zero points.

You’ll always have to respond to a total of six speaking tasks.



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Three to six graders at ETS will listen to your spoken responses and give you a score between 0 and 4 for each speaking task, giving you a potential total of 24 raw points on the whole speaking section. The average of their section scores is then taken and added together to give you your final raw score, which is converted to a scaled TOEFL speaking score out of 30.

The TOEFL scoring rubric for speaking is below:

0 = Don’t answer, answer in a language other than English, or the speech was incomprehensible.1 = Speech is minimally related to topic, speech had numerous errors, was choppy, and/or was largely incomprehensible.

2 = Speech mostly stuck to topic, but didn’t completely answer the question or follow the prompt. Speech was basically intelligible, but had several mistakes in pronunciation, grammar, or was too simple in vocabulary and style.

3 = Speech addresses and fulfills topic, with minor exceptions. Speech is mostly intelligible and fluid, though may have some issues with pronunciation, grammar, or vocabulary. Demonstrates a fairly automatic and fluid mastery of English, with some notable lapses.

4 = Speech addresses and completely fulfills topic. Speech has a fluid and well-paced flow, with only minor lapses in pronunciation or grammar. Was coherent, intelligible, complete, and shows an automatic and fluid master of English.

 

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TOEFL Scoring for Writing

The TOEFL writing section is also free-response. So, again, you’ll have to write your own material instead of choosing between answer options.

You will always have two writing tasks, and each will be graded on a scale of 0-5 possible raw points. You’ll have a total potential of ten raw points on the entire writing section. Trained ETS graders will grade your essays. This is to ensure that your written mastery of English not only reads fluidly to a native speaker, but also complies with English grammar rules.

The average of each writing task score is added together to become your final score, which will be converted to a scaled score out of 30. The rubric is below.

0 = No essay, essay is unconnected to the topic, or essay is not in English.1 = Little or no response to the prompt, or essay is mostly incomprehensible.

2 = Essay somewhat follows topic, but shows significant difficulties in language, organization, and development. Uses no or very few examples.

3 = Essay mostly follows topic and has some general organization and development. Uses some examples, but only vaguely connects them to the thesis or misses key points. Has some errors in grammar or vocabulary.

4 = Essays follows topic, but is somewhat unorganized or is not fully developed. Essay uses relevant examples, but lacks some clarity or connection between examples and thesis statement.

5 = Essays follows topic, is well developed and organized and uses relevant examples. Clearly ties examples to thesis statement. Essay demonstrates accurate use of vocabulary, grammar, and sentence structure with some minor errors.

 

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TOEFL PBT Scoring

PBTs are not very common, as they lack the speaking component of the TOEFL. The three main sections of the PBT—listening, writing, and reading—are multiple choice, but there is also a thirty-minute essay (the Test of Written English, or TWE).

Each multiple-choice section has a potential raw score between 31 and 68, and these sections of the test are all graded by a machine. These raw scores are then converted to scaled scores and added together to get a final scaled score between 310 and 677.

The TWE essay is a separate score on the TOEFL score report and is graded from 0 – 6. Trained ETS graders give the essay a score based off a rubric of English mastery and how well the essay follows the prompt.

0 = No response or a response in another language other than English.1 = Mostly incoherent response with little to no development. May also contain severe errors in vocabulary, grammar, and flow.

2 = Some mention of prompt, but essay is severely disorganized and developed. Uses no examples and has many serious errors in vocabulary, grammar, sentence structure, and flow.

3 = Addresses some aspects of prompt, but essay is inadequately organized and developed. Uses no examples, provides too little detail, or uses examples that do not properly support thesis statement. Shows inconsistent or inadequate grasp of vocabulary, grammar, sentence structure, and flow.

4 = Does a decent job of following prompt, but does not address all aspects, is adequately organized and developed, uses few examples to support thesis statement, shows adequate, but inconsistent grasp of vocabulary, grammar, sentence structure, and flow.

5 = Mostly follows prompt, but addresses some aspects of the prompt more than others, is mostly well organized and developed, uses examples to support thesis statement, shows high quality grasp of vocabulary, grammar, sentence structure, and flow

6 = Clearly follows prompt, is well organized and ideas are well developed, uses examples to support thesis statement, shows mastery of vocabulary, grammar, sentence structure, and flow.

 

Getting Your TOEFL Scores

Whether you’re taking the TOEFL for school applications, job opportunities, or simple curiosity, it’s important to know when you’ll get your scores back. But how and when you receive your scores depends on the type of TOEFL you’re taking.

 

iBT TOEFL

Approximately ten days after you take your iBT TOEFL, you’ll get an email letting you know that you can view your iBT TOEFL scores as a PDF online at the ETS.org page. Just sign in to your account (the same account you made to sign up for the test) and click “view scores” on the homepage.

You will also receive your printed iBT TOEFL scores by mail 20 to 23 days after you take the test if you’re in the US, and between 3 to 6 weeks after the test date if you live outside the US.

 

PBT TOEFL

You will only be able to see your PBT scores by mail—you can’t look them up online. Your TOEFL scores will be mailed to you exactly 13 days after you take the PBT TOEFL. And you should receive them 7-10 days after that if you live in the US, or within 3-6 weeks if you live outside the US.

 

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Sending Your TOEFL Scores to Schools

Before you take the test, you’ll have the option to send your scores to four schools of your choice at no extra cost. To do so, you’ll have to put in each school address in the TOEFL online registration system by 10 PM the night before the test.

If you choose to send your scores in advance, they’ll be mailed to each school 13 days after you take your test. They’ll arrive 7-10 days afterwards if your school is in the US, or up to 6 weeks later if your school is outside the US.

You’ll also be able to send your scores to as many schools as you want to after you take the test, but you’ll be charged a fee for every score report. This is generally the “safest” method for sending your scores, because you can see the results before your schools do. So, if possible, try to get your scores first and look them over before you decide to send them out to schools. After all, if you get a low score and have to take the test again, then you’ll have sent a low TOEFL score to your school of choice for no reason.

Schools don’t require you to submit all your TOEFL scores (as several do with SAT or ACT scores), so you only ever have to show your schools your absolute best TOEFL score. If you can manage it, hold off on sending your scores to schools until you have the score results that you want and that meet your school’s TOEFL score requirements.

 

 

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What Does TOEFL Scoring Mean for You? 4 Expert Tips

Now that you know how the TOEFL is scored, you can can see how to use that info to help you get  the best score possible (and submit it to your school of choice).

 

#1: Always Guess

On the TOEFL, you’ll never be penalized for marking a wrong answer. As such, you should always put something down, even if you’re not sure of your answer.

Never leave a multiple-choice question blank, and always say or write something in your speaking and writing sections. It’s always better to have something than nothing. By leaving a question blank, you ensure you’ll earn zero points anyway, but if you make a guess, you have a shot of getting the right answer or earning partial credit in the free-response sections.

 

#2: Remember That Your TOEFL Score Is a Sum-Total

Your final TOEFL score is the sum of your score on each of the four sections. Many schools only pay attention to your total TOEFL score, meaning that you can make up for a weak section with a stronger one. For instance, if you tend to struggle on the written section, you can improve your total TOEFL score by focusing on raising your reading score instead.

However, some schools require minimum scores for each section as well as a total TOEFL score minimum, so make sure to check your school’s admissions guidelines.

 

#3: Try to Take the Test Well in Advance of Application Deadlines

Taking the TOEFL and submitting your scores takes time. It takes a few weeks for your TOEFL scores to get to your schools, especially if you want to look over your scores before you send them out. And if you want to take the TOEFL again, you’ll need enough time to sign up for another test and take it before your application deadlines.

Anticipate taking the test at least twice and set aside enough time before your deadlines to get your scores in on time. A good rule of thumb is to take your first TOEFL at least four months before your application deadlines so that you have time to study, take it again if necessary, and submit your scores.

 

#4: Remember That You Only Have to Submit Your Best TOEFL Score

Schools only care about your best TOEFL score. Feel free to take the TOEFL as many times as you’d like to (or can afford to) so that you can get your best score and send it in.

And if you have the time (and the money), always look over your scores before you send them out. Though it’s tempting to send out the four free score reports, you may not get the scores you wanted and then the schools you’re interested have those reports. Best to wait so you can show off your best self to your school of choice.

 

What’s Next?

Want more information on how the TOEFL is scored? Check out our guide to learn exactly how the TOEFL is scored so you can maximize the number of points you get.

How can you prepare for the TOEFL? Practice tests are one of the best study tools out there, and we have links to all the best practice tests together in one place.

Debating between taking TOEFL and IELTS? We explain the differences and how to pick the right test for you.


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Author: Courtney Montgomery

Courtney graduated from Stanford University with a degree in Cultural and Social Anthropology. She is passionate about bringing education and the tools to succeed to students from all backgrounds and walks of life, as she believes open education is one of the great societal equalizers. She has years of tutoring experience and writes creative works in her free time.

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