TOEFL Speaking Scoring System: What It Means for You

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When it comes to the TOEFL, you’ll need to hone all of your English-language skills, including your speaking ability, in order to get a great score on test day. But how does TOEFL Speaking grading work? And what’s a good TOEFL Speaking score anyway?

This guide goes over the TOEFL Speaking scoring system, analyzes the definition of a good TOEFL Speaking score, and offers tips on how to set and reach your TOEFL Speaking score goal.

 

How Is TOEFL Speaking Scored? An Overview

The TOEFL Speaking section consists of six tasks: the first two tasks are Independent tasks, and the latter four tasks are Integrated tasks. For each Independent task (tasks 1 and 2), you’ll get a prompt on a familiar topic and have 45 seconds to explain your opinion.

As for the Integrated tasks, each task will give you 60 seconds to speak about a campus situation or academic course content. For tasks 3 and 4, you must read a passage, listen to an audio clip, and then respond to a prompt about the passage and audio clip. For tasks 5 and 6, you must listen to an audio clip and then respond to a prompt about the audio clip.

Now, let’s take a look at the TOEFL Speaking scoring system. Human raters will assign each task a score from 0 to 4 in whole numbers. These scores are then averaged together to give you a raw score for the task, also on a scale of 0-4 (note that decimals are possible here due to averaging). Finally, your raw scores for each of the six tasks are averaged together and converted to a final scaled Speaking score on a scale of 0-30.

But how does ETS convert your raw Speaking score (on a scale of 0-4) to a scaled Speaking score (on a scale of 0-30)? Below is an official chart showcasing the raw-score-to-scaled-score conversion process. Note that the raw scores on the left indicate your average raw score for all six Speaking tasks.

Average Raw Speaking Score Scaled Speaking Score
4.00 30
3.83 29
3.66 28
3.50 27
3.33 26
3.16 24
3.00 23
2.83 22
2.66 20
2.50 19
2.33 18
2.16 17
2.00 15
1.83 14
1.66 13
1.50 11
1.33 10
1.16 9
1.00 8
0-6

Source: TOEFL Test Prep Planner

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At the top of your TOEFL score report will be your final Speaking score; however, you will not get to see your raw scores for each task. Rather, you’ll get raw score ranges for tasks grouped by topic (familiar topics, campus situations, and academic course content). According to ETS, these raw score ranges are as follows:

  • Weak (0-1)
  • Limited (1.5-2)
  • Fair (2.5-3)
  • Good (3.5-4)

Now, let’s dive even deeper into the TOEFL Speaking scoring system.

 

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TOEFL Speaking Rubric Breakdown

The official TOEFL Speaking rubrics for the Independent and Integrated tasks differ slightly from each other. According to both rubrics, all Speaking tasks are scored on the basis of three components:

  • Delivery: how clearly and intelligibly you speak (this includes pronunciation, flow, intonation, and pacing)
  • Language use: how well you use grammar and vocabulary to express yourself
  • Topic development: how coherently you construct your response by connecting thoughts and elaborating on ideas

Each raw Speaking score is accompanied by a general description of what that particular score indicates about the speaker’s overall English ability. In addition, each of the three rubric components contains its own descriptions for the four score levels (excluding a score of 0, which simply means that the speaker didn’t respond or spoke about a topic unrelated to the prompt).

 

Independent Speaking Rubric

To start, let’s look at the descriptions of each score level for the Independent Speaking tasks. All of the following descriptions are taken from the official Independent Speaking rubric.

Score Description
4 The response fulfills the demands of the task, with at most minor lapses in completeness. It is highly intelligible and exhibits sustained, coherent discourse.
3 The response addresses the task appropriately but may fall short of being fully developed. It is generally intelligible and coherent, with some fluidity of expression, though it exhibits some noticeable lapses in the expression of ideas.
2 The response addresses the task, but development of the topic is limited. It contains intelligible speech, although problems with delivery and/ or overall coherence occur; meaning may be obscured in places.
1 The response is very limited in content and/ or coherence or is only minimally connected to the task, or speech is largely unintelligible.
0 Speaker makes no attempt to respond OR response is unrelated to the topic.

 

As you can see, a 4 response isn’t necessarily flawless (“minor lapses” might be present), but it should be easy to understand, effective, and detailed. This means that you must use proper grammar and pronunciation, speak for the whole 45 seconds, and offer clear reasons to support your opinion.

By contrast, a 1 or 2 response indicates only limited proficiency. At these levels, the speaker is generally difficult to understand, uses less complex vocabulary and grammar structures, and fails to clearly and coherently elaborate on the topic given.

Here is an official TOEFL video with a sample level 4 response, which you can listen to at 4:10.

 

And finally, here are the full descriptions for each criterion described above (delivery, language use, and topic development). These descriptions can give you a better understanding of what you’ll need to accomplish on the two Independent Speaking tasks to get the score you want.

Score Delivery Language Use Topic Development
4 Generally well-paced flow (fluid expression). Speech is clear. It may include minor lapses, or minor difficulties with pronunciation or intonation patterns, which do not affect overall intelligibility The response demonstrates effective use of grammar and vocabulary. It exhibits a fairly high degree of automaticity with good control of basic and complex structures (as appropriate). Some minor (or systematic) errors are noticeable but do not obscure meaning. Response is sustained and sufficient to the task. It is generally well developed and coherent; relationships between ideas are clear (or clear progression of ideas).
3 Speech is generally clear, with some fluidity of expression, though minor difficulties with pronunciation, intonation, or pacing are noticeable and may require listener effort at times (though overall intelligibility is not significantly affected). The response demonstrates fairly automatic and effective use of grammar and vocabulary, and fairly coherent expression of relevant ideas. Response may exhibit some imprecise or inaccurate use of vocabulary or grammatical structures or be somewhat limited in the range of structures used. This may affect overall fluency, but it does not seriously interfere with the communication of the message. Response is mostly coherent and sustained and conveys relevant ideas/information. Overall development is somewhat limited, usually lacks elaboration or specificity. Relationships between ideas may at times not be immediately clear.
2 Speech is basically intelligible, though listener effort is needed because of unclear articulation, awkward intonation, or choppy rhythm/pace; meaning may be obscured in places. The response demonstrates limited range and control of grammar and vocabulary. These limitations often prevent full expression of ideas. For the most part, only basic sentence structures are used successfully and spoken with fluidity. Structures and vocabulary may express mainly simple (short) and/or general propositions, with simple or unclear connections made among them (serial listing, conjunction, juxtaposition). The response is connected to the task, though the number of ideas presented or the development of ideas is limited. Mostly basic ideas are expressed with limited elaboration (details and support). At times relevant substance may be vaguely expressed or repetitious. Connections of ideas may be unclear.
1 Consistent pronunciation, stress and intonation difficulties cause considerable listener effort; delivery is choppy, fragmented, or telegraphic; frequent pauses and hesitations. Range and control of grammar and vocabulary severely limit or prevent expression of ideas and connections among ideas. Some low-level responses may rely heavily on practiced or formulaic expressions. Limited relevant content is expressed. The response generally lacks substance beyond expression of very basic ideas. Speaker may be unable to sustain speech to complete the task and may rely heavily on repetition of the prompt.

 

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Some Integrated Speaking tasks require you to listen to audio clips and read passages.

 

Integrated Speaking Rubric

Below are the general descriptions of each score level for the four Integrated Speaking tasks. All descriptions are taken from the official Integrated Speaking rubric.

Score Description
4 The response fulfills the demands of the task, with at most minor lapses in completeness. It is highly intelligible and exhibits sustained, coherent discourse.
3 The response addresses the task appropriately, but may fall short of being fully developed. It is generally intelligible and coherent, with some fluidity of expression, though it exhibits some noticeable lapses in the expression of ideas.
2 The response is connected to the task, though it may be missing some relevant information or contain inaccuracies. It contains some intelligible speech, but at times problems with intelligibility and/or overall coherence may obscure meaning.
1 The response is very limited in content or coherence or is only minimally connected to the task. Speech may be largely unintelligible.
0 Speaker makes no attempt to respond OR response is unrelated to the topic.

 

As you can see, most of these descriptions are similar to those in the Independent Speaking rubric. A 3 response here means that the speaker is generally able to speak coherently and does a satisfactory job analyzing the audio clip (and passage, if referring to tasks 3 and 4) using effective details and examples.

Here are two official TOEFL videos containing examples of real Integrated Speaking responses, both of which scored 3s. For the first video (tasks 3 and 5), go to 5:15 to hear the sample response, and for the second video (tasks 4 and 6), skip ahead to 5:50.

 

Lastly, here are the rubrics for each criterion (delivery, language use, and topic development). Once again, these descriptions are similar to those in the Independent Speaking rubric. But because Integrated tasks require you to listen to an audio clip (and read a passage for tasks 3 and 4), raters are primarily grading you on your ability to speak clearly, completely, and accurately about the sources you’re given.

Score Delivery Language Use Topic Development
4 Speech is generally clear, fluid, and sustained. It may include minor lapses or minor difficulties with pronunciation or intonation. Pace may vary at times as the speaker attempts to recall information. Overall intelligibility remains high. The response demonstrates good control of basic and complex grammatical structures that allow for coherent, efficient (automatic) expression of relevant ideas. Contains generally effective word choice. Though some minor (or systematic) errors or imprecise use may be noticeable, they do not require listener effort (or obscure meaning). The response presents a clear progression of ideas and conveys the relevant information required by the task. It includes appropriate detail, though it may have minor errors or minor omissions.
3 Speech is generally clear, with some fluidity of expression, but it exhibits minor difficulties with pronunciation, intonation, or pacing and may require some listener effort at times. Overall intelligibility remains good, however. The response demonstrates fairly automatic and effective use of grammar and vocabulary, and fairly coherent expression of relevant ideas. Response may exhibit some imprecise or inaccurate use of vocabulary or grammatical structures or be somewhat limited in the range of structures used. Such limitations do not seriously interfere with the communication of the message. The response is sustained and conveys relevant information required by the task. However, it exhibits some incompleteness, inaccuracy, lack of specificity with respect to content, or choppiness in the progression of ideas.
2 Speech is clear at times, though it exhibits problems with pronunciation, intonation, or pacing and so may require significant listener effort. Speech may not be sustained at a consistent level throughout. Problems with intelligibility may obscure meaning in places (but not throughout). The response is limited in the range and control of vocabulary and grammar demonstrated (some complex structures may be used, but typically contain errors). This results in limited or vague expression of relevant ideas and imprecise or inaccurate connections. Automaticity of expression may only be evident at the phrasal level. The response conveys some relevant information but is clearly incomplete or inaccurate. It is incomplete if it omits key ideas, makes vague reference to key ideas, or demonstrates limited development of important information. An inaccurate response demonstrates misunderstanding of key ideas from the stimulus. Typically, ideas expressed may not be well connected or cohesive so that familiarity with the stimulus is necessary to follow what is being discussed.
1 Consistent pronunciation and intonation problems cause considerable listener effort and frequently obscure meaning. Delivery is choppy, fragmented, or telegraphic. Speech contains frequent pauses and hesitations. Range and control of grammar and vocabulary severely limit (or prevent) expression of ideas and connections among ideas. Some very low-level responses may rely on isolated words or short utterances to communicate ideas. The response fails to provide much relevant content. Ideas that are expressed are often inaccurate, limited to vague utterances, or repetitions (including repetition of prompt).

 

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How to Determine a Good TOEFL Speaking Score: 2 Methods

Simply put, a good TOEFL Speaking score is one that’s high enough to get you into the schools you’re applying to. More broadly, though, we can use percentiles to determine what a good Speaking score is based on how you compare to other test takers. We’ll look at both methods here.

 

What’s a Good Speaking Score Using Percentiles?

Percentiles tell us what percentage of test takers scored lower than you. So in short, the higher your percentile is, the more test takers you’ve scored better than on the Speaking section—and thus the better your Speaking score will be.

Percentiles are available for only scaled scores (those that use the 0-30 scale) on each section of the exam. Here are the current percentiles for the TOEFL Speaking section:

Percentile Speaking Score*
90 27
75 24
50 22
25 18
10 15

Source: Test and Score Data Summary for TOEFL iBT Tests

*All TOEFL Speaking scores listed are estimates based on current percentile data.

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The 50th percentile score is the median. At this score, 50 percent of test takers have scored lower than you and 50 percent have scored higher. Therefore, we can say that any score that places you in the top half of test takers—i.e., anything above the median—is a good Speaking score. Numerically, this means that anything above 22 can be considered a good score.

As this chart indicates, scoring 24 (just 2 points higher than the median) places you in the top 25 percent of test takers, or higher than most test takers; thus, we can say that 24 is a great Speaking score. Moreover, by scoring just 3 points higher, you’d be in the top 10 percent of test takers, making 27 an excellent Speaking score!

On the opposite side, anything below the median can be considered a poor Speaking score. For example, a score of 18 (4 points below the median) places you in the bottom 25 percent of test takers, making it a rather poor score. And with a score of 15—the halfway point between 0 and 30 on the scoring scale—you’d be doing better than only 10 percent of test takers, making it a very poor score.

 

What’s a Good Speaking Score Using School Requirements?

With this method, a good TOEFL Speaking score isn’t determined by other test takers but rather by your schools’ TOEFL score requirements. A good Speaking score for you is one that gets you accepted to all of the schools you’re applying to—in other words, a score that’s high enough to fulfill all of your schools’ TOEFL Speaking score requirements.

Many schools require (or recommend) minimum TOEFL scores for admission. You can usually find information about TOEFL requirements through the following pages on your school’s official website:

  • Application materials
  • Admission requirements
  • International admission
  • FAQs
  • Undergraduate admission
  • Graduate program/department

We’ll explain how to do this next as we teach you the steps needed to set a TOEFL Speaking goal score.

 

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How to Set a TOEFL Speaking Goal Score

A goal score is an ideal score for you—the one that’s guaranteed to meet all of your schools’ TOEFL score requirements and thus give you your best shot at getting accepted to all of the schools you’re applying to.

Be aware, though: while setting a Speaking score goal can be helpful, your total goal score will likely be more important, as more schools require minimum total TOEFL scores than they do individual section scores for admission. We’ll explain what to do in this situation shortly.

 

Step 1: Make a Chart

The first step is to make a chart and fill in your school names. In this chart, you’ll be writing in TOEFL score information for each of your schools—specifically, minimum Speaking and minimum total score requirements. You’ll also have a “Notes” column you can use to make memos of any crucial details concerning your schools’ TOEFL score requirements.

Let’s use an example: Rosa is currently applying to undergraduate programs across the US. Here is her goal score chart:

School Minimum Speaking Score Minimum Total Score Notes
Johns Hopkins University
Carnegie Mellon University
Northwestern University
Cornell University

 

Step 2: Search for TOEFL Score Information Online

Next, it’s time to look for your schools’ TOEFL score requirements. The easiest way to search for information is by getting on Google and typing in “[School Name] TOEFL requirements” or “[School Name] minimum TOEFL score.”

As you search, look for pages that link directly to your school’s official website. For undergraduate TOEFL requirements, you’ll most likely find TOEFL information on your school’s undergraduate or international admission webpages.

Once on a school’s website, use ctrl + F to look for keywords such as “TOEFL,” “English,” or “proficiency.” If your school lists a minimum required Speaking score, write this down in your chart along with the required total score (if given).

As I mentioned previously, many schools maintain only total TOEFL score requirements—not specific TOEFL Speaking requirements. But you can still use this information to roughly calculate what Speaking score you’ll need to aim for on test day. To do this, simply divide the total score by 4; this will give you an estimated Speaking score minimum, which you can then add to your chart.

In our example, Rosa is applying to four fairly selective universities. Two of these schools, Johns Hopkins and Carnegie Mellon, want specific scores for all sections of the TOEFL. Rosa records these minimums in her chart.

But Northwestern doesn’t maintain any minimum score requirements. Instead, it states that “competitive applicants … often score in the high range on all four sections (Reading, Listening, Speaking and Writing) of the TOEFL iBT.” According to ETS, the “high range” for a Speaking score is 26-30. So we’ll say that Northwestern’s minimum preferred score is around 26.

Finally, Cornell recommends a minimum total TOEFL score of 100 but no particular Speaking score. Rosa divides this score by 4 to get an estimated minimum Speaking score of 25.

Here is Rosa’s chart again:

School Minimum Speaking Score Minimum Total Score Notes
Johns Hopkins University 25 (recommended) 99 (recommended)

TOEFL not required but recommended. Recommended section scores:

  • Reading: 26
  • Listening: 26
  • Writing: 22
Carnegie Mellon University 25 (recommended) 102 Recommended 25 or higher on all TOEFL sections
Northwestern University 26 (estimated) 94 (estimated) No minimum required TOEFL score
Cornell University 25 (estimated) 100 (recommended)

 

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Step 3: Calculate Your Goal Score

The final step is to figure out your goal score. To do this, look for the highest TOEFL Speaking score in your chart. This will be your goal score, as it’s the only score capable of meeting all of your schools’ TOEFL Speaking requirements. (You can also look for the highest total score in your chart to get a total TOEFL goal score. Since more schools will be looking at your total score during the admission process, this is arguably the most helpful goal score to have.)

Let’s return to our example for a moment. According to Rosa’s chart above, her Speaking goal score would be 26, and her total goal score would be 102. If Rosa can achieve both of these scores on the TOEFL, she’ll meet all of her schools’ minimum TOEFL score requirements and thus give herself her best chance of gaining admission.

Note that you generally shouldn’t need to aim above your goal score. Most schools just want to see that you are overall proficient in English and will be able to understand your lectures and coursework. So just being able to hit your school’s minimum requirement should be sufficient for admission.

 


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How to Get a High TOEFL Speaking Score: 6 Tips

Now that you know what TOEFL Speaking score you’ll need to get for admission to your schools, how can you ensure you’ll actually reach your goal score? Here are six test-day tips to help you secure a 4 on each Speaking task.

 

#1: Use a Natural Pace

On each Speaking task you’ll have only 45-60 seconds to speak. But with test-day nerves and the pressure of a time limit, you might end up speaking too quickly while trying to squeeze in a bunch of details. Or you might get so overwhelmed that you end up speaking more slowly while trying to come up with ideas for what to say next.

No matter how you’re feeling on test day, try your best to avoid speaking too fast or too slowly. You’ll earn more points on your responses if you’re able to speak at a natural and comfortable pace. Ideally, you’ll speak using the same relaxed pace you’d use when talking with a friend or acquaintance. The best way to practice your speaking pace is to mimic the speed native English speakers use in daily conversation.

If you find that your nerves are getting the better of you on test day, use your preparation time before each task to take a couple of deep breaths and calm yourself.

 

#2: Avoid Long Pauses

In English conversation, it’s normal to insert short pauses, or even an “uh” or “um,” between sentences, thoughts, and wherever feels most natural. But on the TOEFL, you’ll need to keep these pauses brief—i.e., no longer than a second or two.

If you pause for too long, evaluators will assume you’re having trouble formulating your next thought. And if you pause too often, you’ll likely waste precious time and therefore struggle to finish answering the prompt before the time limit is up.

If you’re worried about the length or frequency of your pauses, try practicing with a TOEFL Speaking template and work on integrating common sentence openers and transitional words, such as “also,” “however,” and “I think,” into your responses whenever you’re unsure what to say next. Remember, pauses in speaking are natural and expected but ultimately shouldn’t detract from what you’re saying.

 

#3: Talk the Entire Time

In addition to avoiding lengthy pauses, make sure you speak for the entire time you’re given.

Raters expect you to speak in detail about various topics for as much time as they allot you. If you run out of things to say but still have time left on the clock, you may:

  • Come up with a short conclusion that ties together your thoughts
  • Expand upon a point using another key example or detail
  • Briefly introduce another point (as long as you have time to explain it, too)

As you speak, take care to also not let your responses get cut off at the end. If the recording stops while you’re talking, you’ll likely lose points for not being able to tailor your response to the time limit.

 

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Valery Kenski/Flickr

 

#4: Enunciate

Getting a great TOEFL Speaking score means being able to speak clearly and intelligibly. In other words, always enunciate each word and avoid mumbling and talking too fast.

This doesn’t mean you’ll lose points for having an accent, so don’t worry if you pronounce certain sounds slightly differently than native English speakers do. Usually, as long as your intonation and stress are correct and your pronunciation resembles the actual pronunciation of a word, your accent should be wholly intelligible to TOEFL raters.

In truth, accents are expected on the TOEFL—but your accent shouldn’t detract from your ability to be understood. So if there are any words or sounds you’re struggling to pronounce, be sure to practice enunciating these sounds prior to test day.

 

#5: Speak Up

Once you get to the Speaking section, usually everyone else in the testing room gets to the Speaking section, too! And since everyone will be recording their responses at the same time, it can be difficult to hear yourself speak, which might make you lose track of what you’re saying.

The best way to overcome this issue is to speak at a slightly louder volume. Don’t shout—just raise your voice slightly so that evaluators will have no trouble hearing and understanding your responses. A little background noise is expected, but if you speak too quietly, raters might not be able to understand what you’re saying, causing you to lose precious points.

On a related note, try not to let any background noise distract you from your tasks. Remaining focused is key to doing well on Speaking, so tune out other test takers’ voices as best you can.

 

#6: Be Detailed & Organized

For each Speaking task, it’s important to be as detailed as possible, particularly if you want to score highly on the “Topic Development” criterion.

On most (if not all) Speaking tasks, you must discuss at least two—ideally three—points, giving examples and details whenever possible. These points should follow a logical progression as well. For example, as you explain your opinion on task 5, make sure to start your response with a summary of the issue and the students’ proposed solutions; this makes your response easier to follow and thus more effective.

The best way to introduce key points is to use transitional words, such as “first,” “second,” “next,” and “finally.” Transitions organize your points in a clear and organized manner and may also be used in your essays in the Writing section.

 

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Jeremy Wilburn/Flickr

 

Recap: What Does TOEFL Speaking Grading Mean for You?

The TOEFL Speaking section consists of six tasks. According to the official TOEFL Speaking grading rubrics, each task is evaluated using three components: delivery, language use, and topic development. Tasks are then each scored on a scale of 0-4. After, the tasks’ raw scores are averaged together and converted to a final Speaking score on a scale of 0-30.

Generally speaking, a good Speaking score is anything above the median (22). But a good Speaking score for you specifically is any score that meets all of your schools’ TOEFL score requirements. To find this score—i.e., your goal score—look for TOEFL score requirements for your schools and then write them down in a chart. The highest score in your chart will be your TOEFL Speaking score goal.

Finally, in order to score perfect 4s on each Speaking task, make sure you:

  • Use a natural pace
  • Avoid long pauses
  • Talk the entire time
  • Enunciate
  • Speak up
  • Are detailed and organized

 

What’s Next?

Curious about how other TOEFL sections are scored? We explain what’s considered good Reading, Listening, and Writing scores.

What’s a good TOEFL score overall? Check out our guide to learn what constitutes a great TOEFL score as well as what you can do to get one on test day!

You now know how the TOEFL Speaking scoring system works. But what about the TOEFL in general? Our guide to TOEFL scoring offers an overview of the TOEFL scoring system and explains what it means for you.



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Author: Hannah Muniz

Hannah graduated summa cum laude from the University of Southern California with a bachelor’s degree in English and East Asian languages and cultures. After graduation, she taught English in Japan for two years via the JET Program. She is passionate about education, writing, and travel.

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