Have you been researching the TOEFL Writing section and are wondering what a good TOEFL iBT Writing score is? What TOEFL Writing score do you need to get into your top schools? What do graders look for in essays? What do you need to include in your essays to help you get the scores you need? We answer all those questions and more in our guide.
How Is the TOEFL Writing Section Scored?
First, let’s do a quick overview of the Writing section, and then we’ll look at how it’s scored. TOEFL Writing is the final section of the TOEFL. It lasts 50 minutes and contains two tasks: Integrated Writing and Independent Writing. You’ll have 20 minutes to plan and write the Integrated Writing Task and 30 minutes to plan and write the Independent Writing Tasks. Both essays will be typed on the computer.
After you complete the exam, your essays will be graded on a scale from 0-5. These are known as raw scores. The average of those raw scores will then be scaled to a score from 0-30, which is your official Writing score and the one you see when you get your score results.
Below is a conversion chart for raw and scaled Writing scores. The left column shows the average Writing raw score (from 0-5), and the right column shows the corresponding scaled score (from 0-30).
|Writing Raw Score Average||Scaled Score|
The TOEFL Writing Rubrics
Below are the key points from the rubrics for both Writing tasks. (You can view complete rubrics for both essays here.) You can see what you need to include in your essays in order to earn certain scores. After each rubric, we also give some analysis to help you understand what a top-scoring essay needs to include.
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The Integrated Writing Task
For this task, you will have three minutes to read a short passage, then you will listen to a short (approximately two-minute long) audio clip of a speaker discussing the same topic the written passage covers. You will have 20 minutes to plan and write a response that references both of these sources in order to answer the question. You won’t discuss your own opinion.
During the writing time, you’ll be able to look at the written passage again, but you won’t be able to re-hear the audio clip. You’ll be able to take notes while you listen to it though. The suggested response length for this task is 150-225 words.
To score well on the Integrated Writing task, the most important thing you need to do is show the graders that you understood the main points of both the written passage and audio clip and were able to apply those points to the prompt. You need to be able to pick out the main points from both passages and show how they relate to each other and the prompt.
Your essay will also need to be well organized, and it must be very clear within the first few sentences what your thesis statement or main idea of your essay is. Additionally, a high-scoring essay won’t have many spelling or grammar errors.
The Independent Writing Task
For the Independent Writing task, you’ll receive a question on a particular topic or issue. You’ll have 30 minutes to plan and write a response to that topic that explains your opinion on it. You’ll need to give reasons that support your decision. It’s recommended that your response to this task be at least 300 words.
The Independent Writing task’s rubric is pretty straightforward. In order to earn a high score, your essay must:
- Fully answer the prompt: You must completely answer the essay prompt, and it must be clear from early on in your essay (definitely within the first paragraph) what your stance on the prompt is.
- Include specific examples: In order to back up your stance, you need to give specific examples and explain how they strengthen your position. This is one of the most important things you are graded on, and not having enough examples, not making them specific, or not explaining the examples well enough can cause you to get a significantly lower score.
- Be well organized: Your essay should have a clear introduction, body, and conclusion that flow together and form a clear and complete essay.
- Have few or no spelling and grammar errors: You don’t need to be perfect, but the graders shouldn’t have trouble understand what you’re trying to say due to misspellings or grammar mistakes.
What’s a Good TOEFL Writing Score?
So your TOEFL iBT Writing score can be anywhere from 0 to 30, but what’s a good Writing score? There are two ways to define a good Writing score. The first is by using percentiles, and the second is by using score requirements for the schools you’re applying to. We’ll look at both methods in this section.
Using Percentiles to Determine a Good TOEFL Writing Score
Percentiles show how well you performed on the test compared to everyone else who took the TOEFL. The higher your percentile, the better you did on the TOEFL. For example, if you scored in the 40th percentile, that means you scored higher than 40% of everyone who took the TOEFL and lower than 60% of all the people who took it. And if you scored in the 95th percentile, then you did better than 95% of people who took the TOEFL.
Below are the raw and scaled scores that correspond to some key TOEFL Writing percentile ranks. Remember, each essay is given a raw score from 0-5, so your total raw score for both essays will be from 0-10. (You’ll only be given scores in whole points, but we used half points below for rounding.) Your raw score is then converted to a scaled score from 0-30, which is the score you’ll see on your score report.
|Percentile Rank||Scaled Writing Score||Raw Writing Score|
You can use percentiles to determine what a “good” TOEFL Writing score is. You might define “good” as anything that’s above average, or the 50th percentile. Using that definition, any scaled Writing score higher than a 22 would be a good score. You might also define good as being in the top quarter of test-takers, or at least the 75th percentile. That would require a Writing score of at least 25.
An excellent Writing score in the 90th percentile would mean you scored higher than 90% of other test-takers on that section. This requires a score of at least a 27.
Using School Requirements to Determine a Good TOEFL Writing Score
While percentiles can be useful for getting a general idea of what a good score is, you’ll probably need more information to set your own TOEFL Writing score goal. The other, and usually more effective, way to figure out a good Writing score is to look at the TOEFL requirements of schools you’re applying to or thinking about applying to. Almost every university or graduate program will list its TOEFL requirements on its website, typically on the “Admissions” page.
Using this guideline, a good TOEFL Writing score is simply one that gets you into each of the schools you’re interested in. In the next section we go over step-by-step how to use school requirements to set your Writing goal score.
How to Set a TOEFL Writing Goal Score
Follow four steps below to figure out which TOEFL Writing score you should be aiming for. We’ll use Ivan, an international student applying to several universities in America, as an example.
#1: Make a List of the Schools You’re Interested In
Your first step is to make a list of all the schools you’re interested in applying to. Then, put them in a table, like the one you see below. Right now you only need to fill in the first column. At this point, you don’t need to have a final list of the schools you want to apply to; a rough guide of schools you may be interested in attending is enough.
Ivan is applying to four schools: MIT, New York University, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and American University. Below is his table.
|School||Minimum Listening Score||Minimum Total Score||Notes|
#2: Find Each School’s Average/Required TOEFL Scores
The next step is to find the required TOEFL Writing score and total TOEFL score for each school. Schools will usually post this information on their admissions page. Some schools have required scores for each TOEFL section. This makes it easy to know what the required Listening score is. For others, there is simply a required total TOEFL score. This means you’ll need to do a bit of math to figure out about what score you’ll need for Writing. To do this, just divide the required total score by four, since there are four sections on the TOEFL.
For example, UW-Madison has a required total score of 92. That means Ivan will need an average of 23 on each section, including Writing, to meet that total score requirement. You may want to make a note that this is just an estimated minimum Writing score, and not required.
|School||Minimum Listening Score||Minimum Total Score||Notes|
|MIT||25 (estimated)||90 (100 recommended)|
|NYU||25 (estimated)||100 (recommended)|
#3: Make Adjustments
Now you know the minimum requirements for your list of schools, but should you be aiming higher than those scores? Will getting higher than the minimum required score increase your chances of getting accepted? In most cases, the answer is no. Getting a TOEFL score that’s significantly higher than the requirements definitely won’t hurt your application, and it will likely make navigating an English-speaking school easier, but, in most cases, it won’t help your application that much.
Most schools choose their TOEFL requirements based on the language skills they believe are required to do well there. As long as you meet the requirement, it’s assumed you’ll be able to manage the language barrier well enough. However, this isn’t true for every school, and there are some schools where a higher than required TOEFL score can help improve your chances of getting in.
Sometimes this is mentioned directly on a school’s website. The admissions page may state that any TOEFL score that meets or exceeds the requirements is enough, or it may say that scores higher than the requirement help your application. For example, MIT has a required TOEFL score minimum of 80, but a total score of at least 100 is “recommended.” In this case, you should be aiming for a total score of 100 in order to be sure your TOEFL score doesn’t bring down the rest of your application.
Other schools don’t require TOEFL scores if you meet other requirements, such as a certain number of years of schooling at an English-speaking school or a high enough score on the Critical Reading section of the SAT.
Next to each school, include any of this additional information you find to give yourself the most complete picture of what TOEFL score you should be aiming for. If you can’t find this information on the school’s website, it’s a good idea call or email the admissions office directly to be sure you have the most accurate information.
|School||Minimum Listening Score||Minimum Total Score||Notes|
|MIT||25 (estimated)||90 (100 recommended)||100 recommended|
|NYU||25 (estimated)||100||No minimum required score, but recommended at least 100.|
|American University||20||80||Each sub-score must be at least 20|
#4: Find the Highest Score From Your List
Now that you have your list of required and desired TOEFL scores for the schools you’re interested in, look through the list and find the highest score. This is your goal score, and getting it would mean you got a “good” TOEFL score since it would meet the requirements of all the schools you’re interested in.
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For Ivan, he would need a Writing score of at least 25 in order to have the best chance of meeting the requirements of all the schools he’s applying to. Once you’ve found this score, write it down and tape it somewhere where you’ll see it, such as your desk. Keep it visible while you’re studying to remind you of the score you need to earn and motivate you to reach your TOEFL goal.
Tips for Getting a Top TOEFL Writing Score
It’s important to know how the TOEFL essays are scored and what score you should aim for on TOEFL Writing. Follow these four additional tips in this section to help produce strong essays that’ll help you meet your goal score.
Tip 1: Take a Few Minutes to Plan Your Essays
Since you only have a limited amount of time to complete your essays, it can be tempting to start writing the second your time starts. You want to avoid doing this, however. Spending just a few minutes planning your essay can help keep your writing focused and on topic, and it can often help you write faster because you know what you’ll be discussing next.
Spend a max of two to three minutes writing a basic outline for your essay. It should include:
- Your thesis statement (the main point you’re making and will discuss throughout the essay)
- The main point of each paragraph you’ll have in your essay
- Any specific examples you can quickly think of (either from the included passages or your own opinion, depending on the essay) to back up your claim
Before you begin writing, reread the essay prompt again to make sure your outline answers the question well (see next section for more details).
Tip 2: Discuss Specific Examples
For both essays, you’ll need to provide multiple examples that support your main argument. For the Integrated Writing Task, these examples will come from the written passage and the audio clip included with the essay prompt. For the Independent Writing Task, you’ll need to come up with your own ideas for examples.
One thing many test takers struggle with is making these examples specific enough. For example, say you’re writing an Independent Writing essay that focuses on the importance of telling the truth. If one of your points is that sometimes you need to tell small lies to protect a friend’s feelings, don’t just say that being honest can be cruel. Give a specific example instead. For example, says a friend asks whether you like her new hat. Even if you really think it’s ugly, it doesn’t harm anyone to say you like it, and it’ll help keep your friendship strong.
Using specific examples makes your argument stronger and can help you get a higher essay score.
Tip 3: Meet the Recommended Essay Lengths
It’s recommended that your Integrated Writing Task be 150-225 words and your Independent Writing Task be at least 300 words. You should aim to meet both these recommendations because writing less than that will make it difficult to meet all the requirements you need in a strong essay, like an introduction and conclusion and well-supported examples.
However, you don’t need to worry about writing a lot more than the recommended word counts. For example, an Independent Writing Essay that’s 600 words won’t automatically get a higher score than one that’s 350 words. Aim to write the recommended length for each essay, but focus more on giving strong examples than simply writing in order to increase your word count.
Tip 4: Proofread Your Essays
You should always aim to leave at least a few minutes at the end of the section to proofread your essays. Ideally, you’ll have 2-3 minutes to look over each essay, but even just a minute of extra time can be enough for you to find and fix obvious spelling and grammar errors.
While you can have some errors and still get a high essay score, it’ll be difficult to get a top score if your essays are filled with misspellings and grammar mistakes, even if the content of the essays is strong. Taking a few minutes to correct these errors can give your essay scores a boost.
Recap: What’s a Good TOEFL Writing Score?
What’s a good TOEFL iBT Writing score? That depends on your definition. If you’re basing your score on percentiles, or how well you do compared to other test-takers, a scaled score of 22 will make you above average, and a score of 25 will put you in the top quarter of Writing scores for test takers.
However, it’s better to look at the score requirements of the schools you’re interested in and base your goal score for Writing on that. You’ll need to write two essays, and for each, you’ll need to answer the prompt completely, provide specific and well supported examples, and keep spelling and grammar errors to a minimum in order to get a high score.
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