All about Scores for the TOEFL

TOEFL iBT Scoring: Raw Scores and Scaled Scores

Students who take the TOEFL receive four sectional scores for reading, listening, speaking, and writing on a scale of 0 to 30 each and a total score that is simply the sum of the four sectional scores (0 to 120). The number of correct answers a test-taker receives on the appropriate sections is referred to as his or her raw score. The TOEFL sections contain different numbers of questions at various levels of difficulty, and these raw scores must therefore be converted to scaled scores. The 0 to 30 scoring system reflects scaled scores rather than raw scores, and the percentage of correct answers therefore does not exactly align with the final scaled scores. Educational Testing Service (ETS) does not disclose the conversion formula for the iBT reading and listening sections, but score concordances for the speaking and writing sections are available within broad ranges.

ETS Scoring Classifications for TOEFL iBT Reading and Listening Sections

ETS has developed classifications for specific score ranges on each TOEFL iBT section. For iBT reading, "high" scores (22-30) are received by test-takers who demonstrate comprehension of academic texts at all levels of difficulty. "Intermediate" reading skills (15-21) are characterized by limited understanding of some parts of reading passages. Students who receive "low" reading section scores (0-14) need to improve their abilities in most areas. Listening section scores are also classified as either high (22-30), intermediate (14-21), or low (0-13). High scorers understand complex vocabulary, colloquial expressions, complicated grammatical structures, and abstract ideas in spoken lectures and conversations. Intermediate scorers understand many of these concepts, but are less consistent with their listening comprehension skills. Low scorers typically do not understand large sections of iBT listening passages.

ETS Scoring Classifications for TOEFL iBT Speaking and Writing Sections

The six tasks on the speaking section are each given a score of 0 to 4 in half-point increments. These scores are then added and converted to the speaking section scaled score (0 to 30). TOEFL speaking scores are categorized as good (3.5-4.0), fair (2.5-3.0), limited (1.5-2.0), or weak (0-1.0), depending on how effectively the test-taker is able to use spoken English to communicate. ETS has reported the following concordances between the average score for the six tasks and scaled speaking section scores: 3.5-4.0=26-30, 2.5-3.0=18-25, 1.5-2.0=10-17, and 0-1.0=0-9. The two tasks on the TOEFL iBT writing section are assessed from 0 to 5 each in half-point increments, and the sum is converted to a scaled score (0-30). Classifications for writing scores are good (4.0-5.0), fair (2.5-3.5), and limited (0-2.0). Writing scores are based on how well the test-taker addresses the essay topics, organizational skills, and use of standard written English. A writing average of 4.0-5.0 is equivalent to a scaled writing section score of 24-30, while writing averages of 2.5-3.5, 1.0-2.0, and 0 equal respective scaled scores of 17-23, 1-16, and 0.

How the TOEFL iBT is Graded

The iBT reading and listening sections are graded by computer. All of the exercises on these two sections are multiple choice, and there is thus no subjectivity in the assessment of answers. The iBT speaking and writing sections are evaluated by human graders, who are trained and certified by ETS. TOEFL iBT score reports include total scores, sectional scores, score classifications, and general comments about student performance on the speaking and writing sections.

Scoring for the TOEFL Paper-Based Test (PBT)

ETS reports three sectional scores, a separate writing score, and a total score for the TOEFL PBT. Scaled sectional scores for listening comprehension and structure and written expression are each given from 31 to 68, and the scaled score for reading comprehension is between 31 and 67. The Test of Written English (TWE), the writing section of the PBT, is scored from 1 to 6 in half-point increments. The PBT total score (310-677) is converted from the scaled scores for listening comprehension, structure and written expression, and reading comprehension.

TOEFL Score Requirements at Universities

ETS has not established an official "passing" score for the TOEFL, and each institution is therefore free to create its own standards. Individual schools and departments within these universities often have TOEFL sectional and total score requirements that are distinct from those of the university as a whole, and TOEFL expectations can be determined by factors such as academic discipline, degree level, or consideration for teaching assistantships. Most selective universities require a total score of at least 100, but there are some schools that will accept total scores as low as 60. Prospective undergraduate or graduate students should verify the TOEFL standards of their chosen programs, and they should also understand that meeting these expectations will (at the very least) allow them to avoid expensive and time-consuming remedial English courses.