Test Scores for the Paper-Based TOEFL

The TOEFL PBT Scoring System

Scoring for the first three sections of the TOEFL PBT (listening comprehension, structure and written expression, and reading comprehension) involves conversion of raw scores into scaled sectional scores. The total number of correct answers on each of these sections is equated to a scaled score based on the difficulty level of the questions. Scaled scores for listening comprehension and structure and written expression are between 31 and 68 each, while reading comprehension scaled scores are reported from 31 to 67. The PBT total score is the sum of these three sectional scores, multiplied by 10 and then divided by 3, for a range of 310 to 677. According to ETS, each multiple-choice question counts equally toward the final scaled section score. Because the reading comprehension section score maximum is only 67 rather than 68, this score contributes a bit less to the PBT total score than the other two multiple-choice sections. Scores for the Test of Written English (TWE) are separate from the total score, and they range from 1-6 in half-point increments (or a possible 0 for non-responsive test-takers).

Concordances Between Raw Scores and Scaled Scores

Due to differences in the difficulty level of the questions on the multiple-choice sections of the PBT, a given number of correct answers can in most cases only predict a scaled score range rather than a specific score. The number of correct answers associated with a score can vary by a few points. Answering 48 of 50 listening comprehension questions correctly, for example, can result in a scaled score as low as 65 or as high as 67. 24-26 correct answers out of 40 on structure and written expression produces a scaled score of 48-50.

Average Total and Sectional Scores for Specific Categories of Students

ETS reports the mean scores for all students taking the TOEFL PBT as 53.1 (listening comprehension), 52.1 (structure and written expression), 51.9 (reading comprehension), 3.7 (TWE), and 524 (total). Within this group, females outperformed males on listening comprehension (53.6 versus 52.8), but males received higher scores on reading comprehension (52.1, compared to 51.6). The average structure and written expression scores were equal for both (52.1). Surprisingly, undergraduate students scored higher than graduate students on average in listening comprehension, structure and written expression, and total scores (534 versus 525), although graduate students were slightly better at reading comprehension. Applicants for professional licenses, with average total scores of 518, were below all of these types of test-takers.

PBT Scores by Country

As would be expected, the highest average PBT total scores were received by students from European countries, especially Iceland (620), Norway (613), and Denmark (609). Uruguay (mean of 589), Aruba (583), and Mexico (560) led all test-takers in Latin America. Among African countries, the highest performers were from Zimbabwe (average of 586), South Africa (563), and Tanzania (557). No Asian countries had mean total scores above 550 (at 544, India was the highest-scoring nation in this region).

Correlations of PBT Scores to iBT Scores

According to ETS score comparison tables, a PBT total score of 600-603 is approximately equivalent to an iBT score of 100. TOEFL iBT scores of 90-91 are correlated to a PBT total score of 577, while iBT scores of 79-80 and 64 correspond to PBT scores of 550 and 507-510 respectively. Sectional scores on the iBT of 26-28 roughly convert to PBT sectional scores of 59-64, although there is more variation on some sections than on others. Test-takers should also remember that there are significant differences between the two exams in content and structure, which make exact comparisons difficult.

PBT Total Score Requirements at Universities

Universities that accept the PBT generally list their total score requirements only. The most selective institutions expect PBT total scores of at least 600, including Harvard, Columbia, and the University of Pennsylvania (although individual departments may have higher or lower requirements). PBT total score minimums at second-tier private schools or large public universities, such as Vanderbilt (570), UCLA (560), and Hunter College of the City University of New York (550), are often somewhat lower. Several institutions are willing to accept applicants with PBT total scores of 500 or below, including Brigham Young University (500), Porterville College (450), and Montgomery College (420), although many of these schools are not particularly selective or highly ranked. In some cases, low TOEFL scores result in provisional admission with required remedial English courses.

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