Scoring for the TOEFL - Overview

Scores for the TOEFL iBT

Students who take the TOEFL iBT are given a total score of 0 to 120 as well as sectional scores for reading, writing, speaking, and listening of 0 to 30 each. Scores for the reading and listening sections are converted to the 0-30 range from the total number of correct answers, with no penalty for guessing (points are not deducted for incorrect answers). The 0-30 score for the speaking and writing sections is based on the assessment of each task. The six speaking tasks are graded from 0 to 4, and the two writing tasks are evaluated from 0 to 5. In both cases, the final sectional score is the average of the task scores, converted to the 0-30 scale.

Scoring Procedure

Scoring for the TOEFL involves both electronic and human assessment. The reading and listening sections are graded by computer. Because this involves a binary scheme of marking multiple-choice answers either correct or incorrect, there is no subjectivity to the grading of these sections. The speaking and writing sections require the participation of trained ETS graders, who evaluate each of the written and spoken responses according to a rubric developed by ETS. On the writing section, human graders are assisted by an automated scoring system. Scores for the iBT are reported to students approximately 10 days after the date of the test.

Minimum TOEFL Scores for University Admission

Highly selective universities tend to require upper-percentile TOEFL scores, because these institutions have many more applicants than they have available seats. They are therefore easily able to reject candidates who lack the appropriate credentials, such as fluency in the English language. Low-ranked schools often face the opposite situation. Such institutions are starved for students and tuition income, and they are consequently more willing to admit applicants with less-than-stellar TOEFL scores. A total iBT score of 100 is sufficient for all but a handful of universities in the English-speaking world, and a total score of 110 is acceptable everywhere. A number of the less selective public universities in the United States will admit candidates with TOEFL scores as low as 60, although admission for these students will sometimes be granted only if they complete remedial English requirements. According to the most recent ETS data on the TOEFL iBT, a total score of 110 is approximately the 95th percentile of all test-takers. Total scores of 100 and 60 represent the respective 81st and 15th percentile rankings, and the mean total score is 81. Ultimately, students interested in acceptance to selective universities must prepare for scores that are well above the overall averages.

Average TOEFL Scores at Selected Universities

Most degree programs at universities in English-speaking countries have established firm TOEFL requirements for their applicants. However, some departments have implemented TOEFL policies that are consistent with the use of other standardized tests, in which there are no official minimum standards. In these cases, applicants should look to the average TOEFL scores of accepted students for guidance. The PhD in business program at CUNY Baruch College's Zicklin School of Business, for example, "does not enforce a strict 'minimum' score for application." The Zicklin website does report that the TOEFL average for successful applicants to this program is 100, and that a low TOEFL score "severely hinders" candidates for admission. At some schools, TOEFL averages can be higher than TOEFL minimums. The Department of Statistics at Stanford University lists the following TOEFL averages for its most recent PhD students: 109 total, 28 listening, 30 reading, 25 speaking, and 27 writing. The departmental minimum TOEFL total score is 100, but international PhD students typically score higher.

TOEFL Sectional Score Requirements at Universities

In addition to total score benchmarks, many universities require their applicants to receive minimum scores on each section of the TOEFL. At Cornell University, any scores below 20 writing, 15 listening, 20 reading, and 22 speaking will automatically preclude admission. These sectional score levels are only the minimum necessary for consideration, and most Cornell departments have requirements that are much higher. At the University of Maryland, all degree-seeking students must receive TOEFL section scores of 22 speaking, 24 listening, 26 reading, and 24 writing for full admission. This institution will grant provisional admission to applicants with scores and score ranges of 19 speaking, 18-23 listening, 21-25 reading, and 21-23 writing, but these students must take an additional English language exam after arriving on campus. The University of Texas-Arlington's TOEFL requirements for graduate students are 22 writing, 21 speaking, 20 reading, and 16 listening, but prospective graduate teaching assistants must meet a higher speaking standard of 23. Additional TOEFL requirements for teaching assistantships are common at universities in the English-speaking world.