The TOEFL iBT is scored on a scale of 0-120. The Reading and Listening sections, in which every question has exactly one correct answer, are scored by computer. The Writing and Speaking sections, on the other hand, have to be scored by hand. Each of the four sections of the TOEFL is worth 30 points total, but exactly how your score is calculated depends on the section.
Scoring the Reading and Listening Sections
The Reading and Listening sections are the easiest to score. A computer will determine the number of points you received, and then your score will be calculated on a scale of 0-30 for each section. It’s that simple. (Magoosh does the same thing for our online practice TOEFLs.)
Scoring the Writing and Speaking Sections
The writing and speaking sections are a little more involved. Each response will be reviewed by at least two trained ETS graders, who will independently score your response on a scale of 0-4. If their scores differ by more than one point (i.e. if one of them gives you a 3 and the other a 1, for example), then a third grader will review your test. All the graders’ scores are averaged together to give you one score from 0-4, which is then converted to the standardized 30-point scale.
What’s up with this 30-point system?
The scoring system that ETS uses may seem unnecessarily complicated, but it’s designed the way it is because there are so many versions of the TOEFL. The number of points possible on one test may differ slightly from those on another test. The first step that ETS has to do to give you a standardized score is to scale these scores by converting each possible score to a standardized score. On the TOEFL, of course, all scores are converted to a scale of 0-120.
There’s one more problem with scoring the test: although ETS does a pretty good job of writing tests that are fairly similar in difficulty, they can’t do this perfectly. Your raw score, or the mere number of points you receive on the test, would be perfectly fine if everyone in the world took the exact same test you took. But since your version of the test may have been harder or easier than other people’s, ETS equates the score, or converts it to a new score that compensates for these differences. I can’t tell you exactly how this happens, but we have to trust ETS that they know what they’re doing.
ETS is constantly doing research to be sure that their scaling and equating algorithms create fair scores. It’s partly due to this that the TOEFL contains experimental sections, or sections of the test that are not scored, but are administered for research purposes and to test out new questions and eliminate problems in them.
Getting your Score Report
Score reports are available online about ten days after you take the test, and the official score reports your institution probably requires are mailed a little bit later, about 13 days after you take the test. So in all, it will be about three weeks after you take the test when your institution actually receives your score report. You can read more about how to send your scores to universities in this post.
Wondering if your TOEFL score is good enough? This infographic can help.