How the TOEFL Scoring System Works

For many non-native English speakers who want to earn a degree from a university in an English-speaking country, the TOEFL is a must. But unfortunately, the TOEFL score scale isn’t the most straightforward. So hopefully I can make it a little bit clearer for you.

How are TOEFL scores derived?

Like any standardized test (e.g. the GRE, GMAT, SAT…) the TOEFL has its own unique scoring system. It is not a percent-correct score, so getting 100 on the TOEFL doesn’t mean you’re a native speaker!

Instead, the maximum score on the TOEFL is 120. The test is broken into four parts, and the scores reflect that. Each of the four sections—reading, listening, speaking, and writing—is worth 30 points. Generally speaking, graduate school or college programs do not look seriously at the individual scores, though: the combined score out of 120 is the most important number.

How Is the Percent Correct Related to the Final TOEFL Score?

Since the TOEFL is standardized, the scores are “equated”. This means that the number of correct answers you have does not correspond perfectly with the final mark.

This is because one version of the exam might be harder than another version. One test might have a reading passage which average students have a lot of trouble on, but another test might have slightly easier reading passages. Equating the tests means that TOEFL scores are comparable even though test-takers read different passages, hear different lectures, and answer different questions on different days.

ETS does not share their system for equating scores, so it’s not easy to calculate your TOEFL score using just a percentage correct. Each test must be scored differently from other versions of the test.

What’s a Good TOEFL Score?

This depends completely on what programs you are interested in. The short answer is that you should check with the college or university you are going to apply to and ask if they have minimum TOEFL scores (or take a look at our infographic to see the required scores of top universities). It’s very important to know your personal goal when you start studying.

Some test-takers only need a combined score of 60 or 70—this would usually be for associate’s degree programs, but it’s possible to find other programs that accept scores at that level. Meanwhile, the top master’s or PhD programs in the country usually require much higher scores, many at over 100—this is a very advanced, completely conversational level of English. And at that level, many schools don’t even require TOEFL scores if you have high enough GRE, GMAT, LSAT, or MCAT scores. Other tests already check English skills, so the TOEFL isn’t always necessary.

But the most important thing is that you find out what your programs want.

And don’t forget to check out more from me on TOEFL:

TOEFL Reading Practice
TOEFL Listening Practice
TOEFL Speaking Topics
TOEFL Writing Topics

For even more information about the TOEFL exam, check out the Magoosh TOEFL Blog!

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  • Lucas Fink

    Lucas is the teacher behind Magoosh TOEFL. He’s been teaching TOEFL preparation and more general English since 2009, and the SAT since 2008. Between his time at Bard College and teaching abroad, he has studied Japanese, Czech, and Korean. None of them come in handy, nowadays.