TOEFL Scoring

In my post called “How is the TOEFL Scored?” I talked about the details behind the score you receive. Now, let’s look at some practical considerations about scoring.

Take a wild guess

First of all, unlike some other standardized tests, the TOEFL does not penalize you for guessing. In other words, a wrong answer doesn’t hurt you more than no answer does. So if you don’t know the answer to a question, you might want to guess. In the reading section, mark the question for review and return to it at the end if you have time (but give your best guess when you mark it, too, in case you don’t have time to return). In the listening section, make a guess and move on; you won’t be able to return to that question. But keep in mind that a completely random guess isn’t a good idea! Try to eliminate some wrong answers, and then make your best guess, even if you feel a little lost.

Take note of point values

As I mentioned in a previous post, each section is worth 30 points in your final score. This isn’t necessarily the number of points that will be available on the test itself. At the beginning of the section, the directions say that “Most questions are worth 1 point, but the last question for each passage is worth more than 1 point. The directions for the last question indicate how many points you may receive.” Generally speaking, each passage is worth 15 points overall: one point for the first 13 questions, then two points for the last question, number 14. It is possible to see a slightly different format: for example, 12 questions each worth one point and then a final, 13th question worth three points.

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Hopefully, you’ll have plenty of time to answer every question well. But if you don’t, realize that most questions are worth the same, and use that to help you decide where to spend your time. Usually, the maximum raw score for the reading section is 45. When your raw score is sent to ETS, it will be converted (somehow, as if by magic) to the 30-point scale that you and the universities you choose will see on your score report. The way ETS converts raw scores to scaled scores also helps to standardize the difficulty. A slightly different test has slightly different average raw scores. That is fixed by the scaling process.

Remember that while the number of potential points may vary from test to test, that will be accounted for in the final score report. No one TOEFL is more difficult than another TOEFL.

Speaking of score reports…

Most universities will require an official score report to prove how you did on the test. When you register for the test, you will be able to choose four institutions to receive your official score report automatically. If you need to send it to more than four institutions, each additional score report costs $18, plus a $12 service charge for the transaction. If your test has already been scored when you request the additional score reports, the reports will be sent within 4-7 days. You can learn more about sending your scores here.

Canceling and reinstating scores

I hope this doesn’t happen to you: you get sick during the test, or for some other reason you do very, very poorly, and you know this when you leave the testing site. If something has happened to make your score much lower than it should be, you can cancel your scores for the whole test (you can’t cancel the scores for just one section). This means that your score reports will not be sent to you or your chosen institutions, the scores will not be added to your permanent testing record, and, unfortunately, your testing fee will not be refunded. Consider very carefully before you do this; nerves, mild sickness, and other annoyances may affect your score somewhat, but not dramatically enough for a score cancellation. Still, the service is available for those who have very bad circumstances. If you change your mind within ten days of your testing date (NOT the date on which you requested to cancel your scores), you can have your scores reinstated for a fee of $20. Your scores will become available and your reports will be sent three weeks after your request is received.

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  • Kate Hardin

    Kate has 6 years of experience in teaching foreign language. She graduated from Sewanee in 2012, where she studied and taught German, and recently returned from a year spent teaching English in a northern Russian university. Follow Kate on Google+!

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10 Responses to TOEFL Scoring

  1. Mystic December 30, 2014 at 11:19 am #

    I’d like more information put out on the score review procedure. Official FAQ only states fees, which is ridiculous. If you have any experience with the score reviews, please reply back.

    What should we expect from a review? Will it be worth paying the fee or taking the whole test again? In my area the whole test costs $180, and the review of both Speaking and Writing sections cost $160. Strange.

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas December 30, 2014 at 2:57 pm #

      Did you see this page on ETS’s site? It sounds like you might not have, so I think that will help! I’m also surprised that re-scoring is expensive as it is, but keep in mind that scoring the speaking and writing is the only part of the TOEFL where a singe, real life person is paying attention to you personally. Almost anything else ETS works on is for large groups of test takers, and the reading and listening are scored by a computer.

      By the way, the vast majority of the time, if you ask for a re-scoring, you will get the same or very similar scores back. It’s rarely worth the money. If you can study and improve, then take the test again later, that’s a more reliable way to increase scores.

      Do you have any specific questions that aren’t addressed on the site?

  2. Paco Puylaert July 12, 2016 at 5:52 am #

    If I just scored for example 32 out of 45, how much would be my score for the reading?
    The guide states scores basing them on 42 which I do not understand because the last question of every reading passage is worth 2 or 3 points.
    Please let me know!

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert July 12, 2016 at 1:10 pm #

      Great questions. First I’ll address your question about 42 points vs. 35 points. Raw scores– which are later used to calculate official scores— are based on the number of questions rather than the number of answers. So in a raw score, a question that has more than one answer would still just display at one point. In your official score, the multiple answer questions at the end of each TOEFL Reading question set are worth two points apiece, and are counted as having two correct answers for scoring purposes (even if there are actually more correct answer choices that you can select).

      Now to get to your question about how a 32/45 converts to the 30 point scale for the reading section. This is a matter of percentages. 32/45 = .71, or 71% of 30 points. 30*.71 = 21.3. So this gives you roughly a 21 in TOEFL reading. On your final score however, this 21 could be adjusted upward or downward, based on the difficulty-level of the questions you happened to get in your test session.

  3. Eleanor Howard May 20, 2017 at 10:00 am #

    Hi. My name is Ellie Howard and I am tutoring a student preparing for the TOEFL. He has a question that I do not know the answer to and would appreciate your response.

    In the reading section when there are 4 responses to a question (out of 5) and on the practice test he gets two right or three right, how is this scored?

    My sincere thanks for your kind response.


    • David Recine
      David Recine May 21, 2017 at 1:10 am #

      Hi Ellie,

      Great question. 🙂 A 4 out of 5 response TOEFL Reading question is worth three points. If you get all 4 answers correct, you get the full three points. If you get 3/4, you’d get two points. 2/4 would be one point. 1 correct or 0 correct would both be 0 points.

  4. karshigul turdimuradova August 24, 2017 at 6:29 pm #

    I’ve just stsrted to prepare for the test.
    I wonder how many questions usually appear in the reading section of the TOEFL IBT?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert August 25, 2017 at 4:55 pm #

      Hi Karshigul,

      In both the reading and listening sections, there could be 34–51 questions because ETS will include some research/experimental material in one of the sections. (Not both, thankfully!) So you should expect a reading or listening section to vary depending on the luck of the draw that day.You can read more about this and the TOEFl in general with our Complete Guide to the TOEFL eBook:

  5. Selene November 24, 2019 at 9:14 am #

    Hello, thank you for the article, it was quite helpful. But I’m still full of questions.
    So, for instance, the last reading question required only 7 correct answers out of 9. I chose 8 choices 7 of which were correct. So I was wondering will I get the 4 points or not? Because technically I chose the 7 answers correctly.
    Thanks in advance.

    • David Recine
      David Recine February 12, 2020 at 1:17 pm #

      If you miss even one answer on a multiple answer question, you’ll lose at least one point, no matter how many answers you need to give. The good news here is that TOEFL Reading questions never have as many as 9 answer in a multiple answer question. 🙂

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