The TOEFL® Scoring System
If you are a non-native English speaker who wants to study at an institution in an English-speaking country, most of the time you would be required to submit a TOEFL score. The TOEFL does not have a straightforward grading system like what you have at schools, a wrong answer will surely make you lose points and a correct one will gain you points. So the TOEFL score itself can be confusing. This post hopefully can help explaining the score for you.
How are the scores derived?
The TOEFL has its own scoring scale and system, and it is not a percent correct score. That means the maximum score for the TOEFL test is not 100%. Instead, the maximum score is 120 with 4 sections. Each section (Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening) is worth 30 points.
Unlike the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) whose points of each section are equally as important as the overall, with the TOEFL, the combined score out of 120 is the most important number. Mahy times, the schools and colleges won't even ask you to break down the total score into individual sections.
How is the TOEFL graded?
The TOEFL is a standardized test, which means the scores are 'equated.' This also means that the number of correct answers you get in the test will not correspond exactly with the final score you receive.
This is because the TOEFL test makers would like to make the test and results as fair as possible. Sometimes, a version of the test can be more difficult than another version. So it won't be fair to everyone taking the test if the percent-correct grading system is used. The TOEFL graders, besides looking at the right and wrong answers, they also consider the overall performance of everyone taking that version the test to finally come up with the score. So generally speaking, the TOEFL scores are comparable even when test takers take different tests from each other.
However, the ETS does not share their official grading and equating scores system with the public. So we do not exactly know how it is graded. But keep in mind that even if you are 'unlucky' and have a difficult than the average reading passage, you will still be judged fairly compared to others who have the easier reading passage.
What is a good score?
You can't fail a TOEFL test. Why? Because there are no general passing grades in TOEFL; Whether or not, you should be satisfied with your scores is depending on what your programs and schools require. So it is crucial that you check with your school and programs before studying for the TOEFL. You will have a more appropriate study goal once you know what you are looking for.
For many associate's degree programs, test takers only need a combined score of around 60 to 70 points. There are also 4 years; Bachelor's degree programs accept the 60-70 score. At the same time, top undergraduate colleges, master's or Ph.D. program often require much higher TOEFL scores. Some can require a score over 100, which is very advanced, fluently conversational English.
So, again, make sure to know what your programs is looking for so you can set your goal accordingly.