The Test of English as a Foreign Language® (TOEFL®) is a series of standardized tests meant to measure the written and spoken English of non-native English speakers. The TOEFL® score is a number for each of the four categories on the test, with a total summing up the overall score. There is no passing or failing mark assigned by the TOEFL®. A good score, therefore, is generally considered to be one that meets or surpasses the requirements of the specific institution to which the student is applying.
There are two versions of the test, an Internet-Based Test™ (IBT™) and a Paper-Based Test™ (PBT™), with each format having its own scoring system. The IBT™ grades the individual in the skills of reading, writing, speaking, and listening, with a minimum score of 0 for each, and a maximum of 30. The total score scale ranges from 0 to 120.
The PBT™ scores the individual in the skills of listening, structure and written expression, and reading. The two categories of listening and structure and written expression have a minimum score of 31 and a maximum of 68. The reading category score ranges from 31 to 67, with the total score being 310 at its lowest and 677 at its highest.
There is a fourth category in the PBT™, the Test of Written English (TWE), which is scored 0 to 6 but is not included in the total score. Rather, it is considered a separate score, giving the PBT™ two final scores to consider. Note that one must answer at least one question in each category, and write at least one essay, in order to receive a score for that category.
Despite the TOEFL® not providing a passing threshold on the scoring scale, the IBT™ score scale has been divided into several ranges of performance grading. For the reading and listening categories, a score of 0 to 14 signify that these particular skills are low. A score that falls between 15 and 21 equate to intermediate skills on the part of the individual, and a score of 22 to 30 means that the individual's skills in these areas are quite high.
The IBT™ speaking category provides a base score of 0 – 4 points, which is converted to a 0 – 30 range of scoring. A score of 0 – 9 is considered an indication of weak spoken English skills, while 10 – 17 signifies limited skills. Obtaining a score of 18 – 25 demonstrates fair speaking skills on the part of the individual, and a score of 26 – 30 qualifies the individual's speaking skills as quite good.
The writing category begins with a base score of 0 – 5 points, which is then adjusted for a 0 – 30 score scale. A score of 1 – 16 means that the individual's written English skills are limited, while scoring between 17 and 23 point to fair writing skills. A score of 24 – 30 show that the individual has good writing skills. Note that there is no performance grading for the overall total; these performance measures are generally for the individual's own feedback and are meant as a guide on what areas he needs to improve.
Universities will generally require a certain minimum TOEFL® score for foreign applicants, but this minimum will vary. Additionally, the minimum requirement for a particular university department may be higher than that of the university. It is advisable for the individual to do some research to find out the minimum score required for his chosen department and university. Once he has done so, he can easily determine whether his score is acceptable or not.
The amount by which an individual's score surpasses the minimum TOEFL® score requirement generally does not matter to the academic institutions. Meeting their minimum requisite score is simply a requirement fulfilled, and not a measure of excellence to be considered alongside academic grades. If the individual's TOEFL® score does not meet the requirement, it is possible for him to cancel the score and register for another TOEFL® test date. The canceled score will not be sent to the individual's chosen universities.
A second option for the individual who is unhappy with his TOEFL® score is to request a rescoring of the sections he chooses. Unlike the cancellation of scores, this service requires a fee to process. Additionally, rescoring is only available within three months of taking the test.