(1) She scored high on the writing section of the English proficiency test.

(2) She scored highly on the writing section of the English proficiency test.

[Question] Which is correct in British English?

I know (1) is correct in American English.

Thank you.

  • 2
    > "I know (1) is correct in American English." How do you know this?
    – James K
    Feb 14, 2023 at 12:32
  • @JamesK I learned it from an American teacher of English.
    – Kaguyahime
    Feb 15, 2023 at 12:20

3 Answers 3


This is primarily a US/UK usage split. Compare this chart for the US corpus...

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...with the corresponding UK corpus...

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Note that the UK preference for the explicitly adverbial form (highly) is probably much higher than suggested by that chart - most titles indexed by Google Books / NGrams are US-published, so the inevitable "mis-classifications" skew UK trends towards US trends far more than in the opposite direction.

Also note that obviously (to me, at least) this usage difference is entirely down to preferred phrasing. It simply isn't feasible that on average, Anglophones on different sides of the pond would be seeking to convey subtly different meanings - Americans just prefer the "flat adverb" form much more than Brits.


If "high" is the name of a rank, possibly along with "medium" and "low" then She scored "high" in the test is fine in any version of English. If it only means that she score high marks, then She scored highly would be correct.

In my own experience passing rank names often include "Excellent", "Good", and "Satisfactory". This makes the apparently ungrammatical She scored good acceptable in speech, where there are no quotation marks.

  • 1
    To me, bare rank names cannot directly follow score. They can just about follow score with a determiner (“She scored an ‘Excellent’ on the test”), and they can definitely follow get or achieve in the same way, but “She scored excellent on the test” is at least borderline ungrammatical to me. In this aspect, rank names are equivalent to grades – you can’t “score B+ on a test” either, but you can get/score a B+. High and low are different – they’re adverbs here, and high is identical in meaning to highly. Feb 15, 2023 at 1:24
  • @JanusBahsJacquet, I suspect usage will vary by education system as well as by country. I am Australian, which is much closer to UK than US. I would not naturally use "scored" in this context at all, as to me one doesn't "score" marks but runs, points or goals. As a teacher I "marked" work; I never "scored" or "graded" it. However if a student were to ask me "what did I score on the assignment" I may well respond "You scored good" or "you scored C" if they were the points on the assessment scale. To me, in this context, high is a noun (a scale point) or an adjective, but not an adverb.
    – Peter
    Feb 16, 2023 at 11:40
  • @JanusBahsJacquet In my part of Australia it would be normal to say "I got 15 out of 20 for the test" or "I got B+ for the assignment". It would be more common to say "I got C on my report" rather than "I got Good" on my report", but only because the letters are usually what is actually written on the reports. To me, "I got C" and "I got a C" are equally acceptable, but seem to have slightly different meanings or uses. Unfortunately at the moment I can't pin down the difference.
    – Peter
    Feb 16, 2023 at 12:16
  • Interesting – to me, only variants with the article are acceptable when using grades/points on the assessment scale, regardless of the verb. This is also how I know that high and low are adverbial in my use: a noun there is simply not grammatical. “I scored high/low/well/poorly” are all fine, but “*I scored good/excellent/bad/C” are all impossible to em. Of course, with get, the adverbs don’t work (“I got high” is quite a different thing!), but nor do bare ranks (“*I got excellent/C”). Feb 16, 2023 at 12:29
  • I agree, though, that scoring refers generally not to grades, but to actual numeric points (“I scored a 114 on my SATs”). When used with ranks or grades, score highlights that the grade is seen as an achievement or goal attained (“I scored a B+ on the test, go me!”), whereas get is neutral (“I got a B on the test, hurray/oh no!”). Feb 16, 2023 at 12:30

To make this more clear, there are two ways of understanding the expression.

  1. "high" as a category or scoring classification

  2. "highly" as an adverb modifying "scored"

If the word is an adverb, only "highly" is correct. If the word denotes a particular scoring outcome, e.g. one gets scored as "low", "average", "high", "superior", then only "high"--the name of that category--could be correct.

Essentially, either form could be correct, but each one means a different thing. If the scoring is not by categories in which "high" is one of them, the word should be "highly" to modify "scored." And this is true, also, of American English, though many Americans use poor grammar.

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