Bowling Scoring for Beginners

When you visit most bowling alleys nowadays, the scoring is done for you.
You just plug in your name, and try not to bowl in the wrong order.  The lane keeps track of everything and tells you what pins you have up, whether you’ve split or have just bowled a turkey, and of course, maintains your scoring.

Still, if you’re hardcore or want a record of your string of strikes (or gutter balls), then you need to know the ins and outs of bowling scoring on paper.  It’s easy once you know how, and fun, too.

First, scoring in bowling is like anything else.  You need to recognize numbers, and be able to add. Second, you need to know three marks – X for a strike, / for a spare, and – for 0 or no pins.

You will notice that the bowling scoring sheet has ten frames, each one broken into 3 squares and a final frame. In each frame, the first square on top is for your first ball, and the second square on top is for your second ball (if needed).  The bottom square is your score through that frame.

Let’s say for example that you bowl a 5 with your first ball.  You would put a 5 in the first box on top of the first frame.  If you get 4 pins with your second ball, then you would put a 4 in the second box on top of the first frame, and a 9 in the big box at the bottom of the first frame.  That’s your total score for the game through one frame – 9, or 5 + 4.

Now, in the second frame lets say you knock down 9 pins. 9 goes in the first box in the second frame.  Your second ball knocks down the last pin for a spare.  Place a diagonal line ( / ) in the second box in the second frame.  You don’t put a number at the bottom of the second frame yet because you aren’t done with the second frame, even through you’ve thrown two balls.

When you bowl a spare, you get to score the next ball thrown as part of the frame where you got the spare.  So in this case, your first ball in the third frame counts towards your second frame.  In other words, your score for a spare frame is ten pins plus the next ball.

In the third frame you bowl a strike!  Things are looking up.  Since it’s the first ball of the third frame, you place an X ( X ) in the first box of the third frame.  For bowling scoring purposes, since you don’t throw another ball for this frame, the second box is left empty.  Since a strike is ten pins, and the spare in the second frame is ten pins, you add the two together (20) plus the 9 pins from the first frame for a total of 29 in the second frame (in other words, 9 for the first frame, plus 10 for the spare in the second frame, plus 10 for the strike which you get credit for in the second frame, for a total of 29).

When you bowl a strike, you get to score the next two balls thrown as part of the frame where you got the strike.  In this case, your next two balls count in the third frame as well as in their respective frames.  In other words, your score for the strike frame is ten pins plus the next two balls.

Fourth Frame – If you bowl an 8 and then a 1, you would put those numbers in the first and second boxes of the fourth frame.  Added together, they are 9, plus the ten pins from the strike equals 19, plus 29 from your total in frame two equals 48.  Put 48 in the third frame bottom box.  For the fourth frame bottom box, add 9 (total of the frame) to 48 (your total through three frames) for a total of 57 through four frames.

Your scores for four frames would be 9, 29, 48 and 57.

What if I get two (or more) strikes in a row?
Nice work. Ok, let’s back up.  Let’s say you got a strike in the third frame, and a strike in the fourth frame.  You would put an X in the fourth frame top first box like you did in the third frame, but since your strike value is 10 plus the next two balls, then you don’t put anything in the bottom box for the third or fourth frame, at least until you’ve thrown at least one more ball to determine your score for the third frame.

Just because you’re awesome, let’s assume you throw a strike in the fifth frame as well – Turkey!  Your score in the third frame would be 29 (for the first two frames) + 30 for the strike and the next two balls, also strikes, recorded in the third frame.  Your score after three frames would be 59 (9, 29, 59) with the fourth and fifth frames waiting for two balls.  The fourth frame has one ball (the strike from the fifth frame, and the fifth frame is waiting for two balls to be thrown before it can be scored.

What if I miss all the pins?
I haven’t forgotten it.  X is for strike and / is for spare.  Well, – is for no pins.  In either your first or second box, place a – if you missed with your first or second ball respectively.  If you are unfortunate enough to miss with your first two balls in the first frame, then you would put down – twice, and a 0 in the score box at the bottom.  This is the only time you use 0.

Bowling Scoring – Sample Game
Here’s a sample game we can score to better show how bowling scoring works.  Each frame shows the first and second ball thrown for each frame. Numbers in parentheses equal the current score after all appropriate frames score out.


1. 6 2 (8)

2. 5 / (27)

3. 9 / (47)

4. X (72)

5. X (91)

6. 5 4 (100)

7. 9 – (109)

8. 8 1 (118)

9. X (138)

10. 7 / (158)

Final X (168)

Two balls in the first frame = 8.  5 on the first ball, but a spare on the second give you a blank second frame, waiting on one ball for the spare.  The first ball in the third frame is a 9 so 8 + 10 + 9 = 27.  The second ball in the third frame is also a spare so we don’t score the bottom of the third frame yet.  A strike in the fourth!  That ball adds ten to the spare, so 27 + 10 + 10 = 47.  A strike in the fifth!  We don’t score the fourth frame yet because we’re waiting for one more ball.  5 on the first ball in the sixth frame makes the total for the fourth frame 10 + 10 + 5 (for two strikes and a 5) plus 47 or 72.  A 4 on the second ball in the sixth frame gives the two balls we need to score the fifth frame.  10 + 5 + 4 + 72 = 91, and with the 9 pins in the sixth frame, we know your score through six frames is 100 (91 + 9)

In the seventh frame, two balls yield 9 pins for a total of 109, and nine more pins in the eighth frame gives you 118, but then things get interesting.  A strike in the ninth gives you two more balls for the ninth frame, and in the tenth frame you knock down 7 pins, then pick up the spare.  10 for the ninth frame plus 10 for the spare equals 20 + 118 gives you 138 in the ninth.  You can’t score the tenth because you need one more ball thanks to the spare.

If you roll a strike or spare in the tenth frame you get two balls or one ball more to settle the final frame.  In this case, you got a spare so you get to throw one ball in the final (11th) frame.  A strike!  That adds 10 pins to your 10 pins from the tenth frame for 20, plus your score of 138 gives you 158.  As a bonus, you get to add any pins in the final frame. X, / – or numbers are put into the final frame top boxes just like with the previous frames.  Since you got a strike, that’s 10 pins (sorry, you don’t get to throw two more balls).  10 plus 158 gives you 168 for your final score.  Not bad, and the bowling scoring is just that easy.

Your score by frame would be: 8, 27, 47, 72, 91, 100, 109, 118, 138, 158, 168(final)


Easy Shortcuts to Bowling Scoring
Bowling scoring can take some practice, but here are some easy tips to help when the strikes and spares start to complicate things.

A strike followed by a spare always adds 20 to the score for the strike frame, because a strike plus anything plus a spare equals 20 on two balls.

The same is true if you throw any spare, then a strike (10 plus 10 on the next ball = 20).

For every three strikes you throw in a row, the score added to the first strike’s bottom box is 30.  For example, if your first through fourth frames are strikes and the fifth frame was a 9 and – ,

or (X, X, X, X,9-)

your score would be 30 (strike plus two strikes), 60 (strike plus two more strikes), 89 (strike plus strike and 9 in fifth frame), 108 (strike plus 9 plus -) and 117 in the fifth frame (108 + 9).

This is why you can bowl to 300.  It’s actually 12 strikes: 30 in each frame for ten frames plus two strikes in the final frame so you can have 30 in the tenth frame (the last two strikes in the final frame don’t add an additional 20 pins for the final or 11th frame.

If you fail to get a strike or spare in the tenth frame, then your final frame score will equal your tenth frame score.

That’s it!  Bowling scoring is really that easy.  Next time you go bowling, try scoring on paper.  When you finally bowl those 12 strikes in a row you’ll be able to prove it with your awesome bowling scoring skills.