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How Does Bowling Score Work: A Simple Guide for Beginners

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Bowling is one of the most popular recreational activities and participant sports in the United States. As of 2022, over 50 million people go bowling every year according to research from the Bowling Proprietors’ Association of America.

With participation from such a wide range of ages and abilities, bowling seems like a straightforward sport. You roll a ball down a slick lane aiming towards a set of pins, eventually knocking them down for points if you have good aim and technique.

However, many newcomers to bowling become confused and intimidated by how the bowling scoring system works to track points and calculate scores.

Between strikes, spares, frames, and various scoring combinations, bowling scoring can feel overwhelming to those who have never competed in a league or spent significant time at their local bowling alley. Even experienced bowlers may struggle with consistently tracking scores by hand using pencil and paper.

This complete guide will explain the fundamentals of how scoring works in bowling. You’ll learn the basics around pins, frames, and points as well as more complex considerations around strikes, spares, and final frame bonuses. By the end, the bowling scoring system will make sense and you’ll feel confident keeping score for yourself or friends.

Scoring Basics

At its foundation, bowling uses a points-scoring system similar to several other popular sports. In baseball, players score runs by reaching home plate. Football and basketball award 6 points for a touchdown or basket scored.

In bowling, the goal is to knock down pins for points. Points accumulate through each frame and make up your total score for a game.

Here are the scoring basics:

  • There are 10 pins set up on each lane for every frame
  • Your goal is to knock down as many pins as possible per roll
  • For beginners, the typical game lasts 10 frames
  • You score points based on how many pins you knock down each roll
  • You get two rolls (throws) per frame to knock down all 10 pins

So unlike a game like basketball or football where scoring chances are less frequent, bowling provides chances to pick up points on every frame. Your final score depends greatly on consistency and accuracy frame after frame.

Counting Your Score

As mentioned above, a regulation bowling game consists of 10 frames. Within each frame, you get two chances (rolls) to knock down the arrangement of 10 pins at the end of the lane.

The scoring math works like this:

  • You score 1 point per pin you successfully knockdown

So if you knock down 5 pins on your first roll, you would get 5 points. If you manage to pick off the remaining 5 pins for a spare in your second roll, you get 5 more points. That would give you 10 total points for that frame.

Calculate your score by adding up all the points earned through 10 frames:

  • Frame 1: 5 points (first roll) + 5 points (second roll spare) = 10 points
  • Frame 2: 3 points (first roll) + 2 points (second roll) = 5 points
  • Frame 3: Strike! = 10 points

And so on…

Of course, strikes and spares add more complexity, which we’ll address next. But the goal by the end of each frame is simple – accumulate as many points as possible towards your total score.


One of the best feelings in bowling is successfully knocking down all 10 pins on your first roll. This is called a strike:

  • A strike occurs when you knock down all 10 pins with the first roll in a frame

When you bowl a strike, you get excitement and satisfaction from the accomplishment. You also get a scoring advantage:

  • Get points for the strike (10 points) plus points from your next two rolls

Because a strike ends the frame after just one roll, you immediately move on to the next frame. This allows the bonus of adding together points from the next two rolls.

For example:

Frame 1 – Strike (10 points) Frame 2 – 5 points, then 3 points

The scoring would be: 10 (strike) + 5 (next roll) + 3 (second next roll) = 18 points

As you can see, a strike early in the game sets you up nicely for extra points over multiple frames. This can greatly boost your total score.


Just like strikes offer a nice scoring bonus, knocking down all 10 pins with two rolls also gives a scoring advantage called a spare:

  • Knocking down the remaining pins on your second roll is called a “spare”
  • For a spare, you score points for the frame (10 points) plus get a one-roll bonus

Here’s an example:

Frame 1 – 7 points (first roll), then 3 points (sparing the remaining pins)

Second Roll Spare Scoring:
10 points (for the frame) + 5 points (next first roll) = 15 points

Again, excellent shooting resulting in a spare provides an opportunity for additional points to raise your score.

Scoring a Frame

Now that you understand strikes, spares, and how they enable bonus points over multiple frames, let’s summarize how to score an individual frame:

  1. Roll the first ball and knock down pins – receive one point per pin
  2. Roll the second ball to pick off any remaining pins – receive one point per pin
  3. If strike, receive 10 points plus the next two rolls. If spare, receive 10 points plus the next one roll
  4. Advance to the next frame and repeat the process

When scoring by hand, make sure to calculate strikes and spares across multiple frames. The deeper you get into the game with bonuses stacking up, the more challenging complete scorekeeping becomes!

Final Frame Rules

The 10th frame in bowling has special rules to account for possible strikes and spares and accurately assign bonus points:

  • If you record a strike or spare in Frame 10, you can roll up to 3 total balls instead of the normal 2

This allows for the opportunity to record bonuses:

For example: Frame 10, Roll 1 – Strike Frame 10, Roll 2 – 9 pins (spare) Frame 10, Roll 3 – 5 pins

The additional shots let you record spares or strikes in the final frame so you still get respective bonuses. Make sure as an official scorekeeper you know to allow a 3rd roll!

There are also differences in competitive league or tournament play for recording multiple strikes in the final frame. But for beginners, understanding the two key aspects of Frame 10 can eliminate confusion:

  1. Get up to 3 rolls/shots
  2. Any strikes or spares earn bonus points

Scoring Variations

For basic recreational bowling and beginner scoring, the methods described above outline the standard process. However, there are some variations in bowling scoring at the competitive level to be aware of:

Individual Bowler vs Team Format

Scoring can change slightly based on whether you are playing an individual match or a team-based league:

  • Team bowling combines scores for all players on an assigned team
  • Certain team bowling leagues have specialized scoring rules around team points, handicaps, and bonuses

There are also differences whether competition is head-to-head between two players/teams or in a large group tournament bracket.

Standard 10 Frame Game vs 1 Ball Roll-Offs

In professional bowling events, matches move to a ninth and tenth-frame roll-off when games are tied. Only one ball is rolled per player to determine the winner based on the total pins knocked down.

Other Bowling Game Formats

Unique games like 9-pin no tap, candlepins, and 5-pin bowling also require modified scoring systems and points awarded.

While understanding all the nuances of professional bowling scoring requires extensive rule book studying, you now have the essential knowledge for scoring any basic game.

Tracking Scores by Hand vs Automatic Scoring Systems

From middle school bowling field trips to spending time practicing at your hometown lanes, you likely relied on manual scoring with pen and paper growing up. Recording strikes, spares, and their respective bonuses can get challenging!

Thankfully, modern scoring technology improves the scoring process:

  • Overhead Displays – Centers now have electronic scoring systems that instantly track bowler scores each frame and post the running total above each lane. This alleviates math errors and delays for manual scoring.
  • Mobile Apps – Major companies like Bowlopolis and BTM have created apps bowlers can use to score their games in real time. These connect to the scoring systems and provide other helpful stats like average pin percentage etc.

The majority of recreational bowlers utilize automated displays or apps to have the most accurate, hassle-free experience. But it’s still important to understand the core scoring methodology covered so you fully appreciate your performance.

Next time a friend shouts “bowled 200”, you can nod approvingly knowing it consists of lots of strikes and spares!


While bowling scoring can seem confusing as pins start flying and strikes lead to bonuses, it’s designed to ultimately reward skill. By focusing on knocking down pins and placing consistent shots for marks, your score will build frame-by-frame. Remember, every frame presents a new opportunity for points.

To recap key takeaways:

  • Bowling scoring awards a point per pin knocked down
  • A regulation game is 10 frames of 2 shots each
  • Strikes award bonus points from the next two rolls
  • Spares allow bonus points from the next roll
  • The 10th frame permits 3 rolls/shots for final bonuses
  • Automated scoring apps and displays make scorekeeping easier

Understanding the foundational mechanics of strikes, spares, and standard frame scoring is key to succeeding as a bowler. Master both shooting techniques on the lane and recording scores, and you’ll be bowling over 200 in no time!

The intricate rules may take bowling newbies by surprise initially, but the scoring system is ingeniously designed to balance skill, strategy, and fun. Now that you grasp all the strike and spare bonuses possible, you can hit the alley confident and ready to rack up points.

Frequently Asked Questions

How is bowling score calculated?

Bowling score is calculated by adding up the number of pins knocked down each frame. You get one point per pin. Strikes and spares provide bonuses by adding in points from subsequent rolls.

How many points is 3 strikes in a row?

Three strikes in a row score 30 points plus the next three rolls. So with bonus points, the maximum would be 90 points (30 + 30 + 30).

How many points is a strike?

A strike is worth 10 points directly in the frame plus provides a scoring advantage by adding the next two rolls as a bonus.

How do you score 300 in bowling?

You score 300 in bowling by recording 12 consecutive strikes across the 10 frames plus bonus rolls in frame 10. Each strike earns 30 points (10 + the next two rolls), so 12 totals 300.

How many points is 2 strikes in a row?

Two strikes in a row earn 20 points directly plus the next two rolls twice. So with optimum bonus points, two strikes in a row score 60 points maximum.

What is 6 strikes in a row called?

In bowling, six consecutive strikes is called a “six-pack”. After a six-pack, the next goal is generally a “seven-pack” continuing on towards a perfect 300 game.

How many strikes do you need to bowl a 200?

To record a score over 200 in bowling, you need at least six strikes. Two opportunities for bonuses with the fill balls can get you over 200, but it requires at least six strikes in the mainframes.

What is 4 strikes in bowling called?

There is no official name for four strikes in a row in bowling. Expressions like “I’m on fire” or “hot streak” may be used informally by players to describe four consecutive strikes.

Why is 12 strikes 300 points?

Twelve strikes in a row score 300 points because each strike records 10 points plus provides scoring advantages for the next two rolls. Over 12 frames, that equals 30 points per strike. So 12 strikes x 30 points each = 300 total points.