Looking for how to choose the right English Proficiency test- IELTS vs TOEFL? It comes to testing your English language proficiency for academic or immigration purposes, two standardized exams are widely recognized:

  • IELTS (International English Language Testing System) and
  • TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language).

These tests are designed to assess your ability to understand and use English in various contexts, but they have some key differences.

In this article “IELTS vs TOEFL”, we will explore the distinctions between IELTS and TOEFL, helping you make an informed decision about which one is right for you.

IELTS vs TOEFL (Difference between IELTS and TOEFL):

The below are the key highlights for your better understanding of IELTS vs TOEFL and to make the right decision.

Test Format:

  • IELTS: IELTS is jointly conducted by three organizations: the British Council, IDP: IELTS Australia, and Cambridge Assessment English. It is available in two formats: IELTS Academic and IELTS General Training. The Academic version is typically required for university admissions, while the General Training version is often used for immigration and work purposes.
  • TOEFL: TOEFL is conducted by the Educational Testing Service (ETS). It offers only one format, which is primarily used for university admissions in the United States.

The below table provides a concise overview of the test formats, available versions, sections, and durations for both to understand the difference between IELTS and TOEFL:

Test Formats Available Sections Duration
IELTS Academic Training 
General Training
Listening, Reading,
Writing, Speaking
2 hours and 45 minutes
TOEFL Standard (Internet-based) Reading, Listening,
Speaking, Writing
Approx. 3 hours

IELTS Test Format

Test Question Types

While understanding the difference between IELTS and TOEFL, the below table provides a summary of the common question types you can expect in both exams:

Test Question Types
IELTS Multiple-choice, Short answer, Matching,
Essay writing, speaking interview
TOEFL Mostly multiple-choice (Reading and Listening),
Recorded prompts (Speaking), Essay tasks (Writing)

IELTS vs TOEFL – Listening Section

In the Listening section of both IELTS and TOEFL, you will listen to recorded conversations, lectures, and discussions, and answer questions based on what you hear.

However, the below table highlights the key differences between IELTS and TOEFL exams – Listening section, including content, format, duration, and question types:

Listening Content Recorded monologues and conversations with various accents. Increasing difficulty. Academic lectures and campus situations. Predominantly North American accents. Varies in difficulty within the test.
Number of Sections 4 sections 1 section
Duration Approximately 30 minutes Approximately 41 minutes
Number of Questions Varies (typically 40-50 questions) 34-51 questions (depending on the test version)
Question Types Multiple-choice, matching, labeling, and short answer questions Multiple-choice questions
Response Format Answer sheet provided for marking answers Answers recorded electronically

Also Read: IELTS Listening Test: Best Tips and Strategies 

IELTS vs TOEFL – Reading Section

Both tests assess your reading skills, but the below table outlines the key differences between between IELTS and TOEFL exams – Reading section, including content, format, duration, and question types:

Reading Content Three texts of increasing complexity, covering general and academic topics. 3-4 academic texts from North American university textbooks.
Number of Sections 3 sections 1 section
Duration Approximately 60 minutes Approximately 54-72 minutes (depending on the test version)
Number of Questions Varies (typically 40 questions) 36-56 questions (depending on the test version)
Question Types Multiple-choice, matching, labeling, and short answer questions Mostly multiple-choice questions, some drag-and-drop, and summary questions
Response Format Answer sheet provided for marking answers Answers recorded electronically

Also Read: Most Common Mistakes in IELTS Reading and How to Avoid Them

IELTS vs TOEFL – Writing Section

The Writing section in both exams assess your ability to construct well-structured essays. The below table provides an overview of the differences between IELTS and TOEFL exams – Writing section, including the number of tasks, duration, word count, question types, and response format:

Writing Tasks Two tasks:
Task 1: Describe visual information (e.g., charts, graphs) and
Task 2: Write an essay on a general topic.
Two tasks:
Integrated Task: Reading, listening, and summarizing and
Independent Task: Write an essay on a specific topic.
Duration Approximately 60 minutes Approximately 50 minutes
Word Count Task 1: At least 150 words,
Task 2: At least 250 words
Integrated Task: Approximately 150-225 words,
Independent Task: At least 300 words
Question Types Task 1: Visual data interpretation,
Task 2: Essay on a general topic
Integrated Task: Reading and listening comprehension, summary writing;
Independent Task: Essay on a specific topic
Response Format Paper-based or computer-based writing with answer sheets Computer-based writing with on-screen typing

Also Read: Most Common Mistakes in IELTS Writing and How to Avoid Them

IELTS vs TOEFL – Speaking Section

Both exams evaluate your spoken English, but the below table outlines the key differences between IELTS and TOEFL exams – Speaking section, including test format, duration, number of tasks, question types, and scoring methods:

Speaking Test Format Face-to-face interview with an examiner, divided into three parts: Introduction, Long Turn, and Discussion. Responses to recorded prompts through a computer microphone, with six tasks in total.
Duration Approximately 11-14 minutes Approximately 20 minutes
Number of Tasks Three tasks Six tasks
Question Types Part 1: Introductory conversation,
Part 2: Long turn on a topic,
Part 3: Discussion
Six tasks, including speaking based on reading and listening prompts, expressing an opinion, summarizing, and providing a preference
Scoring Assessed by a certified human examiner based on a detailed rubric Assessed by automated scoring software, taking into account pronunciation, fluency, and content.

Also Read: IELTS Speaking Test: Best Tips and Strategies


Both tests provide an overall score, as well as scores for individual sections. However, the below table provides the differences between IELTS and TOEFL exam’ s scoring systems, including the score scales, section scores, total score ranges, score validity, and how scores are reported:

Score Scale 0-9 Bands 0-120 Points
Overall Score Composite of four sections: Listening, Reading, Writing, Speaking Composite of four sections: Reading, Listening, Speaking, Writing
Section Scores Individual scores for each section, also on a 0-9 scale Individual scores for each section on a scale of 0-30
Total Score Range  0-9 Bands 0-120 Points
Score Validity Typically valid for two years. Typically valid for two years.
Score Reporting You receive a Test Report Form with your band scores. Scores are available online, and you can send them to institutions of your choice.

Score Description

The below tables will provide the differences between IELTS and TOEFL exam’s score descriptions, including the CEFR levels for IELTS and proficiency levels for TOEFL:

IELTS Score Description

IELTS Band Score CEFR Level Description
9.0 C2 Expert
8.5 C2 Very Good User
8.0 C1 Good User
7.5 C1 Good User
7.0 B2 Competent User
6.5 B2 Competent User
6.0 B1 Modest User
5.5 B1 Modest User
5.0 B1 Limited User
4.5 B1 Limited User 
4.0 A2 Extremely Limited User
3.5 A2 Extremely Limited User
3.0 A1 Intermittent User
2.5 A1 Intermittent User
2.0 A1 Non-User
1.5 A1 Non-User
1.0 A1 Non-User
0.5 A1 Non-User
0.0 A1 Did Not Attempt the Test

Also Read: How to prepare for IELTS Exam?

TOEFL Score Description

TOEFL Score Level of Proficiency Description
0-9 Inadequate Little to no English proficiency
10-18 Limited Minimal English proficiency
19-29 Low Limited English proficiency
30-40 Intermediate Basic to moderate English proficiency
41-60 High Intermediate Moderate English proficiency
61-78 Good Good English proficiency
79-93 Advanced Advanced English proficiency
94-101 Very Advanced Very advanced English proficiency
102-110 Expert Expert-level English proficiency
111-120 Native Speaker Native or near-native English proficiency

CEFR Score Equivalents

Understanding how IELTS and TOEFL scores relate to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) can be helpful, especially if you plan to study in a European institution that requires CEFR-based scores. Here is a rough equivalence:

  • IELTS Band Score 9.0 ≈ CEFR C2
  • IELTS Band Score 7.0-8.0 ≈ CEFR C1
  • IELTS Band Score 5.5-6.5 ≈ CEFR B2
  • IELTS Band Score 4.0-5.0 ≈ CEFR B1

Please note that these are approximate equivalences, and institutions may have specific score requirements.

IELTS vs TOEFL: Which is right for you?

After knowing all the above important key points on IELTS vs TOEFL, still, the choice between IELTS and TOEFL depends on your individual preferences, goals, and the requirements of the institutions or organizations you are applying to. Here are some factors to consider:

If you plan to study in the United States, TOEFL may be the preferred option for many universities. However, IELTS is widely accepted worldwide, including in the UK, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand.

Test Format:
Consider which test format aligns better with your strengths. IELTS includes a face-to-face speaking component, which some test-takers find more comfortable. TOEFL, on the other hand, has a speaking section that involves responding to recorded prompts.

Test Availability:
Check the availability of test centers in your location. Some areas may have more IELTS test centers, while others may have better access to TOEFL centers.

Also Read: IELTS Exam Dates in December 2023

Score Requirements:
Research the specific score requirements of the institutions you are applying to. Some universities may have preferences for one test over the other.

Personal Comfort:
Choose the test that you feel more comfortable with and believe will allow you to showcase your English skills to the best of your ability.

Colleges / Universities That Recognize IELTS vs TOEFL

The difference between IELTS and TOEFL is an important aspect for choosing the right exam based on your needs. Both IELTS and TOEFL are widely accepted by universities and colleges around the world. However, the preference for one test over the other can vary by institution and country. Here’s a general overview:

  • IELTS is accepted by thousands of institutions globally, including prestigious universities in the UK, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. It is also recognized by many universities in the United States, although TOEFL is more commonly required there.
  • TOEFL is most commonly required by universities in the United States. While it is accepted by institutions worldwide, it is essential to check the specific requirements of the universities you are interested in.

Also Read: Top 10 Universities in USA
Also Read: Top 10 Universities in UK

Quick-listicles of Differences Between IELTS and TOEFL

  • Test Format: IELTS has Academic and General Training versions, while TOEFL offers one format.
  • Sections: Both tests have Reading, Listening, Speaking, and Writing sections.
  • Question Types: IELTS has a wider variety of question types, including essays. TOEFL uses mostly multiple-choice questions.
  • Speaking: IELTS has a face-to-face speaking interview, while TOEFL uses recorded prompts.
  • Test Duration: TOEFL is generally longer, taking around 3 hours compared to IELTS’ 2 hours and 45 minutes.
  • Scoring: IELTS scores on a 9-band scale, while TOEFL scores range from 0-120.

Prepare for IELTS and TOEFL with IELTS Ninja

If you are still unable to find the right exam and if you’re looking to excel in either the IELTS or TOEFL exams, consider preparing with IELTS Ninja. Our comprehensive test prep resources, including practice tests, study materials, and expert guidance, can help you achieve your target scores and improve your English proficiency.


1. Which test is easier: IELTS or TOEFL?
Ans.: The difficulty of IELTS vs TOEFL depends on your strengths and preferences. Some find TOEFL easier because it focuses on academic English skills and includes more multiple-choice questions. Others may find IELTS easier due to its face-to-face speaking component.

2. Which test is better for me: IELTS or TOEFL?
Ans.: Choose the test that aligns with your goals and the requirements of the institutions you are applying to. Consider factors like the test format, destination country, and your personal comfort with the test structure.

3. Is TOEFL better than IELTS?
Ans.: Neither test is inherently better than the other. The choice between TOEFL and IELTS depends on your goals, destination, and personal preferences.

4. How long will it take for me to prepare for IELTS?
Ans: The duration of your preparation depends on your current English proficiency and how much time you can dedicate to study. Typically, a few months of consistent preparation is recommended.

5. How can I prepare for IELTS?
Ans.: You can prepare for IELTS by using official IELTS practice materials, taking practice tests, enrolling in preparation courses, and seeking guidance from experienced instructors. Websites like IELTS Ninja offer comprehensive preparation resources.

6. Does the USA accept IELTS?
Ans.: Yes, many universities and colleges in the United States accept IELTS scores for admissions. It’s crucial to check the specific English language proficiency requirements of the institutions you plan to apply to.

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Indulekha Prabha

My name is Indulekha Prabha. I am an English teacher and a content writer by profession. When I'm not working you can find me writing fiction, reading poetry and painting.

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