IELTS vs TOEFL: What is the Difference? Complete Information

Clearing a language proficiency test is the first step towards moving abroad; be it for studies or for work or even immigration....

Indulekha Prabha Written by Indulekha Prabha · 4 min read >
IELTS vs TOEFL

Clearing a language proficiency test is the first step towards moving abroad; be it for studies or for work or even immigration. Any English speaking country like UK, USA, Australia, New Zealand requires candidates with impeccable English Language skills and IELTS/TOEFL scores are regarded as benchmarks. 

However, often one question arises: should you take IELTS or TOEFL? This article attempts to present all the details you need to know about these two popular language tests.

All About TOEFL

TOEFL stands for Test of English as a Foreign Language. It is an English proficiency test, developed by ETS, and is used to check an individual’s reading, speaking, writing, and listening proficiency in American English. TOEFL scores are popular in over 900 universities and other institutions in more than 130 countries. 

All About IELTS

IELTS is an abbreviation for International English Language Testing System. The test is available in two formats: “IELTS Academic,” for those planning to go for higher education in any English Speaking Country; and “IELTS General Training,” which mainly assess a person’s social skills and language proficiency at work. IELTS is available at more than 1,600 locations worldwide, including more than 50 locations in the USA, and there are 48 test dates a year.

How to choose between IELTS and TOEFL?

Before you choose between the two, you must find out what test does your university accepts. If you want to go to a certain university and it only accepts IELTS, then that is the test you must take. 

You should also check if there is a test centre in your local area. The test is already quite handful and too much travelling will easily wear you down.

You should also think about why you want to take a language proficiency test. If it is for university entrance there is not much difference between the two tests, but if you are not attending university and just need it for migration, the IELTS General Training is much more suitable for your needs.

Here is a quick fix to make your decision making easier:

If you can answer “yes” to most of the following questions you should take the TOEFL test:

  • Find American accents easy to listen to.
  • Like multiple choice questions.
  • Prefer reading and listening in an academic context.
  • Can concentrate for long periods of time.
  • Good at typing.
  • Can easily follow a lecture and take notes.
  • Comfortable with computers.

If you can answer “yes” to most of the following questions you should do the IELTS test:

  • Like talking to people one-on-one.
  • Not a fan of multiple choice questions.
  • Don’t like reading or listening to academic contexts.
  • Like to write by hand.
  • Can understand a variety of English-speaking accents.
  • Prefer shorter tests.
  • Prefer a range of questions.
  • Find it difficult to concentrate for long periods of time.

Major differences between TOEFL and IELTS

The following table charts out the differences between IELTS and TOEFL.

COMPONENTSTOEFLIELTS
Listening• The TOEFL test is 60 minutes long.
• This test is all in an academic context.
• This is multiple choice only, so if you like those questions this might be the test for you.
• TOEFL uses only American English. 
• The TOEFL speaking test takes an hour.
• In the listening section of the TOEFL, you will listen to four to six recordings and then answer questions based on what you heard.
• These questions will show your ability to understand the content that is being shared, and your ability to understand the speaker’s emotions and motivations.
• You will hear two types of recordings: conversation recordings and lecture recordings.
• IELTS is only 30 minutes.
• For the IELTS, you will have to answer 10 questions while the audio is playing. 
• The questions that will come up for IELTS cover everyday topics such as dealing with situations in an education and training context.
• The question format includes filling in the blanks, completing the sentence, and answering true or false.
• IELTS uses many different accents.
IELTS listening test is 30 minutes.
• It  is half academic and half social.
• It has a range of different questions including sentence completion, matching headings and True, False or Not Given.
Reading• The TOEFL test is multiple choice paper.
• If you like multiple choice then TOEFL might be the test for you but other people really don’t like them and feel that a range of question types gives them a better chance of getting a high score.
• TOEFL has only academic texts available.
• In IELTS you can choose either the Academic paper or the non-academic one, if you would like to do the General Training paper.
• IELTS test has a wide range of question types.
Speaking• In the TOEFL test you will be asked 6 questions and it lasts around 20 minutes. 
• You will be asked two questions on familiar topics, such as your home town or family. 
• You will also be asked to summarise information from a text or conversation and to give your opinion.  
• Finally, you will be asked to summarise information from a short conversation.
• The IELTS speaking test consists of 3 sections and lasts around 15 minutes. 
• This test is with a real person and feels more like a real conversation. 
• The first part is on familiar topics such as your home, job or studies. 
• You will then be given a topic and you will have one minute to prepare a monologue of between 1-2 minutes. Finally, you will be asked question linked to the topic you spoke about in part 2.
Writing• In the TOEFL writing test you have to first read a text and then listen to a 2 minute lecture on the same topic. 
• You must then write a short response to a specific question on that topic. Some students prefer this approach because it does not require as much prior knowledge about the topic.
• The second question is a longer discursive essay on a particular issue, similar to a university style academic essay.
• IELTS has two different types of writing paper: Academic and General Training. Academic is suitable for people who want to attend university and General Training is mostly used for immigration purposes.
• The test has two parts and they both take 1 hour. In the Academic paper you will be required to write a short essay about a graph, chart, map or process. In the General Training paper you will be asked to write a letter for task 1. 
• In the second part you will be asked to write a short essay on a particular topic.

Conclusion

Your decision of whether you should take IELTS or TOEFL must be based on what your university or company accepts. The general idea is that every university in UK accepts IELTS and most American institutions accept TOEFL, although the Ivy League colleges accept IELTS score too. As for Australia, New Zealand and Canada Immigration, IELTS is the popular choice of the recruiters.

Written by 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. Profile

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