IELTS vs. TOEFL: What’s the difference between the two? And which test is right for you?
If you ask any study abroad counsellor which English proficiency you have to take, he’ll mention TOEFL and IELTS, as these are the most accepted English proficiency tests in English-speaking countries. But which test should you pick? Both exams feature writing, reading, speaking and listening sections, but that’s where the similarities stop. They have pretty different patterns and scoring systems.
In this article, we will go over all the differences between the two tests, and educate you on how to make the right choice.
Overview of IELTS
IELTS stands for International English Language Testing System. You can take the test in one of two formats: IELTS Academic (for those planning to study abroad), and IELTS General (for regular immigration purposes). The test uses British English. Thousands of institutions in over 140 countries accept the IELTS.
Both formats of the test comprise four sections: reading, writing, listening and speaking. The test duration is 2 hours and 45 minutes. However, it may last for more than a day, as the speaking test with an instructor is conducted separately. The academic and general formats differ solely in the reading and writing sections, while the listening and speaking sections stay the same. We go over the section-wise differences in more detail below.
Overview of TOEFL
TOEFL stands for Test of English as a Foreign Language. It’s an English proficiency test developed by ETS, an American company, to gauge a person’s reading, writing, listening, and speaking skills in American English. Around 900 universities in over 130 countries require your TOEFL scores for admission.
You have the option of either taking a paper-based test (TOEFL PBT), or an online test (TOEFL IBT). The online test is more popular, however. TOEFL IBT is four hours long.
Comparing the two exams
If you’re planning to immigrate to/study in the UK, only an IELTS score will be accepted on your UK Visa and Immigration(UKVI) application. On the other hand, both Canada and the US will accept your TOEFL scores.
|Cost in INR||14,000(Computer-based IELTS)
15,100(IELTS for UKVI)
|Duration||2 Hours, 45 minutes||4 hours|
|Section-wise Duration||Listening: 30 minutes
Reading: 60 minutes
Writing: 60 minutes
Speaking: 11-15 minutes
|Reading: 60-80 minutes
Listening: 60-90 minutes
Speaking: 20 minutes
Writing: 50 minutes
|How often is the test offered in a year||4 times a month/48 times a year||50 times a year|
|Scoring scale||Bands: zero to nine||Zero to 120|
Now, let’s go over how the exams differ in each section.
The main difference between the speaking sections of both tests is the nature of testing. In the IELTS speaking test, you’re in conversation with a human examiner, while you speak into a microphone while taking your TOEFL speaking test.
The IELTS speaking section lasts 11-15 minutes and feels like a normal conversation. The examiner will record you on tape as he asks you a few questions about your background. Then, you’ll receive a topic, for which you get two minutes to prepare. After that, the examiner has a discussion with you on the topic related to the cue card.
The TOEFL speaking section goes differently. It consists of six subsections and lasts 20 minutes. Two of those six subsections will ask you for your opinion on regular topics. They make up the Independent Speaking Test. The remaining four subsections form the Integrated Speaking Test. Herein, you will read a passage or listen to a recording and then come up with a response to that passage or recording. You will get some time to prepare before answering for each subsection. As mentioned before, you will talk to a microphone.
The IELTS listening section has four tasks of increasing difficulty. In each task, you will have to answer 10 questions based on a given audio recording.
- Task 1: Conversation set in a social context
- Task 2: Monologue set in a social context
- Task 3: Conversation set in an educational context
- Task 4: Academic monologue, like a classroom lecture
Question types include filling in the blanks, completing sentences, and true/false questions. The test duration is 30 minutes.
The TOEFL listening test lasts over an hour. Herein, you will listen to 4 to 6 recordings and then answer the questions based on them. The questions will assess your ability to understand the content and the speaker’s emotions. The recordings are of two types: conversations and lectures.
In IELTS, the writing section differs based on the type of test you’re taking(academic or general). In the academic section, there are two IELTS writing tasks. In task 1, you will be given a diagram(a graph/chart/table) and be expected to interpret it. In task 2, you’ll be asked to write an essay on any given topic.
In the general section task 1, you’ll be asked to write a letter to anyone on a given topic. For task 2, you’ll be asked to write an essay, just like in the academic section. Only here, the question will be slightly easier. The writing section lasts 60 minutes in both cases.
Similarly, TOEFL too has two writing tasks. In task 1, you read a short passage about a topic, listen to a short recording about the same topic, and then write 300-350 words answering a question about the topic. Task 2 has you write a short essay giving your opinions about another issue. TOEFL’s writing section lasts 50 minutes.
In IELTS, just like in writing, the reading section differs based on the type of test you’re taking(i.e., academic, or general). In the IELTS academic reading test, there are three tasks. Each task has a long passage with questions to answer based on it. The passages are based on academic topics of general interest and are taken from books, journals, magazines and newspapers.
In the general reading test, there are three sections. Section 1 has two or three factual passages about life in an English-speaking country. Section 2 contains a work-related factual passage, and section 3 has a complex text on a general topic. Questions can range from multiple-choice questions, to sentence completion and true/false questions. The entire reading section lasts 60 minutes.
The TOEFL reading test will have three passages, with 10 questions per passage, so 30 in total. The question types include multiple-choice, sentence insertion, and “reading-to-learn” questions(i.e., choosing sentences that summarise the passage). The section lasts for over an hour.
The IELTS exam is scored by humans. There are scoring “bands” ranging from 1 to 9, to gauge your proficiency. 1 denotes a non-user, while 9 denotes an expert. There are band scores for each section and one overall score.
TOEFL is graded by both humans and an automated system. The score is scaled differently here, though. Each question carries one point, and you receive a final score out of 120. Each section is scored out of 30. Along with this score, you receive a detailed performance report, which compares you to the average score range.
Which One is Right For You?
Do you prefer human interaction and having a variety of question types? Then IELTS is for you. But if you like to keep it simple, want only multiple-choice questions, and are comfortable talking to a microphone, you’d be better off taking the TOEFL. Where do you want to study? If you plan to study in the UK, it’s mandatory to take the IELTS UKVI. On the other hand, TOEFL might suit you better if you intend to attend an American university.
Now, if you do decide to take the IELTS, our website has a plethora of sample practice questions across all sections, along with ebooks to really get in-depth preparation.