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IELTS vs TOEFL: Differences and tips to pass with flying colours

When planning to study abroad, a dilemma arises of whether to choose TOEFL or IELTS to submit English language proficiency scores

Friday October 25, 2019 3:01 PM, ummid.com News Network


When planning to study abroad, a dilemma arises of whether to choose TOEFL or IELTS to submit English language proficiency scores. Before arriving at any conclusions, let's examine the differences between the two exams with some preparation tips.

Non-native English speakers are required to sit for a language proficiency test to fulfil application requirements of the university they want to get admitted. IELTS and TOEFL are the two most widely accepted exams that test your competency in the universal language. Both these standardised English tests assess your reading, writing, speaking and listening skills, but are quite different in exam structure, approach, format, scoring and more. Let's understand how the two differ.

What is Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL)?

The test assesses your ability to communicate in English in specifically academic, university and classroom-based settings. TOEFL is accepted by over 10,000 institutes and colleges in over 130 countries. TOEFL is administered by US-based organisation Education Testing Service, and so is conducted in American English.

From August 1, 2019, ETS introduced certain changes in TOEFL. The test time was shortened by 30 minutes to just 3 hours now. MyBest Score feature was added to combine test-takers best score in each section from valid TOEFL score of the past two years. Changes were incorporated for a streamlined registration and scoring process. On average, 2.3 million individuals take the test annually.

What is International English Language Testing System (IELTS)?

IELTS is an English language test which is used for educational, immigration and occupational purposes. It is conducted in about 78 test centers across India. British Council, University of Cambridge ESOL and IDP Education Australia jointly administer the test. IELTS uses British English and is more likely to be favoured by UK and colleges in Commonwealth nations such as New Zealand and Australia.

IELTS scores are accepted in more than 10,000 colleges and institutes in over 140 countries. In the past, one-decade number of IELTS test have doubles, from 1.5 million in 2010 to 3.5 million in 2018. “The internationalisation of higher education and an increasingly mobile international workforce migration continues to drive demand for IELTS,” said the British Council.

TOEFL vs. IELTS: Basic Differences

TOEFL requires the candidate to think analytically to weigh up the differences between their opinions. In IELTS, it requires you to use your memory to test their comprehension There are multiple differences between TOEFL and IELTS exams. Few of them are tabulated below:

Detail IELTS (Academic) TOEFL (iBT)
Conducting Body British Council, IDP, Cambridge English Language Assessment  Educational Testing Service" (ETS)
Test Format Paper-Based and Computer-Based Computer-Based
Cost of Test 186 USD 180 USD
Duration of Test 2 hours and 45 minutes 3 hours
Frequency of Test Up to 4 times in a month and up to 48 times in a year More than 50 times a year. Can be taken once in 12 day period.
Test Pattern

Listening: 30 minutes
Reading: 60 minutes
Writing: 60 minutes

Speaking: 11-14 minutes

Reading: 60-80 minutes
Listening: 60-90 minutes
Speaking: 20 minutes

Writing: 50 minutes
Speaking Section Format In person with an examiner Computer-Based (Microphone)
Breaks None 10-minute break between listening and speaking sections
Result Availability 5-7 days after computer-based test and 13 days after paper-based test Issued approximately 10 days after the test
Scoring Scale 0 to 9 0 to 120
Score Validity Up to 2 Years Up to 2 Years

TOEFL vs. IELTS: Test Structure

Where, TOEFL questions are entirely objective, questions in IELTS vary, from gap-filling, short answer type to short essay types. Overall, the two exams are divided into 4 major sections namely, speaking, writing, reading and listening. Candidates must attain minimum qualifying scores to clear the exam. Here’s a little bit about all the four sections.


Both the exams, TOEFL and IELTS, put extra emphasis on the speaking section. Where the IELTS Speaking Test is taken face-to-face with the examiner, TOEFL Test has six questions which are recorded and later sent to a group of reviewers. However, your IELTS speaking score will only be determined by a single examiner. The speaking test duration of IELTS generally ranges between 11-14 minutes while TOEFL Speaking exams take about 20 minutes.

Quick Tip: Love watching TV series or movies, utilise them. Watch them regularly, it can be a great way to improve your pronunciation. In addition to this practice by reading out loud. Grab a book/article and read aloud the text, record your narration and improvise on the mistake.


TOEFL is an online exam whereas IELTS is a paper-based one. The first task in TOEFL is to write a long essay. The second task will need to take notes from a section of text and lecture excerpt on the same topic and use them to construct a 150-225 words response.

There are two tasks in IELTS, the first one requires you to summarize/interpret the information given through a graph, chat, table or diagram. The second task, candidates are asked to write a 200-250 words response that assesses your point of view/ argument.

Quick Tip: Always have a clear cut structure and flow to your answer, especially essays.practice for this section by working on a variety of essay questions and recreate your own scenarios for them. Writing is a tough skill and has to be groomed time and again.


This is one area which is somewhere similar in both, TOEFL & IELTS. Reading Test in TOEFL has 5 sections that have to be completed in 20 minutes. The questions are objective that test how well you have understood the texts.

On the other hand, IELTS Reading Test has three sections. Each is of 20 minutes long. Questions are designed to test how well you’ve understood the text in its particular use of language, ideas and style.

Quick Tip: In your spare time to read English text to practice summarizing of ideas and identifying key information. Never underestimate the reading section even if you are an avid reader, much depends on how well you know the format of the test. Develop a strategy for each type of task.


Both the tests vary as far as their Listening test is concerned. TOEFL Listening test is generally between 40-60 minutes. It involves you listening to excerpts from university lectures or conversations on a university campus. In the IELTS Listening test, students can answer questions whilst they are hearing the recordings and will need to respond to a number of different question types and exercises of different lengths.

Quick Tip: Candidates should read the question before the audio starts, this will aid in picking up the right information. Make the best use of the notebook provided, write down the answers in the booklet and transfer them on the answer sheet directly. Handwriting matters a lot! At times, even the right answers are marked incorrect because examiners are unable to read your answer properly.

IELTS vs TOEFL: Test Score Comparison

IELTS is graded by humans with an overall score and a separate score for each section on a band of 1 to 9. On the other hand, TOEFL is graded both by humans and by an automated scoring system. 1 point to each question and a final score out of 120 is provided in the latter. A plus point in TOEFL is that candidates receive a performance feedback report.

IELTS Academic TOEFL iBT Proficiency Level
9 118-120 Expert
8.5 115-117 Very Good
8 110-114 Very Good
7.5 102-109 Good
7 94-101 Good
6.5 79-93 Competent
6 60-78 Competent
5.5 46-59 Moderate
5 35-45 Moderate
4.5 32-34 Limited
0-4 0-31 Extremely Limited

Which Test is Best for You?

Candidates can themselves analyse which test is best suited for them after a detailed comparison between the two. Some basic questions need to be addressed like which exam do the colleges you are targeting accept? Which exam works as per your strengths? Which exam is affordable and accessible? To ease the decision-making process, here are certain advantages and disadvantages of the two English proficiency exams:

Advantages of IELTS

  1. Students who are used to the UK English, majorly from India, Australia and New Zealand, gives preference to IELTS over the other two tests. Hence Indian students may prefer this test over the other two.
  2. IELTS also have a general exam for candidates who need it for immigration or work purposes which other exams do not provide, hence it is preferred over TOEFL.
  3. Many people prefer the formal interview setting of IELTS since they believe that this session can make them ready to experience and face real-life challenges.
  4. IELTS is conducted very frequently, almost once every day at major centers in India. Hence it is the paper most opted for.

Disadvantages of IELTS

  1. Face-to-face speaking tests might seem to be daunting for some. Hence they may prefer speaking over the microphone.
  2. Candidates need to spare separate days for the speaking test as it is conducted on separate dates.
  3. Writing tests of IELTS is considered tough to score as compared to other tests as writing essays can prove to be stumbling blocks for some students.

Advantages of TOEFL

  1. TOEFL is more readily accepted in the US and Canada.
  2. The questions are fairly straight forward as compared to other exams, thus chances of scoring high are more.
  3. TOEFL is very accessible with multiple centres around the globe.
  4. TOEFL is slightly less expensive than IELTS.

Disadvantages of TOEFL

  1. TOEFL does not have a general test, hence it is difficult for immigration purposes.
  2. Test takers need to be fast with the registration for TOEFL, as test dates fill up fast and there are late registration fees for registering on a short deadline.
  3. It is one of the longest exams among all others, taking approximately 4 hours or more.
  4. Since it is primarily computer-based, it can be tough for those who lack basic computer skills.

For all the ones who always endeavoured of studying abroad, often deal with choosing between these two heavy words, TOEFL and IELTS! Both of them have a fair share of strengths and weaknesses. Your next step should be to begin looking for relevant courses and colleges abroad. We hope you get the college of your choice. And, do not forget to tell us which test you took! Good luck!

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