IELTS or TOEFL: Frequently Asked Questions

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Choosing an English proficiency test for immigration or university entrance can be a challenge. Two of the most popular tests are the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) and International English Language Testing System (IELTS). They have similarities and differences you need to know about before you choose so that you make the choice that suits you best.  

Use the following frequently asked questions and answers to help inform your decision. Good luck, no matter which test you choose!

Which is easier, TOEFL or IELTS?

That depends. They are both very challenging English proficiency tests. However, the IELTS might be more difficult for you if you’re unfamiliar with British accents and only used to American accents. Both tests may involve accents from the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the U.K., but the TOEFL usually focuses on American English. Also, if you are not comfortable writing on a computer, you may find the online version of the TOEFL test a little more daunting.

If you are concerned about the relative difficulty of each exam, consider taking practice tests for both the IELTS and TOEFL to see which one yields a higher score. If your prospective university doesn’t have a preference, go with the one that makes you look the best.

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How much do the IELTS and TOEFL cost?

Although the exact price will vary by country, in the United States the IELTS costs around $215 to $245 to take, while the TOEFL usually costs less than $200. Depending on your country, taking the TOEFL could cost between $165 and $300.

How long do the IELTS and TOEFL tests take?

The TOEFL is about four hours long. It is the most common test colleges and universities request for non-native English speakers. The IELTS takes about two hours and 45 minutes to complete. It is more common as a proficiency test for immigration purposes, but many colleges also accept the IELTS. A minute-by-minute breakdown of either test is as follows:

  • Reading: TOEFL 60-80 minutes, IELTS 60 minutes.
  • Writing: TOEFL 50 minutes, IELTS 60 minutes.
  • Listening: TOEFL 60-90 minutes, IELTS: 30 minutes
  • Speaking: TOEFL 20 minutes, IELTS 11-14 minutes

What is the order of the skills tested?

Each test is different: reading, listening, speaking, writing for the TOEFL, and listening, reading, writing, speaking for the IELTS. However, students have the option to take the speaking section before the other three sections during the IELTS, if desired. You may take the speaking portion of the IELTS up to a week before or after the other three sections of the test. You must take all four sections of the TOEFL at the same time, but you have a 10-minute break between the listening and speaking sections.

Which test is available near me?

The IELTS is a paper exam that requires students to go to a specified testing location to complete the test. Although, the TOEFL iBT is available online, you also must visit a testing center to take it. Most people choose the online version of (TOEFL iBT), but you can still take the paper-based test if you can type faster than you write. Consider your writing speed vs. typing speed when deciding whether to test online or in person. The paper-based TOEFL might be the better choice. Find out more here. You can register for the paper-based TOEFL here.

In terms of availability, the TOEFL has more than 4,500 testing locations throughout the world and 500 in the United States. The IELTS is available at only 900 locations worldwide and 59 in the U.S. If you live near a big city, you probably won’t have any difficulty finding a testing center.

The IELTS runs 48 test dates per year, while the TOEFL offers more than 50. Conduct a search for testing locations near you for both tests. Your ability to take the test in person at a center near you may decide which test is best for you.

What do the IELTS and TOEFL test?

The TOEFL focuses only on academic English skills, while the IELTS is a more comprehensive English proficiency test. Both tests include the same four sections: reading, writing, listening, and speaking. However, the IELTS’s format has different listening and speaking sections than the TOEFL. The IELTS also tests for general listening and speaking capabilities, not only academic.

What should I expect from both tests?

Both the TOEFL and the IELTS will test your English language proficiency for all four skills. The reading section on the TOEFL is all multiple choice, while the IELTS will ask some other types of questions, such as fill in the blank and true/false.

The listening section on the TOEFL is twice as long as on the IELTS. You will hear a range of difference accents on the IELTS, while the TOEFL only tests for Standard American English. The speaking section on the TOEFL involves explaining your opinions and summarizing information from sources given to you. The speaking section on the IELTS is in person and requires you to prepare to give a short speech, as well as take part in a conversation. In this way, the IELTS is a more interactive test.

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What is the writing section like on either test?

Both written exams have two questions. In the TOEFL, you must read a passage, listen to a two-minute lecture on the same topic, then write a short response to a related question. The second written question on the TOEFL is an opinion essay about a specific subject.

In the IELTS, you will have the choice to write either an academic paper or a general training paper. Both take one hour. In the academic paper, you will have to write a short essay about a map, chart, or process before writing an opinion essay. The general training IELTS requires students to write a letter, then write an opinion essay on a subject.

Depending on which you choose, the general training IELTS or the Academic IELTS, you should practice writing letters or practice explaining the information in maps, charts and diagrams.

What scores do I need to pass?

The IELTS scoring system ranks from zero to nine, while the TOEFL’s top score is 120. Each university will require a different score to fulfill its requirements; however, the average scores needed for acceptance into national universities is a 6.3 for the IELTS and a 78 for the TOEFL. The average required scores for national liberal arts colleges is 6.5 for the IELTS and 82.2 for the TOEFL.

Find out the minimum passing score required from the organization requiring the test.

When will I get my IELTS and TOEFL test results?

You will receive your test scores approximately 10 days after taking the TOEFL, or 13 days after the IELTS. Note that your score for either test will expire after two years. Make sure to use your test score within two years of taking the test to avoid having to do it over.

Which is better?

Most people will do better on one test than the other. The right choice for you depends on your goals. If you need to pass an English proficiency exam to apply to an American university, the TOEFL will probably be the right choice for you, as it only involves academic English. If you’re doing it for immigration reasons, the IELTS might be for you, because you have the choice between the academic and general test. If you want to get into the British education system, do the IELTS academic test.

If you are applying to a university abroad, first find out which test your academic institution prefers. Many universities will specify which test you must take. More than 9,000 organizations globally (and 3,000 in the U.S.) accept the IELTS, while more than 10,000 organizations (5,000 in the U.S.) accept the TOEFL. If the organization doesn’t specify a test for you, you’ll have to decide which one you have better odds of passing based on your English background.

How can I improve my chances of passing?

Practice makes perfect. The more you study, train, and practice for either test, the better you’ll do. If you need help with the written portion of the TOEFL or IELTS, use the free grammar check or proofreader from Virtual Writing Tutor. Check your English proficiency for free using a variety of helpful tools.