If you have plans to study or work in an English-speaking environment, or aboard in locations like London, Australia or Canada, then you’ll likely have heard of IELTS and TOEFL before. This is because both IELTS and TOEFL provide non-native English speakers with qualifications in English language proficiency. These tests prove that you speak English at the level required by your new employer or school.
These qualifications are needed if you want to either work or study in an English-speaking country, and you’ll be surprised at the vast differences between them.
Understanding the differences between IELTS and TOEFL is crucial to ensure you choose the right exam for your needs. To help you decide, we’ve compiled a list which compares the two and explains their varying approaches and structure…
IELTS stands for ‘International English Language Testing System’. Over 3 million participants take the test each year, making it a popular English language proficiency test. The test lasts around 2 hours, 45 minutes and involves 4 different components, Speaking, Writing, Reading and Listening.
There are two different versions of IELTS: General Training, and Academic. The Academic IELTS should be taken by anyone who is planning to study at an undergraduate or postgraduate level in an English speaking country, while IELTS General Training can be taken by anyone else, who needs to take IELTS as part of their visa application. So, if you want to study at a university in the UK, or build a career in New York, then this may be the test for you. The test is available at 59 locations in the US and about 1,200 worldwide. The cost can vary but is usually around 200 USD, and scores are calculated in 9 ‘bands’ or levels.
In IELTS, the speaking part of the test is taken face-to-face with the examiner, and your score will be determined by this examiner. This test is interactive, and you’re scored based on how well you communicate opinions and information on everyday topics. The speaking section in IELTS can take up to 14 minutes. While the writing, reading and listening test will be taken on the same day, the speaking test will be held either 7 days before or after, dependant on local arrangements.
The reading portion of IELTS has three sections, each 20 minutes long. You will be asked to read three different passages and be given questions that assess how well you have understood the text, the use of language, the ideas, and style of the passages. The reading passages presented for IELTS Academic will feature long descriptive and factual texts, whilst an IELTS General Training reading section features extracts from materials you are likely to come by on day-to-day basis in an English-speaking environment.
The listening part of the IELTS has four sections which involve listening to pre-recorded passages. The first will be an everyday conversation between two people, the second a monologue, the third a conversation between up to four people, and the fourth will be an academic monologue. This test involves answering questions whilst listening to the recording and understanding the main ideas, specific information, and the purpose and attitude of the speaker and the developing argument.
The writing component of IELTS has two sections. The first involves summarising or explaining information shown in a graph, diagram, table or chart. The second part is less straightforward, and you will need to write a 250-word response to a point of view, argument or problem. This is another IELTS section which differs slightly between the Academic & General Training exams, as the latter does not feature data analysis, but instead requires that you write a letter for the first writing task.
Find out more about IELTS and top tips on how to score well at Kaplan Test Prep.
TOEFL stands for ‘Test of English as a Foreign Language’ and is longer than the IELTS test; lasting around 4 hours in total. The TOEFL test is commonly used as an entrance exam at universities and graduate schools. As only an academic option is available for TOEFL, it can’t be taken as a general test for working abroad purposes. Like IELTS, the TOEFL test has the same four components, Speaking, Writing, Reading and Listening.
TOEFL is available in over 500 locations in the US and over 4,500 worldwide. The test usually costs between 160 and 250 USD, though fees vary per country. Scores are calculated on a sliding scale from 0 to 120. The exam is most often taken on a computer in a test center, as the TOEFL iBT (internet based test).
In the TOEFL speaking test, rather than speaking face-to-face with an examiner, you are given six questions to answer into a microphone. Your answers will be recorded and sent to a group of six reviewers, and they measure how well you express your thoughts and ideas in English. This section takes 20 minutes, slightly longer than the IELTS speaking test. It will also be held on the same day as the other parts of the exam.
In the TOEFL reading section, you are shown three or four academic reading passages with a total of 36-56 questions in relation to them. You have between 60 and 80 minutes to complete this section. You are graded on your ability to understand and analyze written academic texts or talks on various academic topics. When answering the questions, you may be asked to identify an argument or an idea, find faults in the argument or define a word.
The TOEFL listening test focuses purely on listening to excerpts from university lectures or conversations on a university campus. This part of the test is 60 -90 minutes long. Unlike IELTS, the TOEFL listening test focuses on academic context rather than both social and academic.
Another major difference between IELTS and TOEFL is in the TOEFL listening and reading sections. For IELTS, you must answer questions across a range of different question types, including completing sentences and exercises of various lengths; while in TOEFL, all questions in the Listening and Reading section are multiple choice or drag and drop format.
The TOEFL writing part is the last section of the test. As most students take TOEFL on a computer, this section is typed rather than completed on paper like the IELTS exam. You have 50 minutes for this section and need to complete two tasks, the ‘Integrated Writing’ task, and the ‘Independent Writing’ task. In the ‘Integrated Writing’ task, you may be asked to listen to either a lecture excerpt, a recorded conversation, or asked to read a short text passage. The ‘Independent Writing’ task is an opinion essay where you give your thoughts on general questions.
Now we’ve taken you through the differences between both tests, we hope you have a better understanding of which is the better option for you and your plans. One last thing to remember is both TOEFL and IELTS scores are valid for two years, so make sure you don’t let them go to waste!