There are over two million foreign university students in countries such as the United States, and the United Kingdom in a given year. If you didn’t grow up in an English speaking country and attend school there, then you will face an English proficiency test. There are numerous variations of these tests; however, Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) and International English Language Test System (IELTS) are the two major players. Both IELTS and TOEFL are well-known, reliable and valid tests. Both accurately test your level of English and enjoy acceptance worldwide.

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Which one should you take?

Although both tests have excellent reputations and are widely accepted, they do have differences in their approaches, structure and content. Consequently, you should think carefully about which one you’ll choose to take.

Go study abroad with an IELTS or TOEFL.

What is IELTS?

Simply put, IELTS is an English language test that measures how well you can read, write, listen to and speak English. It is used for educational, immigration and occupational purposes. More than 10,000 institutions in dozens of countries around the globe accept it. Even though IELTS is based on British style English, test takers can use either British or US spellings in their answers. There are two versions of the test: Academic and General Training.

What’s on an IELTS exam?

There are four sections: Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking. The Listening and Speaking sections are the same for both tests. The content of the Reading and Writing sections differs, depending on which test you take. For example, you write an academic essay for the Academic version, but you write a business style letter for the General Training version. The Listening, Reading and Writing sections of both versions of the IELTS test are completed on the same day. There are no breaks.

On the other hand, the Speaking section can be taken up to a week before or after the other tests. This section consists of a face-to-face interview with an examiner. The interview is recorded. This section lasts 11- 14 minutes. The total test time is 2 hours and 45 minutes.

What is TOEFL?

TOEFL assesses your ability to communicate in English in academic, classroom-based settings. It is an American owned test. Hence, students seeking admission to US schools tend to take it. It uses American spellings and vocabulary; however, you are not penalized for sounding British in the speaking sections or using British spellings in the writing section. More than 8,500 institutions in dozens of countries around the globe accept it.

What’s on a TOEFL exam?

There are four sections: Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking. The overall test takes four hours to complete. You perform tasks that combine your English communication skills. You will read, listen and then speak in response to a question. The reading and listening sections come first. Then there is a short break of ten minutes. Next, the speaking and writing sections follow. The entire test is computer-based.

What are the differences between the two?

Aside from the different spelling and vocabulary, TOEFL questions are mostly multiple choice, while IELTS requires test takers to respond to a range of different question types such as short answer, gap-filling and short essay tasks. Moreover, the IELTS exam is quite a bit shorter than the TOEFL exam: 2 hours and 40 minutes as compared to four hours to complete, respectively.

Compare TOEFL and IELTS before registering, take the right exam.

Both of them have a speaking section, the IELTS speaking test is taken face-to-face with an examiner. In the TOEFL exam, no one is present. Your responses are recorded, and then they are assessed. The IELTS exam features English speakers with different accents. TOEFL only features speakers with American accents.

For the writing sections, the TOEFL exam is typed as opposed to the written responses of the IELTS exam. Both tests require the completion of two tasks. The TOEFL essay is somewhat longer: over 300 words while the IELTS is 250 words.

Tests vary quite significantly in their listening components. The TOEFL listening test is between 40-60 minutes long, and involves you listening to excerpts from university lectures or conversations on a university campus. You have to take notes as you listen, and then answer a series of multiple choice questions. For the IELTS listening test, students can answer questions as they listen to the recordings. Test takers will respond to a number of different question types.


IELTS is graded on a band system. The bands are from 1-9 with the overall score being an average of your separate scores in all four sections. Your overall score will be rounded-off to the nearest half-band. TOEFL uses a single score that is out of 120 points.

It’s your choice

Check what your institution or employer requires. Then decide which one to take.

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