IELTS vs TOEFL: Which one to choose?



If you’re planning to join a college or university in the US, UK, Australia, or Canada, one of the standard requirements is to submit proof of mastery of the English language, through the standardized IELTS or TOEFL test score. Both IELTS and TOEFL test the student’s English proficiency and are accepted by thousands of institutes worldwide.

Surprisingly, many students don’t know the difference between IELTS and TOEFL. In fact, at GetUniOffer , we often receive questions about which of the two proficiency tests is the best. The truth is, IELTS and TOEFL are both popular standardized tests across the world; none of them is really better than the other. Some universities, however, may prefer one over the other while others may accept your application provided you’ve sat and passed any of them.

The choice of the test depends on several factors that really come down to a student’s preference. Here are a few things you should know to help you decide which test is the best fit for you.

What is IELTS?

The International English Language Testing System, also commonly known as IELTS, was developed in 1989. The IELTS is one of the most recommended tests and is accepted by more than 10,000 institutions in over 140 countries.

The test is co-owned by the British Council, Cambridge English Language Assessment, and the International Development Program (IDP). Primarily, IELTS started as a paper-based test but is now also available in electronic formats.

The test is designed to be taken in two days, where students are examined for reading, listening, and writing skills on the first day while their speaking skills are assessed on the second day. The cost of the IELTS test varies depending on the country. In the US, the test costs anywhere between $215- and $245.

What is TOEFL?

On the other hand, TOEFL stands for Test of English as a Foreign Language. It is one of the most widely accepted tests for English proficiency in the US and Canada. Founded in 1964 by the Educational Testing Service (ETS), the test is accepted by more than 10,000 institutions in over 150 countries.

TOEFL can be taken as an internet-based test (iBT) or as a paper-based test (PBT). TOEFL iBT is a more widely accepted format today as compared to the paper-delivered test (TOEFL PBT). The cost of taking a TOEFL test varies by country and can range from $165 to $300. In most countries, $200 is the standard cost.

General Difference between TOEFL and IELTS
IELTS is tested in 1100 test centers in over 140 countries across the world. TOEFL is offered in over 165 countries and has 4,500 centers across the globe.
IELTS test is shorter than TOEFL. IELTS tests can take a student up to 2 hours and 45 minutes to complete. Standard TOEFL test lasts for about 4 hours.
IELTS questions are designed to allow students to formulate their answers. TOEFL is a multichoice based test.
IELTS is a bit more flexible and allows the use of both languages TOEFL requires that students either use UK English or US English without mixing the two.
IELTS is divided into four sections and is scored on a 0 – 9 average band. So, your score would be anywhere within any of these bands. TOEFL also has four sections that are scored on a sliding scale running from 0 to 120 marks. Each of these sections carries 30 marks.
While different institutions have their test score requirement, the recommended pass rate for most institutions is around 6.5+ for IELTS 80+ for TOEFL
IELTS results are issued 13 days after the test. TOEFL results are issued 10 days after the test.
Who accepts TOEFL and IELTS scores?

Well, since TOEFL has its roots in the US, many American universities often prefer TOEFL over IELTS. On the other hand, IELTS is a more popular option for universities in the commonwealth, such as UK, Canada, and Australia. Many American and Asian universities are, however, starting to accept IELTS as well.

IELTS Test Format


For over 30 years, people have been taking IELT paper-based tests to achieve their study, work, and migration dreams. Today, you can easily access the same test in a computer-delivered IELTS format that allows for multiple test sessions and faster results delivery.

Ideally, the IELTS assesses the ability of an individual to listen, read, write, and speak in less than 3 hours. There are two types of IELTS test:

  • IELTS Academic test: This is the recommended test for students applying for higher education in English speaking nations.
  • General Training test: The general training is mainly recommended to those going to English speaking nations for secondary education, training programs, and work experience. The general test is only a measure of the basic English survival skills. When applying for a migration visa to countries such as Canada, Australia, UK, and New Zealand, the general IELTS test is usually a must-have requirement.

The speaking and listening sections for both the academic and general IELTS tests are similar. However, the writing and reading sections for academic and general IELTS tests have a few contextual variations but are both curated to test your reading and writing skills.

The IELTS Tests Consists of 4 Sections

1. IELTS Listening Test: 40 questions

This test takes approximately 30 minutes to complete with an extra 10 minutes to write down the answers. You’ll listen to four monologue and conversational recordings and answer a series of 40 questions that are related to the recordings. The idea is to test your ability to understand opinions, attitudes, and factual information as put across by the speakers.

  • Recording 1: You listen once to a conversation between two people
  • Recording 2: Listen to a monologue in an everyday social context
  • Recording 3: Listen to a conversation involving up to 4 people in a training or educational context.
  • Recording 4: Listen to a conversation in an educational setup, such as a lecture

Tips to get it right with the IELTS listening section

Read the questions and instructions carefully before you listen

Try and get the idea of the situation and understand why they are peaking

Listen to words such as although, however, and finally to get the drift of the conversation

Remember, you only listen to the conversation ONCE. You, therefore, must listen, read, and write at the same time.

2. IELTS Speaking Test: 3 tasks

The speaking section usually takes up to 15 minutes. This session is curated to assess your ability to convey information in spoken English. IELTS uses real examiners (and not algorithms) to determine your fluency with the English language. Since these are real people, they can easily pick up on your native accent to help you get the best possible score. The speaking section has 3 parts:

  • Part 1: This is the intro of the interview, which lasts between 4 and 5 minutes. The examiner may want to know more about you, your home, your work, and your interests.
  • Part 2: This is a long turn interview where you’re given a card that has a particular topic for your discussion. Here, you’re expected to explain the topical issue clearly within 2 minutes.
  • Part 3: This is a 2-way discussion where the examiner asks further questions concerning the topic you delved on in part 2. This may last up to 5 minutes.

When marking this section, the examiners will look at:

‣ Fluency and coherence

‣ Pronunciation

‣ Grammatical range and accuracy

‣ Lexical resource

3. IELTS Reading Test: 40 questions

This section lasts for 60 minutes and involves reading three long texts that range from the descriptive and factual passages from journals, books, newspapers, and magazines. The objective here is to answer 40 questions that test your ability to read, skim, and understand various opinions and attitudes.

4. IELTS Writing Test: 2 tasks

This is a 60 minutes long section that is divided into two parts:

  • Part 1: The student is supposed to describe, explain, or summarize information, as seen in a chart, table, or diagram.
  • Part 2: The student is required to write an essay that argues for or against a given problem or point of view.

When marking the two questions, the examiner will want to see:

‣ Coherence and Cohesion

‣ Task Achievement

‣ Grammatical Range and Accuracy

‣ Lexical Resource

IELTS Scoring Band

IELTS is a multi-band exam which scores students between 1 to 9. Most universities will demand an average score of 6.5 and above. Here is sneak peek at each of the band:

  • Band 9: Expert user
  • Band 8: Very good user
  • Band 7: Good user
  • Band 6: Competent user
  • Band 5: Modest user
  • Band 4: Limited user
  • Band 3: Extremely limited user
  • Band 2: Intermittent user
  • Band 1: Non-userBand 0: Did not attempt the test

TOEFL Exam Structure


TOEFL iBT (Internet-based test) is the most widely accepted TOELF proficiency test nowadays. Like IELTS, the computerized test administered via the internet and has four sections that are designed to test multiple skills:

  • Reading
  • Listening
  • Speaking
  • Writing

The TOEFL Tests also consists of 4 Sections

1. Reading: 60 to 80 minutes

This section requires the student to read through three or four 700 words long academic text and answer 36 to 56 questions. This section has a total of 30 marks.

2. Listening: 60-90 minutes

In this section, you’re supposed to listen to classroom discussions, lectures, and other recorded conversations and then answer 34 to 51 related questions.

Mandatory 10 minutes break between listening and speaking section.

3. Speaking: 20 Minutes

The verbal section tries to assess the student’s ability to express their opinions on a range of familiar topics. It involves six tasks that test your speaking, reading, and listening skills.

4. Writing: 50 Minutes

This section really comes down to the ability of a student to put their thoughts on paper based on what they’ve read and listened to. This section has the following two writing tasks (essays) that should be completed in 50 minutes:

  • Integrated task: In this section, you’re required to read a passage and listen to related recorded audio then write about that topical issue in 20 minutes. There is no limit as to how much you can write, but the average is between 150 and 200 words..
  • Independent task: This section expects you to take a position on a particular topic and write an essay of about 300 words with supporting evidence or reasons for your position. This task takes about 30 minutes.
Tips for TOEFL Test

Throughout these sections, the student will be examined on

‣ How they can effectively combine the 4 English skills of reading, listening, speaking, and writing.

‣ Each section has an aggregate score of 30 minutes that make up a total TOEFL score of 120 points.

‣ The whole test takes about 4 hours to complete.

Four Thing to Keep in Mind During TOEFL iBT Test
  1. You are allowed to takes notes. The pencil and scratch paper will be provided at the center and can be used during the listening, reading, speaking, and writing sections. All the rough materials used must be returned to the officers when leaving the room.
  2. There is a mandatory 10 minutes break between the listening and speaking sections. You can use this break to have a snack or a drink.
  3. You can also take other breaks (such as bathroom breaks) between the sections. However, you must do this sparingly since the whole test is timed, and the test clock doesn’t stop.
  4. Cellphones, tablets, laptops, and other devices are not allowed within the examination room.

Advantages and Disadvantages of TOEFL vs IELTS

Having looked at the difference between IELTS and TOEFL and the general differences that exist in their exam structure – speaking, writing, reading, listening, scoring – it is right to say that the two testing modules present unique advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages and Disadvantages of IELTS
Advantages of IELTSDrawbacks of IELTS
It is a good fit for students who are used to UK English The face to face interview session can be intimidating to some students
IELTS offers a general competency exam for those who are looking to migrate abroad. The face to face interview session can be intimidating to some students
IELTS offers a face to face interview session that offers higher chances to score better
IELTS has tests conducted frequently
Advantages and Disadvantages of TOEFL
Advantages of TOEFL Drawbacks of TOEFL
TOEFL is more widely accepted by institutions in the US and Canada. TOEFL is often longer and takes longer to complete as compared to IELTS
TOEFL is accessible in multiple centers across the world TOEFL doesn’t offer a general training test; hence may not be accepted as a migration requirement in some commonwealth countries.
The questions are reasonably straightforward.
In some cases, TOEFL can be slightly less expensive than IELTS.
Important Factors to Consider When Deciding Which One to Take

If you’re considering taking one of the English proficiency tests, one of the factors to consider is the location of the examining centers in your region and the cost of each test. You’ll want to go for a test that is offered nearby and at a cheaper cost.

It is also important that you sit for the test that is recommended by your university/institution of choice. However, if the institution accepts either of the tests, you can use the following pointers to choose a test which plays more to your strengths:

  • If you’re good with British English, choose IELTS
  • If you’re good with American English: TOEFL
  • Can you type fast? If yes, go for TOEFL.
  • Are you comfortable with a range of open-ended questions? If yes, go for IELTS
  • If you’re looking for a test with multiple choices, TOEFL is a good fit.
  • If you’re proficient at note-taking, go for TOEFL
  • Are you a computer person? TOEFL iBT is almost entirely done through the computer.
  • If you fancy one on one interactions and a paper-based test, IELTS is an excellent option for you.

Many students find IELTS to be fairer because:

  • It identifies that students deserve a fair chance to score the best
  • IELTS identifies that people have different approaches when answering questions and provide them with a versatile system to answer in their most preferred ways.
  • IELTS provides a quiet room with no distractions during the assessment
The Key Take-Away?

Both IELTS and TOEFL are rigorous, widely-accepted tests that are available in numerous locations across the globe. It is crucial that you contact your preferred university to know their recommended proficiency test before enrolling for IELTS vs TOEFL.

At Get Uni Offer, we have study abroad experts who can help you create the perfect resume to get you accepted to a top-rated college or university of your dreams. Contact us today to learn more about how we can better manage your university application for a truly seamless and painless experience.