TOEFL vs IELTS – Comparison

Why do People Take the TOEFL or IELTS Tests?

Non-native speakers of English take a standardized English test for various reasons. Some are planning to study at an English speaking university;  others are applying for a job in a country where English is a main language. They might also want an objective assessment of their English proficiency for their own information. Two of the most widely accepted standardized tests are:

  1. Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL)
  2.  International English Language Testing System (IELTS)

How do People Choose Between the TOEFL and IELTS Tests?

The requirements of the accepting institution, agency or organization are the main factors in deciding between the TOEFL and IELTS tests. In any case, it’s good to have some basic knowledge of both:

What is the TOEFL exam?

The TOEFL exam tests abilities in four areas of production: Reading, Listening, Speaking and Writing. All of these sections emphasize these skills as they would be needed to successfully participate in an English language academic setting, as either a student, instructor or researcher.

What is the IELTS exam?

The IELTS exam also tests abilities in Reading, Listening, Speaking and Writing English. There are two options for test content with the IELTS. The Academic test and General Training test both utilize the same content for the Listening and Speaking sections. 

However, materials specifically oriented to an academic environment are used for the Reading and Writing sections of the Academic version, while more general texts and topics are used in the General Training version’s Reading and Writing sections.

TOEFL vs IELTS: The Main Differences

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Test Formats

IELTS

  • Reading: In the Academic test, the test taker answers questions about three long texts taken from academic sources. In the General Training version, the texts are taken more from everyday sources, such as newspapers, advertisements, instruction manuals and books.
  • Listening: Test takers listen to four recorded texts, monologues and conversations presented by native speakers and answer a series of questions about them.
  • Writing: The Academic test includes two tasks, oriented to academic studies or professional registration. In first task, a graph, table or chart is used as the source material, and various types of questions are asked about it. In the second task, test takers write an essay in response to a point of view, argument or problem.
    For the General Training test, the first task requires writing a letter requesting information about a given situation. The second task is similar to the Academic task, but the tone of the response can be more informal.
  • Speaking: The Speaking section is conducted with a live examiner. There are three tasks. The first is a four to five minute interview about familiar topics, such as family, home, studies and personal interests. Tasks two and three are based on a topic given to the test taker by the examiner. Task two is a short response about this topic;  in task three, the examiner will ask the test taker to extend their ideas about the topic by answering various questions. The speaking section materials are the same for both the Academic and General Training versions. 
  • More details on the IELTS test format can be found at: Test format

TOEFL:

  • Reading: The test taker reads two passages from academic sources and answers 10 questions about each. These questions are multiple choice and can include: sentence restatement, synonym selection, true or false, choosing sentences to complete a summary of the article, etc.
  • Listening: Brief lectures or classroom discussions are presented, followed by questions. There are a total of 28 questions to be answered in this section.
  • Writing: There are two writing tasks. In the first, a reading and lecture are presented on an academic topic. The test taker writes an essay comparing the points of view of the two. In the second, the test taker writes a brief post responding to a simulated online class discussion board.
  • Speaking: In contrast to the IELTS test, the speaking tasks are recorded and forwarded to evaluators for scoring. There are four types of speaking tasks. The first is a brief statement of the test takers preference or opinion when give two choices or options. For the second, the speaker reads a text and hears a conversation about a campus related issue, and then records a brief summary per the specific question given. In the third speaking task, a brief reading passage on an academic subject is presented along with a lecture on the same subject. The test taker verbally explains how the lecture relates to the reading. Finally, the fourth speaking task requires the test taker to summarize the main points in an academic lecture.
  • See the official website for more information on the TOEFL iBT format: An Enhanced TOEFL iBT Experience

Scoring System:

IELTS:

  • Each of the four areas is assigned a “band” or range of achievement from 0 to 9, with half-bands possible. The four scores are then averaged and rounded to the nearest band score, for an overall band. Half-bands (e.g., 7.5) are also possible in the overall score.
  • The “minimum” band required is determined by the school, employer, or government agency. Some also consider the individual area score and will have different minimums for each area (Reading, Listening, Speaking and Writing).
  • See the official website for more details: IELTS scoring in detail

TOEFL

  • Each of the four sections is scored on a scale from 0 to 30, with a maximum total of 120.
  • The TOEFL offers a special scoring option where the best score in each of the four sections taken over the last two years are combined into a single score. However, you must check to see that your target institution(s) will accept this composite score.
  • The minimum score is determined by each university or other institution. As individual school or degree programs within an institution may have different minimum acceptable scores, be sure to check with the admissions area of the program you are interested in.
  • More information on scoring the TOEFL iBT test can be found at: Understanding Your TOEFL iBT Scores

Test Content:

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Generally, the texts and lectures used do not require specialized or technical knowledge. They do require an adequate level of vocabulary suitable for post-secondary academic work.

Accent and Pronunciation:

While accent and pronunciation are both considered when scoring the Speaking sections of these tests, perfect pronunciation is not required to achieve a high score. As it can be difficult to assess one’s own pronunciation, it’s a great idea to enroll in a TOEFL or IELTS preparation course where a native speaker can help you identify areas needing improvement and take you to the next level in speaking English clearly.

The instructors at LANGUAGE ON Schools test preparation programs will help you improve your speaking skills in a friendly, student-centered environment. If accent reduction is your main concern, you can also enroll in a specialized class.

TOEFL vs IELTS: Which Test Should You Choose?

The most important factor in deciding between the TOEFL and IELTS test is your target organization(s). You will need to look at the schools, employers or government authorities you will be applying to and follow their requirements.

For some test takers, a shorter test taking experience can reduce anxiety and therefore potentially result in better scores. TOEFL iBT tests taken starting July 26, 2023, will use a streamlined format with an estimated time of completion of about two hours. ETS, the organization that composes and administers the TOEFL, states that the new format will make it the shortest of the three most popular English-language tests.

In addition to the full length TOEFL iBT test, test takers can select the TOEFL Essentials test. This test is shorter at 1.5 hours, and contains a mix of academic and non-academic source materials. As fewer institutions accept this test, check with your target institutions or organizations before choosing this option. More information can be found at: TOEFL Essentials Test

The Speaking section differences may be a factor for some individuals if their target organization accepts both. A person who feels more comfortable speaking to a live examiner might approach the IELTS more confidently. On the other hand, someone who is more relaxed speaking into a computer might prefer the TOEFL.

Location

IELTS:

  • The IELTS exam is taken at designated testing centers, with a computer input option for the Academic version. The speaking section is still done face to face with an examiner live by video call. A list of available locations can be found at: https://www.ielts.org/en-us/for-test-takers/book-a-test

TOEFL:

  • The TOEFL iBT is usually administered at a designated testing center. There is also an option to take the test from your home, but you must confirm that your equipment meets their standards. You should also consider the mental effect of your choice of test location. Some students may find it easier to concentrate in the testing center environment, while others will feel more comfortable in the familiar setting of their home. The TOEFL Essentials test is taken ONLY at home. If you choose this option, make sure to follow the instructions on the ETS website to determine if your home computer and peripherals meet their specifications. You can search for a location at: Schedule Your TOEFL iBT Test

Exam Fee:

TOEFL:

  • The TOEFL iBT fee is approximately $255; for the TOEFL Essentials, $120. There are various administrative and optional fees that can be found on the website. Fees may also vary by country. Check here for more details: TOEFL iBT Test Fees

IELTS:

  • Test fees varying according to location and if the written components are submitted via computer or on paper. A general estimate would be around $250.00. The exact cost will be calculated at the time of registration which can done here: https://www.ielts.org/en-us/for-test-takers/book-a-test

Registration

You will be required to present identification on test day. Make sure you register for the exam using exactly the same name as it appears on your identification. In the case of names not in written in the Latin alphabet or of unusual length, be sure to check with the testing organization’s customer service to avoid costly mistakes

How Can I Get the Best Score on the TOEFL or IELTS Tests?

Successfully taking a formal standardized test of English language capabilities can require a somewhat different skill set than that acquired in a more informal English language environment.

While vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation are important in both the TOEFL and IELTS, these skills are tested in a way that makes reasoning and organizational abilities of equal importance.

Your English language skills will need to be applied to general academic skills, such as note-taking, paraphrasing and explanation. You will need to be able to write and speak about topics in English in way that shows you are capable of supporting a conclusion with reasons and examples.

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How do I get the best TOEFL or IELTS scores? 

The best way to maximize your scores on these tests is to enroll in a test preparation course. The experienced teachers at LANGUAGE ON Schools will guide you in improving your English skills in all the tested areas (Reading, Listening, Speaking and Writing), as well as helping you to understand the specific requirements of these tests. Being thoroughly prepared can improve your confidence, resulting in a better score and saving on the expenses of taking the test multiple times. 

LANGUAGE ON Schools’ programs are a worthwhile investment in being your best on test day! You can find information on their test preparation programs at: Test Preparation Courses

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