Differences between English Language Proficiency Exams

    Sayantani Barman Sayantani Barman
    Study Abroad Expert

    Settling abroad is a dream of many aspirants. Going to the best of the universities in different countries and getting top-class education is what people aspire for. Choosing between taking the three exams, i.e. TOEFL or IELTS or PTE is a difficult task and many aspirants face the challenges to understand the basic difference. Both, Test of English as a Foreign Language or TOEFL and International English Language Testing System or IELTS, are the major English language proficiency examinations and are widely accepted. The Pearson Test of English, Academic (PTE) was launched in 2009. Pearson, which launched this test, is one of the most prominent educational companies and publishing houses. PTE test is slowly catching up with the other two in terms of acceptance and popularity.

    It is not a straight answer to choose one of the three. The answer depends on several factors such as the institution of choice, score requirement, or personal preference. Usually, IELTS is more accepted in Australia and Europe whereas TOEFL is more accepted in the USA to pursue MBA. The PTE Academic, however new, is also accepted all over the world by MBA colleges.

    Overview – IELTS and TOEFL and PTE

    All three language tests are in some way resemble each other and also differ in other ways. All three tests measure all aspects of the English language but grade them differently. The tests are available throughout the year with test centers located across India. The cost of the exams is also almost similar and the duration of the exam also varies slightly. Let us dig deeper into each exam and then do the comparison along with the pros and cons of each.

    International English Language Testing System (IELTS)

    IELTS is one of the most popular English language tests across the world. It is accepted by 10,000+ organizations in 140+ countries. The test is co-owned by the British Council, Cambridge English Language Assessment, and IDP (International Development Program of Australian Universities and Colleges). It is offered by both IDP and British Council in India. IELTS is a paper-based test but nowadays is offered in the computer-based format also. The Speaking section, however, in both cases is conducted in a face-to-face setting. The total duration of the test is 2 hours and 45 minutes which is divided into two days. One day is allocated for Listening, Reading, and Writing part of the exam and the other day is for Speaking test. The test fees for both paper or computer-based exam is Rs 13,250.

    Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL)

    Apart from IELTS, TOEFL is one of the widely accepted English language exams. The test is administered and designed by ETS (Educational Testing Service). The exam is accepted by 10,000+ universities in 150+ countries. TOEFL is conducted as an internet-based test in India. The test has four sections that are to be completed in a single sitting on any internet-connected computer. The test can be given in all major cities across the country. The fees for giving the exam is USD 180 or INR 13755.

    Pearson Test of English, Academic (PTE)

    The PTE exam is conducted by Pearson Inc which was launched in 2009. The test is accepted worldwide by thousands of universities and is gaining popularity quite fast. It is also accepted by Australian and New Zealand governments for visa purposes. The test is conducted on the internet-connected computer for all its sections. The major difference between the other two exams and PTE is that it has Speaking & Writing section combined together as one section. The total fees for the exam is Rs. 13,300 with a total duration of 3 hours approximately.

    The table below gives a brief comparative overview of three exams:

    OrganizationBritish Council/IDPEducational Testing Service (ETS)Pearson
    Official ration/Registration
    FormatComputer-based or Paper-based (Face-to-face Speaking test)Internet-basedInternet-based
    Duration161 to 164 min200 to 250 min154 to 191 min
    FeeINR 13250INR 13755INR 13300
    SectionsListening, Reading, Writing, SpeakingReading, Listening, Writing, SpeakingSpeaking & Writing, Reading, Listening

    IELTS & TOEFL & PTE Score Comparison

    Getting a good score is one of the most important factors to decide the examination. There are specific cut-offs of each university or college of the required language examination. All three tests have a different scale for the measurement of scores. IELTS score uses a 9-band scale to measure the scores whereas TOEFL score has 30 marks for each section and hence a total of 120 marks. PTE uses a granular scale of 10 to 90 for overall scores along with individual scores for Enabling Skills and Communicative Skills.

    The table below gives the comparison of the scores along with the proficiency level in each of them.

    IELTSTOEFLPTEProficiency Level
    8.5115-11783-85Very Good
    8110-11478-82Very Good
    0-40-310-30Extremely Limited

    IELTS & TOEFL & PTE: Test Sections

    All three sections in each test are designed to test the proficiency of the English language for each Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening. All the tests are almost similar with slight changes. In IELTS, the Speaking section is face-to-face and is divided from the rest of the section. PTE has Writing and Speaking section combined as one section.

    We will see the basic differences in all the sections in each test.

    IELTS & TOEFL & PTE: Reading

    Refer to the below table for the basic overview of the Reading section across all the tests:

    Duration60 min60-80 min32-41 min
    No of Questions4036-5615-20
    No. of Passages33-45

    IELTS & TOEFL & PTE: Listening

    Refer to the below table for the basic overview of the Listening section across all the tests:

    Duration30 min60-90 min45-57 min
    No of Questions4034-5118-25
    No. of Recordings46-98

    IELTS & TOEFL & PTE: Speaking

    Refer to the below table for the basic overview of the Speaking section across all the tests:

    Duration11-14 min20 min40-50 min
    No. of Tasks365 (Up to 40 questions)

    IELTS & TOEFL & PTE: Writing

    Refer to the below table for the basic overview of the Writing section across all the tests:

    Duration60 min50 min30-40 min
    No. of Tasks222

    IELTS & TOEFL & PTE: Advantages and Disadvantages

    After looking into the basic difference between each examination, let us focus on the pros and cons of each test. The decision on taking IELTS vs TOEFL vs PTE should be based on the comfort level and the requirement of the university or college.

    Advantages of IELTS

    • The test is preferred by the aspirants having knowledge of Queen’s English or English used in Australia, UK, New Zealand.
    • When the choice of destination is Australia, New Zealand, or the UK, aspirants can choose this test because of the wider acceptability in these countries.
    • IELTS has a separate exam for General aspirants and hence is preferred for immigration and work purposes.
    • IELTS computer-based test is taken in almost every major city of the country.
    • Aspirants who are more comfortable with the paper-based test, IELTS is the only option available in India.

    Disadvantages of IELTS

    • IELTS Speaking test is preferred by a lot of students because it is conducted in a general interview format setting. For aspirants who are not comfortable in this format, it can be a disadvantage too.
    • IELTS test requires two days, which might be trouble for working candidates, who have to take out time from their schedule. For some, it is an advantage because of additional time for preparation.
    • In IELTS Writing Section is considered to be on the tougher side and could be a blockage for the students.
    • IELTS scores are not detailed since bands are given. It might require significant improvement in scores to upgrade the band.

    Advantages of TOEFL

    • TOEFL test is easier to score since the questions are pretty straightforward.
    • The score of the Speaking test in TOEFL is more objective because of multiple evaluators.
    • TOEFL is more readily accepted in Canada and the USA.
    • TOEFL has 4500+ centers around the world which gives easy accessibility.
    • The test is slightly cheaper compared to the other two tests.

    Disadvantages of TOEFL

    • TOEFL, on the other hand, does not have a separate test for General, hence it is tougher for the aspirants taking it for immigration purposes.
    • TOEFL seats fill up faster and hence the aspirants have to be alert. Also, there is a late registration fee.
    • TOEFL uses academic passages that are verbose and longer in nature.
    • It is the longest exam which can go up to 4 hours or more. Also, a computer-based test can be a challenge for the people not comfortable with it.

    Advantages of PTE

    • The result declaration of PTE test is the fastest. It takes around 2-7 days to process the results.
    • PTE writing test is easier since only one long-form response is required.
    • PTE is the shortest of the test in terms of the time required. Also, no physical examiner is present and the test is completely automated.

    Disadvantages of PTE

    • The major disadvantage of PTE test is that it is not widely accepted in all the universities since it is recently launched.
    • A heavy accent in the computer-based Speaking test may result in a low score since the test is being evaluated by a computer program.
    • PTE Listening test is a bit on the tougher side.



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