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TOEFL vs. IELTS: Which one to choose?

Last Updated - September 23, 2016

Here comes the big question, of whether to choose TOEFL or the IELTS! Well, most of you, who are not native English speakers, will almost always be required to sit an English language proficiency test as part of your application to study abroad at an English-speaking university. For all the ones who always endeavored of studying abroad, often deal with choosing between these two heavy words, TOEFL and IELTS!

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These are the two most widely accepted exams, that test your English competency. We are sure you all must be in a fix and here we are, to give you a helping hand! This article gives you a breakdown of the difference between the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL Test) and International English Language Testing System(IELTS Test). Read on to know about their strengths, differences, approach & structure. We hope you weigh both sides and decide the best for yourself!


Before we begin to dig deep, let us first know a little bit about the two exams- TOEFL and IELTS!

What is TOEFL?

The TOEFL test seeks to test your ability to communicate in English in specifically academic, university and classroom-based settings. The TOEFL Test is believed to be accepted by over 8,500 institutes across 130 countries. This TOEFL Scores are accepted in the world’s top 100 universities. TOEFL is administered by US-based organisation the Education Testing Service, and so is conducted in American English. This test is more likely to be favoured by American institutions.

What is IELTS?

The IELTS Exam is an English language test which is used for educational, immigration and occupational purpose. It is believed to be accepted by over 9,000 institutes across 130 countries. Jointly administered by the British Council, University of Cambridge ESOL Examinations and IDP Education Australia, IELTS uses British English, and is more likely to be favoured by UK and institutions in Commonwealth nations such as New Zealand and Australia.

Also Read About  TOEFL Exam: 10 Simple TOEFL Quick Prep Strategies for Writing Section 

TOEFL vs. IELTS: Basic Differences

There are multiple differences that have been noticed about the two exams. We have listed a few of them below:

  1. Type of questions: Where, the TOEFL Exam questions are entirely objective, the IELTS Exam questions vary. They may be in the form of gap-filling, short answer type or short essay types.
  2. Duration: The IELTS Exam is significantly shorter (2 hours and 45 minutes long) than the TOEFL Test (about 4 hours long).
  3. Availability: The TOEFL Test is available at over 500 locations in the US and over 4,500 worldwide. For the IELTS Exam, it is available at 59 locations in the US and about 900 worldwide.
  4. Cost: The cost of the TOEFL Test is usually between 160-200 USD. The cost for the IELTS Exam is variable. It usually is about 200 USD.
  5. Scores: The TOEFL Score works on a sliding scale from 0 to 120. The IELTS Score works on 9 “bands”, or levels of proficiency.
  6. Exam Objective: The TOEFL exam requires the candidate to think analytically to weigh up the differences between their opinions. For the IELTS Exam, it requires you to use your memory to test their comprehension skills.

TOEFL vs. IELTS: Exam Structures

The two exams are divided into 4 major sections namely, speaking, writing, reading and listening. Candidates must attain minimum qualifying scores to clear the exam. Here’s a little bit about all the four sections.

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Both the exams, TOEFL and IELTS, put extra emphasis on the speaking section. Where the IELTS Speaking Test is taken face-to-face with the examiner, the TOEFL Test has six questions which are recorded and later sent to a group of reviewers. However, your IELTS speaking score will only be determined by a single examiner. The duration of the IELTS Speaking Test generally ranges between 11-14 minutes while the TOEFL Speaking exams takes about 20 minutes.


TOEFL is an online exam whereas the IELTS is a paper-based exam. The TOEFL has two tasks. The first task is to write a five-para long essay. The second task will need to take notes from a section of text and lecture excerpt on the same topic, and use them to construct a 150-225 words response.

The IELTS Exam tool has two tasks. The first one requires you to summarize/interpret the information given through a graph, chat, table or diagram. The second task, candidates are asked to write a 200-250 words response that assess your point of view/ argument.


This is one area which is somewhere similar in both, TOEFL & IELTS. The TOEFL Reading Test has 5 reading sections that you have to complete in 20 minutes. The questions are objective that test how well you have understood the texts.

On the other hand, the IELTS Reading Test has three sections. Each is of 20 minutes long. Questions are designed to test how well you’ve understood the text in its particular use of language, ideas and style.


Both the tests vary as far as their Listening test is concerned. The TOEFL Listening test is generally between 40-60 minutes. It involves you listening to excerpts from university lectures or conversations on a university campus. You will be required to take notes whilst listening and answer a series of multiple choice questions afterwards.

For the IELTS Listening test, students can answer questions whilst they are listening to the recordings, and will need to respond to a number of different question types and exercises of different lengths. 

We hope to have made you decision about the two exams a little easier. Both of them have a fair share of strengths and weaknesses. We are sure you must have come to a final answer by now. So, your next step should be to begin looking for relevant courses and colleges abroad. We hope you get the college of your choice. And…. Do not forget to tell us which test you chose! Good luck!



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