Compare TOEFL and IELTS

TOEFL vs. IELTS – Similarities and Differences

With so many English proficiency tests, understanding the differences between them can be the factor in getting a good score and getting a great score. Students who have studied English as a second language for years should educate themselves on how the language tests differ so they can choose the test that would be best for them.

The International English Language Testing Service (IELTS) and the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) are the two most common English proficiency tests. Both tests are widely accepted and respected, but the tests differ in many ways. Students should be aware of how they differ when they are considering which test they want to take. Let’s start with test creators.

IELTS TOEFL
Test Creators British Council, IDP: IELTS Australia, and Cambridge English Educational Testing Service (ETS) in Lawrence, New Jersey USA
Test Types 2 types: general and academic 1 type: TOEFL iBT
English International speakers with a British written style North American
Test-Taking Style Written Computer
Questions types Several question types such as true-or-false, and multiple-choice All Multiple-Choice
Test Results Received 13 days after taking test Received about 10 days after exams. Printed scores are mailed 13 days after the exam.

The IELTS is a Britain-based test that is mostly for universities in commonwealth nations. The TOEFL is an American-based test for universities throughout the world and especially in North America. While most universities generally accept either test, students should always consult the university they intend on attending to make sure they accept the test they will take.

Of the two types of IELTS tests, the academic version is the one for those who wish to enter university. The general test is for immigration and other general purposes.

There are a few other differences students should be aware of before considering the test.

IELTS TOEFL
Test Length 2 hours and 45 minutes About 4 hours
Locations About 900 Worldwide locations Over 4,500 Worldwide
Price About 200 USD Between 160 and 200 USD
Scoring Scored in “bands” from 1 to 9 Scored on a scale from 0 to 120

While TOEFL is offered in more cities than IELTS worldwide, the IELTS is offered in all major cities throughout the world, so a testing center shouldn’t be too far away for most students. And even though there is a mandatory 10-minute break after the reading and listening sections have been finished on the TOEFL test, overall the TOEFL test is much longer than the IELTS.

There is no “pass” or “fail” for these tests. Students get a score based on how many questions they got correct. Different universities have different scores that they will accept. However, generally speaking, most universities want students to get a score of at least 80 on the TOEFL and the minimum for the IELTS test is usually a 5.5.  But those are only the minimum scores and may only be acceptable for conditional admission. Students should check with their universities to see what scores they should get on their language tests.

The tests themselves both have four sections: reading, listening, speaking, and writing. Let’s start with the reading section, which is mostly similar for both tests.

Reading

IELTS TOEFL
Length 1 hour 60-80 minutes
Number of Passages 3 passages 3-4 passages
Number of Questions 40 questions 35-56 questions
Difficulty of Passages Passages get progressively more difficult All passages are of equal difficulty

For both tests, there is about 20 minutes per passage, and about 12-13 questions per passage. So while it may seem that the length of the two tests may be different, the number of questions per passage remains roughly the same for both tests, with the only main difference between the two being that the IELTS reading passages get progressively more difficult.

The listening sections of both tests do have some significant differences.

Listening

IELTS TOEFL
Length 30 minutes* 60-90 minutes
Number of Sections 4 sections 4-6 passages
Number of Questions 40 questions (10 questions per section) 34-51 Questions
Content Has academic and non-academic content. Has accents of people from several English-speaking countries. Listen to lectures, classroom discussions, and conversations. All speakers are from North America.
Difficulty Passages get progressively more difficult All passages are of equal difficulty
  *While the test period for the IELTS is 30 minutes, students are given an extra ten minutes after the test to transfer their answers to an answer sheet.

IELTS may seem to be a shorter test, as far as time goes, but 40 questions in 30 minutes can keep students on their toes. But not all the content is academic. Because the listening section of IELTS is the same for both the general and the academic tests, some non-academic content is included on the listening section of the IELTS test.

The speaking sections of each test also has some important differences.

Speaking

IELTS TOEFL
Length 11-14 minutes 20 Minutes
Number of Sections 3 sections 4-6 passages
Number of Tasks Varies depending on examiner 1 task per passage
Style of Test Conversation Students talk about an assigned topic

The IELTS listening section varies in many ways from the TOEFL. For one, the IELTS speaking test is significantly shorter. And it is essentially a conversation with a native English speaker. It is meant to mimic a real-life conversation. Also, students may take the IELTS speaking test on the same day as the other three sections, or they can opt to take it up to seven days before or after taking the other three sections.

For the TOEFL, students will speak on a topic, record their voices, and submit their recordings for evaluation.

For the most part, the writing sections for both tests are similar.

Writing

  IELTS TOEFL
Length 60 minutes 50 minutes
Number of Tasks 2 tasks 2 tasks
Tasks a.      Interpret and summarize visual content such as a chart

b.      Support an opinion

a.      Write a response to a reading passage

b.      Support an opinion

The main differences between the two sections is that for the first section, the IELTS test requires students to interpret visual data and write about it. The TOEFL test requires students to write a response to after reading a passage.

Understanding the differences between these tests can be a factor in how successful a student is when taking it. Choose the one that best suits you, and good luck!

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