The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) and the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) are two of the widely used testing benchmarks used by universities and colleges across the English speaking countries to test and verify the English language proficiency of prospective students who apply to study from non-native English speaking countries.
IELTS is developed in the UK by the Cambridge English Language Assessment and is jointly offered by the British Council and IDP. Alternatively, the TOEFL exam was first designed and administered in the USA by the National Council on the Testing of English as a Foreign Language, in association with Stanford University, USA.
Both IELTS and TOEFL are global benchmarks and test international students on their ability to read, write, speak and understand in English at an academic level. It is interesting to note that the two examinations follow a similar structure of testing different components of the English language. However, there are subtle differences within these components based on the type of questions, assessment methods and scoring scale. Moreover, with the growing demand and popularity of these testing systems across the world, both the IELTS and the TOEFL are now also being offered through online mode, where aspiring students can take these exams from home over the internet, especially during the time of the Covid-19 pandemic where taking such exams at physical locations is nearly not possible.
A key question that individuals aspiring to study abroad have in their minds is how these two standard examinations are different from each other, that is, how IELTS and TOEFL are unique and which exam should they take? To answer this question, let us first see how these two examinations are structured:
The TOEFL is offered in both offline (paper-based) as well as online modes. The TOEFL paper-delivered test is offered in locations where internet testing is not possible, whereas, the TOEFL iBT (Internet Based TOEFL) is readily available online for test-takers and is the preferred mode of examination among students. In both cases, the structure of the exam remains the same. Let us take a look:
TOEFL Reading: This section has 30-40 questions, and can take 54-72 minutes to complete. It tests reading comprehension skills.
TOEFL Listening: This section has 28-39 questions and can take 51-57 minutes to complete. It comprises first listening to a lecture or a discussion, and then answering the questions.
TOEFL Speaking: This section has four tasks and can take 17 minutes to complete. You speak into a microphone about topics you’re versed with and based on the material you read or listened to.
TOEFL Writing: This section has two tasks and takes 50 minutes to complete. You need to read a passage, listen to a recording and then formulate a written response, while the other task is essay writing.
Overall the length of the TOEFL is between 2 hours 30 minutes to 2 hours 50 minutes.
Let us now focus on the structure of the IELTS:
The IELTS test can either be taken on a computer or paper, as in both cases the format of the test remains the same. The IELTS exam is structured in the following manner:
IELTS Listening: This section is 30 minutes long. It requires you to listen to 4 recordings and then write responses to the objective-type questions asked.
IELTS Reading: This section is 60 minutes long and has 40 questions to be answered. It has a wide variety of texts—analytical, descriptive, discursive and factual. Questions are based on these texts.
IELTS Writing: This section is 60 minutes long. You are required to draft a response to two tasks, in a formal tone of language.
IELTS Speaking: This section is 11-14 minutes long. You are asked questions about topics you are familiar with, and based on a cue card. The speaking section does not necessarily take place on the day of the written exam—it can take place on any date one week before or within a week after the exam day when you attempt the other three sections.
Overall, the duration of the test is 2 hours, 45 minutes. In IELTS, the score ranges from 0-9 band for each section, and the overall band on a scale of 0-9 is calculated.
How do you ascertain which test to take - IELTS or TOEFL?
If taking both tests is an option for you, then you can consider the following while choosing which one to opt for:
Take the free practice exams: If you want to determine which exam you may be more comfortable taking, you could attempt the IELTS practice test and the TOEFL practice test.
Multiple Choice versus Short Answers: While the TOEFL primarily requires candidates to choose correct answers from multiple-choice questions for the reading and listening sections, the IELTS will require you to put down your answers.
Computer vs Paper: Unless there is no access to internet-based testing in a region, the TOEFL exam is computerised, whereas the IELTS examination presents test takers with both options.
Reading Section: The text material in the reading sections of both these tests are different. The TOEFL exam focuses on academic texts only, while the IELTS reading section also includes articles from newspapers and magazines.
Speaking Section: The TOEFL exam requires you to talk into a microphone and is entirely computerised. In contrast, the speaking section of the IELTS exam takes place with an examiner who interviews the candidate (which is recorded). Moreover, while the entire TOEFL exam is completed in one sitting, the IELTS speaking test needs to be taken up to a week before or a week after the written exam.
Costs: Both the TOEFL and the IELTS tests cost approximately $200 (around INR 14,000).
Validity: Both IELTS and TOEFL are valid for two years.
Now that you have understood the key similarities and differences between the IELTS and the TOEFL, it remains your decision as well as the acceptability of the exam at your desired institution about which English proficiency test to take. If you are still confused, drop your question/concern with us, and we will be glad to help you choose and prepare.