Home Exam IELTS vs TOEFL vs PTE: Which English Language Test should you take?
IELTS vs TOEFL vs PTE

IELTS vs TOEFL vs PTE: Which English Language Test should you take?

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IELTS vs TOEFL vs PTE – To choose between taking the IELTS or TOEFL or PTE, is a conundrum for many who wish to settle or study abroad. IELTS vs TOEFL – two of the most widely accepted English language tests – has always been a battle for the ages. The Pearson Test of English Academic, or PTE, is the newest entrant to the field, launched in 2009. In terms of popularity and acceptance, though, it is already catching up with the other two, making this a three-way race.

It isn’t straightforward to say which test you should prefer in IELTS vs TOEFL vs PTE. The answer may depend on the factors such as your institution of choice, score required, as well as your personal preferences. Let us analyse these factors to see on which points IELTS or TOEFL or PTE score over the others and which is the language test you should take between IELTS vs TOEFL vs PTE.

IELTS vs TOEFL vs PTE : Overview

The three language tests are as similar to each other as they are dissimilar. Each of them measures all the required skills of the English language, even if they grade them differently. The cost of each of the tests is also roughly the same and the duration also differs only slightly. All three of the tests are available in India at most of the major centres throughout the year. Each of these tests, though, have their own advantages and disadvantages over the other. Let us learn a bit more about these three tests before we move on to their comparative pros and cons.

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IELTS 

IELTS, is one of the world’s most popular English language tests and is accepted by more than 10,000 organisations in 140 countries across the world. The test is co-owned by Cambridge English Language Assessment, British Council, and International Development Program of Australian Universities and Colleges (IDP), and is offered by both the British Council and IDP in India. IELTS is primarily a paper-based test but is now being offered in the computer-delivered format as well. In both cases, however, the Speaking section of the test is conducted in a face-to-face setting. The test lasts roughly 2 hours and 45 minutes, divided into two test days – with the Listening, Reading and Writing sections conducted in a single sitting, and the Speaking test held separately. Both the Paper-based and Computer-delivered formats of the test cost INR 13250 as registration fee.

TOEFL 

One of the most widely accepted English language tests, TOEFL, is considered one of the two major English language proficiency exams along with IELTS. The test is designed and administered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS) and is accepted by more than 10,000 universities and other institutions in over 150 countries. The TOEFL is conducted as an internet-based test (iBT) or a Paper-delivered Test where TOEFL iBT is not available. Students in India, for instance, only have the option to take the iBT. The TOEFL iBT is also more widely accepted than the TOEFL Paper-delivered test since it also includes a speaking section. TOEFL PBT, which was the earlier form of the paper-delivered test, is now cancelled. The test is conducted in a single sitting, with all the four sections to be taken on a computer connected to the internet. The test costs USD 180 for India and can be taken in all the major cities.

PTE 

The PTE exam, was launched in 2009 by Pearson Inc. The test has been gaining popularity quite fast and is accepted by thousands of universities worldwide, as well as by the Australian and New Zealand governments for visa purposes. Similar to TOEFL iBT, the test is conducted on a computer for all of its sections. Unlike the other two tests, however, the Speaking and Writing sections of the PTE are combined together as one. The test lasts for 3 hours approximately and costs INR 13,300 to take in India.

The below table gives a comparative overview of the three tests:

IELTS vs TOEFL vs PTE: An Overview
  IELTS Academic TOEFL iBT PTE Academic
Organization British Council/IDP Educational Testing Service (ETS) Pearson
Official Website British Council

IDP India

https://www.ets.org/toefl https://pearsonpte.com/
Format Paper-based or Computer Delivered; Face-to-face for Speaking test Internet-based Computer-based
Duration 161-164 mins 200-250 mins 154-191 mins
Fee INR 13250 USD 180 INR 13,300
Sections Listening

Reading

Writing

Speaking

Reading

Listening

Speaking

Writing

Speaking & Writing

Reading

Listening

IELTS vs TOEFL vs PTE : Score Comparison

One of the biggest determining factors in your choice for IELTS vs TOEFL or PTE is the score you are required to get as per the admission criteria of the institution you’ve applied to. All three of these tests use a different scale for measuring the scores. While IELTS uses a 9-band scale for scores in each of its sections as well as overall, TOEFL iBT has 30 marks for each of its 4 sections and an overall score out of 120. PTE uses a granular scale of 10 to 90 to give overall scores, as well as individual scores for Communicative Skills and Enabling Skills.

The below table gives a comparison between the scores on each of the tests, and how these translate to the English proficiency level of the candidate:

IELTS vs TOEFL vs PTE: Score Comparison
IELTS Academic TOEFL iBT PTE Academic Proficiency Level
9 118-120 89-90 Expert
8.5 115-117 83-85 Very Good
8 110-114 78-82 Very Good
7.5 102-109 73-77 Good
7 94-101 64-72 Good
6.5 79-93 58-63 Competent
6 60-78 50-57 Competent
5.5 46-59 42-49 Modest
5 35-45 35-41 Modest
4.5 32-34 30-34 Limited
0-4 0-31 0-30 Extremely Limited

 IELTS vs TOEFL vs PTE : Sections of the Test

Each of the three tests – whether it is IELTS or TOEFL or PTE – are designed to evaluate a candidate’s English language skills across the spectrum. This is why the sections in all three tests are similarly designed, focusing on the four major components of English language: speaking, listening, reading, and writing. There are only a few minor differences in how the sections are divided – in IELTS, unlike the other two, the Speaking test is conducted in-person, for instance. Additionally, the PTE combines the sections of Speaking and Writing into one.

There are many differences in the content of the individual sections as well. Here, we shall discuss in detail how the three tests evaluate the candidate’s skills in reading, listening, speaking, and writing.

IELTS vs TOEFL vs PTE : Reading

The reading sections are much longer in IELTS Academic and TOEFL iBT, with the passages being much longer as well. The IELTS Reading section lasts 60 minutes, while the TOEFL iBT reading section lasts 60 to 80 minutes. The Reading section in PTE Academic is shorter, with a duration of 32-41 minutes. Another major point of difference between the PTE and the other two is the fact that it is an integrated skills test. This means that the Reading test also tests a candidate on their writing skills in one of the tasks. For IELTS and TOEFL, test takers need to answer only objective-type questions.

Please refer to the below table for major differences in the reading section for IELTS vs TOEFL vs PTE:

IELTS vs TOEFL vs PTE: Reading Section
  IELTS Academic TOEFL iBT PTE Academic
Duration 60 mins 60-80 mins 32-41 mins
No. of Questions 40 36-56 15-20
No. of Passages 3 3-4 5

 IELTS vs TOEFL vs PTE : Listening

For the Listening section, candidates are required to hear voice recordings in each of the three tests, and then answer questions accordingly. The listening test is much shorter in case of the IELTS, at 30 minutes, while it takes longer for both TOEFL iBT and PTE Academic. Also, in TOEFL iBT, test takers may be required to take notes while listening since they only get to see the questions after the recording. Again, the PTE being an integrated skills test, poses questions that test the candidates’ writing skills along with their listening skills.

Please refer to the below table for the differences between the listening sections of the three tests:

IELTS vs TOEFL vs PTE: Listening Section
  IELTS Academic TOEFL iBT PTE Academic
Duration 30 mins 60-90 mins 45-57 mins
No. of Questions 40 34-51 18-25
No. of Recordings 4 6-9 8

 IELTS vs TOEFL vs PTE : Speaking

There are many differences in the speaking section of the three tests. Most important of them is the format. For IELTS, the speaking test is conducted separately, in a face-to-face session with the examiner. In case of TOEFL iBT and PTE Academic, test takers record their responses into a microphone. The section is also longer in case of the PTE since it combines the Speaking test with the Writing test as a single section. Additionally, candidates taking the PTE may also be required to combine their reading and listening skills for the Speaking test.

Please refer to the table below for the differences in the speaking sections for IELTS vs TOEFL vs PTE:

IELTS vs TOEFL vs PTE: Speaking Section
  IELTS Academic TOEFL iBT PTE Academic
Duration 11-14 mins 20 mins 40-50 mins
Format Face-to-face On a computer On a computer
No. of Tasks 3 6 5 (Up to 40 questions)

 IELTS vs TOEFL vs PTE : Writing

The IELTS Writing test is often considered to be much tougher than the TOEFL or PTE. All three of the tests have two tasks each. It is also the only writing test of the three which judges a candidate solely on their writing skills, while the other two also require the speaker to combine their writing skills with their reading or listening skills. In IELTS, the first task requires a candidate to describe or summarize the information in a graph, chart, or diagram, while the second task requires them to provide their arguments in an essay format for a given topic. In TOEFL, the first task requires the candidate to write a summary based on a passage to be read, as well as a recording by a speaker. In PTE, the first task is similar and requires a one-sentence summary of a given passage. For both TOEFL and PTE, the second task is an essay on a given topic.

Refer the table below for the key differences in the writing section of the three tests:

IELTS vs TOEFL vs PTE: Writing Section
  IELTS Academic TOEFL iBT PTE Academic
Duration 60 mins 50 mins 30-40 mins
Format Face-to-face On a computer On a computer
No. of Tasks 2 2 2

IELTS vs TOEFL vs PTE : Advantages and Disadvantages

Now that we have looked at the key differences between the three tests, it is time to see the pros and cons of each test. As we discussed earlier, each test has its own advantages and disadvantages, and you should decide on which one to choose between IELTS vs TOEFL vs PTE based on your comfort level and end objectives. That stated, here are the advantages and disadvantages of the three tests:

Advantages of IELTS

  • IELTS is preferred by those who have been learning Queen’s English, or English as used in the UK, Australia, and New Zealand. Hence, Indian students may prefer the test over the other two.
  • IELTS is also much more widely accepted in the UK, Australia, and New Zealand, and is often preferred when one of these countries is the destination of choice.
  • IELTS also has a separate exam for General candidates and hence, is preferred over the TOEFL for those who need it for immigration or work purposes.
  • Many people prefer the formal interview setting of the Speaking test in IELTS since it prepares them better for real-world situations.
  • IELTS computer-delivered tests are offered most frequently, conducted almost once every day at major centres in India, and hence, is preferable for those with less time on hand.
  • For those who prefer writing on paper, IELTS is the only option in India.

Disadvantages of IELTS

  • Many students find the prospect of face-to-face speaking tests daunting and prefer speaking into a microphone.
  • Since the speaking test is conducted on a separate date, candidates need to free themselves for two days to take the test.
  • The Writing test for IELTS is considered fairly tough to score on compared to the other tests and can be a stumbling block for students who struggle with the essay structure.
  • The scores for IELTS are not as detailed as the other two, and hence, test takers may require significant improvement to increase their score by even a single band.

 Advantages of TOEFL

  • The questions are fairly straightforward in TOEFL and it has been found to be easier to get higher scores in.
  • The scoring for the Speaking test is a lot more objective with multiple evaluators comparing notes to ensure a fair score.
  • TOEFL is more readily accepted in the US and Canada.
  • TOEFL is very accessible with 4500 test centres around the world.
  • TOEFL is slightly less expensive than the other two tests.

Disadvantages of TOEFL

  • TOEFL does not have a separate test for General, and hence, is tougher for those taking it for immigration purposes.
  • Test takers might need to be fast to register since test dates for TOEFL fill up fast, and there are late registration fees for registering on a short deadline.
  • It is the longest exam among the three, taking almost 4 hours or more.
  • Since it is exclusively computer-based, it can be hard for those lacking basic computer skills.

Advantages of PTE

  • PTE results can be received the fastest – within a couple of days to up to a week.
  • The writing test in PTE is much easier since you are only required to write one long-form response.
  • PTE can be finished within a single day and is, therefore, the shortest of the three tests in terms of time required.
  • There is no physical examiner present through most of the test which is completely automated.

Disadvantages of PTE

  • PTE, being quite new compared to the other two, is still not accepted at many major universities.
  • Since the Speaking test is evaluated through a computer, there are chances of getting a low score because of a heavy accent.
  • The recordings for PTE Listening can be tough to decipher since they use real lectures in English.
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