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TOEFL vs IELTS – Which exam should you take for admissions abroad?

by Anup chowdhury

TOEFL vs IELTS – IELTS and TOEFL are the two most popular English language proficiency tests around the world. If you are a non-native English speaker, you need to appear for one of these two exams for studying abroad. Both of the exams test the English skills of candidates and are widely accepted across thousands of universities worldwide. However, IELTS and TOEFL are different in approach, structure and scoring. Some of the universities abroad prefer one over the other while others may accept either one of them. Students are advised to do research about universities they would like to apply to and if there isnt any preference from a certain preferred university, the students should decide which exam to go for based on their personal language strengths and limitations. Universities in the USA, in general, prefer TOEFL over IELTS, the latter being more popular in the UK, Canada, Australia and Asia. One of the main parameter on the basis of which you can decide on which test to appear are your academic and intellectual strengths. The way TOEFL assesses you is not the same as IELTS and vice versa. Its therefore better to take practice tests available for these exams to see which exam is comfortable for you.

The major difference between the exams are:

  • TOEFL is MCQ (Multiple-Choice Questions) based while for IELTS, the candidates formulate their own answers for questions asked in the test.
  • TOEFL is mostly computer-based while IELTS is both pen and paper-based as well as computer-based.
  • IELTS uses academic texts and subjects as well as general passages and topics from newspapers and magazines. The TOEFL uses only academic texts, which means its reading passages have more challenging vocabulary and concepts to understand.
  • In IELTS you get to have a real conversation with the examiner (even in the case of a computer-based IELTS test, the candidate has to appear for a face-to-face Speaking Section). However, in TOEFL, you will hear recorded questions and will have to speak to a microphone in answer.
  • If writing in English language is a difficult matter, then you might find IELTS more comfortable than TOEFL. This is because in IELTS, you get more time compared to the TOEFL during the Writing Section.

In this article, we will guide you through the differences and similarities between the IELTS and TOEFL exams and help you make a decision on which exam to appear for.

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TOEFL vs IELTS – Comparison Snapshot

Either of them could be an essential requirement in a study abroad application. IELTS (International English Language Testing System) is of two types: IELTS Academic and General Training. IELTS Academic is for those who are planning to study at higher education level abroad. IELTS General training assesses social skills and questions that are related to the workplace. While IELTS listening, reading and writing sections are completed on the same day, the speaking section could be conducted up to a week before or after other tests. TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) test is a computer-based English skill test (with the Listening, Writing, Reading and Speaking sections as well) which mostly evaluates academic skills. As claimed in the Educational Testing Service (ETS) website, it gives a 100% fair scoring. TOEFL is scored based on a centralised scoring network. TOEFL is held 50 times a year at the various authorised centres in the world.

Latest updates: IELTS & Admission in Australia without IELTS

News: Due to spread of Coronavirus infection, the educational institutions have decided to cancel IELTS, TOEFL and GRE exams in China.

In the given table below, you can find comparisons between IELTS and TOEFL.




Total Test Time

3 hours and 30 minutes

2 hours and 45 minutes

Score Range



Sections (in order of being conducted)








Speaking (can be conducted before or after the test)

Numbers of Institutions That Accept These Scores

Over 10,000

Over 10,000

TOEFL vs IELTS – Format of the Exams

There are a few things to notice when we compare the format of these two tests. Both of the exams have the same four basic sections – Reading, Listening, Speaking and Writing. The TOEFL accesses academic subjects exclusively for all its sections while IELTS conducts academic reading and writing sessions and general listening and speaking sessions. The TOEFL is entirely multiple-choice, while the IELTS has a mix of short answer questions and essay-type questions.


TOEFL vs IELTS – Speaking Section

The speaking sections of both the tests are also conducted differently from each other. It depends on whether youre comfortable in speaking to instructors face-to-face or through the microphone. In IELTS, test-takers are asked to have a conversation on topics assigned by the examiner in-person. The entire speaking session is recorded on a tape. Generally, the examiner asks about common topics like studies, family etc., and some specific topics as well. Whereas, in TOEFL, you will be asked to listen or read a particular topic and speak on a microphone. The TOEFL speaking test takes an hour, while the IELTS speaking section is only 30 minutes.

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TOEFL vs IELTS – Listening Section

For the IELTS listening section, you are asked to answer 10 questions while listening to an audio being played. The questions that will come up for IELTS may cover topics like dealing with situations in an education and training context.

Listening example:

American boys drop out of school at a higher rate than girls because:

  1. They need to be in control of the way they learn
  2. They play video games instead of doing school work
  3. They are not as intelligent as girls

In this sentence completion question, before answering, you need to make sure that you have heard the question and options clearly, highlight keywords, do not write the first answer you hear, etc.

The question format includes filling in the blanks, completing the sentence, and answering true or false. In the listening section of TOEFL, you will listen to four to six recordings and then answer multiple-choice questions based on what you have heard. It contains conversational and lecture recordings. The time given to answer listening questions in IELTS is about 30 minutes and for TOEFL it is 60-80 minutes.


TOEFL vs IELTS – Writing Section

The writing sections of both tests constitute two parts and are essay-based. In the first part of the IELTS writing test, you will be given a graph or chart in the first part, and you then have 20 minutes to write a short essay of 150 words based on that information. In the second part of the IELTS writing test, you will be given an argument or a point of view and you will be required to write a 200 to 250-word response in 40 minutes. In the TOEFL, the first part of the writing test requires you to read a short text about a certain topic and then listen to a 2-minute lecture about this topic. Then, you will have to write 300 to 350 words in response to a question about this topic. The second part of the TOEFL writing test requires you to write another short essay.

TOEFL vs IELTS – Reading Section

In the reading section of IELTS, 40 questions are divided into three parts, with different styles of questions that include short-answer-questions and fill-in-the-gap questions that cover different aspects like reading for details, main themes, skimming, logical arguments and recognising the writers opinions and purposes. In the TOEFL, the questions are multiple-choice and are divided into three to five parts, or passages.

TOEFL vs IELTS – Who accepts TOEFL and IELTS test scores?

Based on the ETS and IELTS website, over 10,000 institutions around the world accept TOEFL and IELTS scores. However, the majority of US colleges accept TOEFL over IELTS. At the same time, the IELTS is not taken as often as the TOEFL by the students who are looking to attend graduate schools in the United States.IELTS is most popularly conducted in the UK, Australia and Asia.

TOEFL vs IELTS – Which should I take?

To be able to decide if you can appear for the TOEFL test, you need to answer some of these questions mentioned below:

  • Do I find American accents easy to listen to?
  • Do I like multiple-choice questions?
  • Do I prefer reading and listening in an academic context?
  • Can I concentrate for long periods of time?
  • Do I prefer talking to a computer?
  • Am I good at typing?
  • Can I easily follow a lecture and take notes?
  • Am I comfortable with computers?

Read more on IELTS preparation and TOEFL preparation

For IELTS, check if you resonate with the following points:

  • You like talking to people one-on-one.
  • You do not like multiple-choice questions.
  • You are not fond of academic contexts.
  • You prefer writing by hand compared to typing.
  • You can understand a variety of English-speaking accents.
  • You prefer shorter tests and a range of questions.
  • You find it difficult to concentrate for long periods of time.

TOEFL vs IELTS – Comparison of the examination costs

There is not much difference in test price, with both IELTS and TOEFL costing between $150 and $250 USD, depending on where you take it.


To resolve the debate of TOEFL vs. IELTS, ask yourself the following four questions to figure out which exam is best for yourself:

  • Which exam do the schools youre interested in accept?
  • Which exam plays more to your strengths?
  • Which one is easier for you?
  • Which one is cheaper?


Q. Is TOEFL easier than IELTS?

A. A. The question of whether TOEFL is easier than IELTS depends on multiple factors such as the timing of the exams, exam format (difference in listening and reading sections), knowledge of different English accents, etc. It depends on the strengths of candidates looking to appear for the tests.

Q. Should I take both TOEFL and IELTS exams?

A. Whether or not one must take both the TOEFL and IELTS tests depends on your academic or intellectual strengths and in which test are you comfortable. Also, it depends on the university or college abroad you are applying for . Students need to research, analyse and finalise their decisions based on such factors.

Q. Can I get admission in the USA without IELTS?

A. 9 out of 10 U.S. universities prefer the TOEFL test over other English-language tests, and U.S. universities receive more TOEFL scores than all other English-language tests combined.

Q. What is a good TOEFL score?

A. 90-100 TOEFL score range is considered as a good score. This TOEFL score is good enough for most universities.

Q.What is a good IELTS score?

A) According to the British Council, if you score a 9 band score in the IELTS exam, you’re an expert in English; if you score an 8 band score, you’re very good at English and so on. For more details – check out IELTS Score

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