4 Factors to Consider When Deciding Between Them: With Quiz Included!
If you are not a native English speaker looking to study at an English-speaking university, then you will need a score from either the IELTS Academic OR the TOEFL for your admissions application. These are the two most popular standardized tests that evaluate English language proficiency by testing your English reading, writing, speaking and listening skills. While they have many similarities, there are also some major differences. Here you will find a complete overview of each exam with a side-by-side comparison between the two. Also included are four factors to consider and a quiz to help you decide which test you should take.
At a Quick Glance
|Length||3.5 to 4 hours||2 hours 45 minutes|
|Frequency of test||50+ per year||48 per year|
|Test locations||500 USA|
|Results||10 days later||13 days later|
|Scoring||0-120 (sliding scale)||0-9 (averaged score)|
|Validity||2 years||2 years|
*The average minimum scores for US universities information comes from U.S. News Best Colleges data for 2015.
Over 9,000 institutes worldwide accept the TOEFL and IELTS. The majority of American graduate schools and universities prefer a TOEFL score, but some do accept the IELTS. IELTS is more popular in the UK, Australia and Canada. Here is a closer look at each of these tests.
The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL)is an English language proficiency exam. It was designed by Educational Testing Service (ETS), an organization that specializes in standardized tests for higher education in the USA. While the TOEFL can be taken in person at a test center, the most commonly taken version is the TOEFL iBT which is administered online.
The TOEFL takes between 3.5 and 4 hours and is divided into 4 sections. Each section is scored between 0 and 30 and then added together for a total score of between 0 and 120. Let’s take a closer look at each of these sections.
First you are tested on reading in the Reading Section which is between an hour and an hour and a half. You are given three or four university level academic texts with 35 to 50 standard multiple-choice questions based on your comprehension of the texts.
Next you do the Listening Section which is also between an hour and an hour and a half. You are given four to six audio clips that talk about different aspects of university life (social and academic). You have to answer 35 to 50 standard multiple-choice questions based on your comprehension of the recordings. Following the Listening Section you have a short 10-minute break.
After the break, you have the Speaking Section. The Speaking Section consists of six speaking tasks. The first two tasks are called Independent tasks which means that you discuss your own opinion based on a question prompt. You will have 15 seconds to prepare and 45 seconds to speak for each task. Then you have four Integrated tasks. This means you have to read and/or listen to a passage and then use the information to respond to the question. You will have 30 seconds to prepare and one minute to speak for each task.
The final section is the Writing Section of the TOEFL which consists of two writing tasks. The first task is the Integrated task which will require you to read a passage and listen to an audio recording and then compare and summarize the information from the two. You have 20 minutes to write your essay. The minimum length of your essay is 150 words. Last but not least is the Independent writing task. For this task, you have 30 minutes to write about your opinion based on a question prompt. The minimum length of your essay is 300 words.
The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is an English language proficiency exam administered by the British Council and IDP, a joint organization of IELTS Australia and Cambridge English Language Assessment. There are 2 versions of IELTS – Academic and General Training. IELTS Academic is the exam best for those who need an English assessment for higher education. IELTS General Training is best for those who need work experience in an English-speaking country. Both versions can be done electronically or as a written test.
The IELTS test is 2 hours and 45 minutes long. It has the same four sections as the TOEFL but are administered in a different order. The Listening, Reading and Writing Sections are taken in one sitting and the Speaking Section is scheduled separately a week before or after the rest. Each section is scored between 0 and nine and then averaged out for a total score of between 0 and 9. Let’s take a closer look at each of these sections.
In the IELTS, the first section is the Listening section which takes around 30 minutes. In this section, you will listen to four recordings set in social and educational contexts and answer 10 questions for each recording based on your comprehension. These questions are not just multiple-choice questions. You can find matching, labeling, fill-in-the-blank and short answer type of questions.
Next is the Reading section which is done in one hour. You will have three texts extracted from books, journals, magazines and newspapers, and you will have to answer 10 to 15 questions on each text based on your comprehension. Again, these questions can be multiple-choice, matching, labeling, fill-in-the-blank and short answer types of questions.
Then you have the Writing section which has two tasks that you will need to complete in one hour. In the first, you are given a piece of visual information, such as a graph, table, chart or diagram, and you will have to describe the visual. You should spend about 20 minutes on this task, and you need to write a minimum of 150 words. The last task is an independent writing task, where you have to write about your opinion based on a question prompt. You should spend 40 minutes on this task, and the minimum length of your essay is 250 words.
Finally, the speaking Section is an oral interview with an examiner and is scheduled at another time before or after the other three sections. This section has three parts and is 11 to 14 minutes total. In the first part, the examiner will ask you about general subjects, like your family, work/school and hobbies. In part two, you are given a card with a topic. You will have one minute to prepare a two-minute speech. After your speech, the examiner with ask one or two follow-up questions. In the last part, you will continue a conversation on the same topic with the examiner in more depth for approximately four or five minutes.
|Sections in Order|
*Speaking scheduled separately
|Length||1 to 1 ½ hours||1 hour|
|Text Types||Academic||Academic and General|
|Question Types||36-56Multiple-choice questions||30-45 Mixed questions|
|Length||1 to 1 ½ hours||30 minutes|
|Accent Types||American||Various, mostly British|
|Question Types||34-51Multiple-choice questions||40 Mixed questions|
|Length||50 minutes||1 hour|
|Task 1||Based on text and audio||Based on chart, graph or diagram|
|Task 2||Based on a given situation/topic||Based on a given situation/topic|
|Minimum Word Count||Task #1 – 150 words|
Task #2 – 300 words
|Task #1 – 150 words|
Task #2 – 250 words
|Methodology||Comparing and Persuasion||Summarizing and Persuasion|
|Length||20 minutes||11-14 minutes|
|Testing Method||Recorded on computer||In person with an interlocutor|
|Format||6 Tasks||3-part Interview|
|Methodology||Summarizing and Persuasion||Presentation and Conversation|
Now the question is, how do you decide which test is best for you?
Here are four factors to consider:
- Which exam does the institute I want to go to accept?
Not all schools and universities accept both exams. So, the first thing you need to find out is which exam your school accepts. Generally speaking, the TOEFL is more commonly accepted by American institutes, but there are schools that accept both. The IELTS is more accepted elsewhere, especially in the UK and Australia, but you should check to make sure. Here are links to see which institutes accept the TOEFL and which accept the IELTS.
- Which testing location is closer?
If you find that your institute accepts scores from both exams, the next question is to find out where the testing centers are located. There are testing locations all over the world for both exams, but it is important to make sure there is one near you. There are approximately 500 TOEFL exam locations in the USA, and about 59 IELTS test centers. Worldwide, there are 4,500 TOEFL exam locations and 900 IELTS test centers. But it depends on where you are. Here are links to find out the test dates and locations for the TOEFL or IELTS near you.
- Which exam is cheaper?
The next factor to consider is the price. Generally speaking, both the TOEFL and the IELTS are close to the same price of around USD$200-250. However, depending on the country where you take the exam, one may be cheaper. Here are links to find out the price of the TOEFL and IELTS near you.
- Which exam is easier?
If you find that your institute accepts scores from both exams, there are testing locations near you and the prices are the same, the last factor is to decide which exam would the easier for you. This is going to depend on your own personal skills and strengths, but here is a quick quiz that may help you to decided.
|I prefer to take exams by hand.||Yes / No|
|I’m more comfortable reading newspapers and magazines.||Yes / No|
|I’m better at answering a variety of test questions|
|I’ve studied British English.||Yes / No|
|I prefer speaking to a person.||Yes / No|
|I have strong listening skills.||Yes / No|
|I would rather do the test over two days||Yes / No|
|I am better at summarizing graphs and diagrams.||Yes / No|
|I prefer to take exams on the computer.||Yes / No|
|I’m more comfortable reading academic articles and journals.||Yes / No|
|I’m better at answering multiple-choice questions.||Yes / No|
|I’ve studied American English.||Yes / No|
|I prefer speaking into a microphone.||Yes / No|
|I don’t have strong listening skills.||Yes / No|
|I would rather do the test in one day.||Yes / No|
|I am better at summarizing texts and audio lectures.||Yes / No|
If you answered “yes” more on Part 1, then your skills and preferences are better suited for the IELTS. If you answered “yes” more on Part 2, then your skills and preferences are better suited for the TOEFL.
Now you’re probably wondering…
How to I prepare for the tests?
Regardless of which exam you are taking, these 3 tips will help you to prepare for test day!
- Find Prep Materials
Not only can you find great, official test prep materials online, but you can also find prep materials in your everyday life. Seek out literature and videos in English to use in preparation. For example, start reading academic texts or news articles in English. Start listening to a variety of English accents in the news reports, podcasts and TEDx talks. Take notes on what you read and listen to. Then practice summarizing and giving your opinion on the topics in oral and written forms.
- Take Practice Tests
You can learn a lot about what to expect during these exams and where you stand by doing practice tests. There are many, often free, exams available online. If you are taking the TOEFL, you need to practice typing with an American keyboard and without a spell check function. If you are taking the IELTS you need to practice writing quickly and legibly. Also, try to simulate the exam by practicing somewhere noisy.
Once you choose the exam you are going to take, get registered. Making it official will help motivate you to start planning. Having that deadline will let you know how much time you have to prepare. Remember you need to register for a test date that is early enough to allow you to get your results back before the application deadline.