TOEFL vs IELTS: How To Decide


Taking an English proficiency test is a common requirement for people who are planning to move, study, or work in an English-speaking country.

These tests are not as easy as some people think it is so you really have to prepare in order to pass.

Before all that, you have to know which test you should be preparing for.

So there are two kinds of tests: IELTS and TOEFL.

IELTS stands for The International English Language Testing System.

TOEFL, on the other hand, stands for Test Of English as a Foreign Language.

These tests are designed to measure the English proficiency of non-English speaking people. Both are recognized by many universities and other institutions in English-speaking countries.

Main Differences

TOEFL and IELTS are all about assessing an individual’s English proficiency.

However, they have different ways to measure a person’s English speaking, writing, reading, and listening skills.

For you to understand these differences, here is a summary table that compares TOEFL and IELTS:

Categories TOEFL IELTS
Main difference A.E B.E
Time of test 4 hours 2 hours 45 minutes
Structure Academic English proficiency exam Academic and General Training English proficiency exams
Purposes University entrance University entrance


Source / Organization Computer Written
Scores 0 to 120 0 to 9
How scores are given Four parts

Each paper is marked out of 30

Overall score plus 4 individual scores for each exam category
Cost of test $160 to $250 (depending on location) $140 (depending on location)
When to register Reserve a slot at least one to two months ahead Book a slot for the test two to three weeks in advance
Score reports Within two weeks After 13 calendar days
Score reporting Forwards scores to the university for free. May take four to five days. Forwards scores to the university for free. May take four to five days.
Validity Two years Two years
Reach Accepted by 130 countries

7500 institutions

Accepted in 135 countries

6000 institutions

Conducting Authority Educational testing Service (ETS) British Council, the University of Cambridge ESOL Examinations and IDP Education Australia


TOEFL and IELTS is a four-part examination: Speaking, Writing, Listening, and Reading.

These examinations are administered differently depending on what test you are going to take.

They also vary in duration, type of exam, number of questions, number of examiners, accents used, and day of the exam.

Here is a comparative table to summarize the differences between TOEFL and IELTS for the four exam categories:

Categories TOEFL IELTS
  • Person-to-computer
  • 6 questions are answered using a microphone and recorder
  • Reviewed by six examiners
  • Duration: 20 minutes
  • American English accent
  • The same day as the rest of the tests
  • Person-to-person
  • Reviewed by a single examiner
  • Duration: 3 sections for 15 minutes
  • Different English accents
  • Test can be held on a different day to that of the written part of the exam
  • Computerized examAnswers are typed in using a keyboardA two (2) minute lecture is given before every questionTasks:
    • write a 5-paragraph essay of 300-350 words
    • take notes from a section of text as well as a lecture excerpt on the same topic

    Answers should be based on the lecture

Written exam

All answers are put into paper

Examinees are given one (1) hour for an Academic paper and General Training Paper


  • summarize or explane information presented in a graph/chart/table/diagram
  • 200-250 word response to a prompt offering a specific point of view

Requires a specific point of view


Duration: 1 hour (may extend another 30 minutes)

Fully academic context

Type of exam: Multiple choice

  • 2-3 conversational passage
  • 4-6 lectures and student takes notes while listening in order to answer questions afterwards


Standard American English


Duration: 30 minutes

½ academic, ½ social context

Type of exam: sentence completion

matching headings

True, False or Not Given

4 recordings:

  • a conversation
  • a monologue
  • a conversation set in an educational or training context
  • a monologue on an academic subject


  • Ireland
  • Wales
  • Scotland
  • the USA
  • Canada


Reading Test type: Multiple choice

Academic texts only

3-5 reading sections

Requires a lot of concentration and mental stamina

Duration: 20 minutes per section

Test type: Various

Academic or non-academic texts

Question types:

  • Gap fills
  • Short answers

3 sections

Relatively easier than TOEFL

Duration: 20 minutes per section

When should I choose IELTS or TOEFL?

Now that you recognize the differences between TOEFL and IELTS, you must be able to know when to choose the right English Proficiency test for you.

If you’re still not sure what to take, let me help you make up your mind about it.

Toefl vs Ielts
When should I choose IELTS or TOEFL?

Consider taking the TOEFL if any of the following apply to you:

  • You are comfortable listening to American English accent.
  • You prefer to answer multiple choice questions.
  • You are good at listening during lectures while taking down notes.
  • You like to read and listen in an academic context.
  • You are able to concentrate for long periods of time.
  • You would rather take a test through a computer than do a face to face interview.
  • You are skilled in typing using a keyboard.
  • You are not confident with your handwriting.
  • You are planning to study or work in the United States.

Otherwise, IELTS would be a better choice for you if:

  • You like one-on-one conversations with people.
  • You feel that your computer skills are lacking.
  • You are prefer essay type questions rather than multiple choice type questions.
  • You like to have your reading and listening skills assessed in a non-academic context.
  • You want to be better in English but do not plan to study abroad.
  • You can write legibly. I know some people are better exam takers on paper.
  • Your ideas are easily expressed through writing.
  • You do not find it easy to concentrate for a long period of time.
  • You like tests that have a wide variety of questions.
  • You can easily listen to and understand many different accents.

Which is easier?

TOEFL consists entirely of multiple choice questions, which is generally the easiest type of test. However, it takes much longer to finish than IELTS and is more mentally exhausting.

IELTS is shorter than TOEFL but has a wider range of questions and variety of test types. Some people welcome this because it lessens the boredom when taking the test, but for some people who do not prefer variety this can be mentally exhausting too.

Take note that the degree of difficulty of either exam varies for each person.

Factors such as social skills, typing/writing skills, literacy, mental stamina, and interest in the topics should be considered.

Each test has both its pros and cons, so you just have to weigh them carefully and choose the one which you feel is best for you. 

toefl vs ielts
Which is easier?

TOEFL or IELTS, it really actually depends on your future plans and not just about which type of exam is more convenient for you.

Also, check the requirements of the institution you are planning to get into. For a University in North America, most institutions would most likely want to see your TOEFL scores. This is because the test assesses your academic prowess.

When applying for work in Australia, your employee is probably going to be more interested with your IELTS score.

The questions asked during IELTS are general and non-academic so it is perfect to assess simple, everyday communication skills.


IELTS and TOEFL are both English proficiency tests which evaluate your speaking, writing, listening, and reading skills.

However, the degree of difficulty may vary differently for these two depending on the test preference of the examinee. That is why it is very important to research before hand to know what to expect.

Now that you know the difference between IELTS and TOEFL, you should be able to choose the test that is suitable for you.

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Good luck with your test!


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