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IELTS vs TOEFL: Learn the Complete Differences

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Kashyap Matani
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If you are a study-abroad aspirant, TOEFL and IELTS probably ring a bell. Don't they? But what exactly are they, and why are they important?

TOEFL and IELTS play a pivotal role in evaluating English proficiency for individuals who aspire to study in an English-speaking country, such as the USA, Canada, and others. Their significance, however, extends beyond academia and is also helpful for professionals seeking career advancements abroad.

Good scores in these standardised tests facilitate access to excellent educational institutions and career opportunities. However, navigating the pros and cons is crucial, given their divergent structures and evaluation criteria. If you are confused about which of these two would be suitable for you, connect with a Yocket counselor today, and they’ll help you understand them better.

With over 9 years of experience and a community of 1 million students, Yocket is India’s most loved study-abroad platform. Our experts have assisted thousands of students to achieve admission to their dream universities across 22+ countries, and the first step quite often is taking an English proficiency test. Connect with Yocket to know where to find the best resources to ace the tests.

Until then, make sure to read this comprehensive guide till the end, where we discuss the relevance and the differences between TOEFL and IELTS. Whether you're a prospective student or a professional seeking international career prospects, this blog will certainly help you!

Table of Content

An Overview of the IELTS & TOEFL Exams

Now that you are here, let us begin with a brief overview of the two exams.

What is IELTS?

The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is an English language proficiency test. The exam evaluates an individual’s English language skills across four aspects: reading, listening, writing, and speaking.

The exam was established in 1989 and is jointly administered by the British Council, IDP Education, and Cambridge Assessment English. The exam is conducted in two modes: paper-based and computer-delivered.

Suggested: Complete Guide to IELTS

What is TOEFL?

The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) is a standardized test crafted to evaluate a student's command of the English language, specifically as a second language. Widely recognized across 190 countries, TOEFL is a prerequisite for admission to numerous foreign universities where English serves as the primary medium of instruction.

The exam, administered by the Education Testing Service (ETS), a recognised US-based commercial non-profit organisation, provides flexibility with three modalities of assessment, as mentioned below:

  • at a Test Center
  • at home with the Home Edition test
  • on Paper with the TOEFL iBT paper edition test

Suggested: TOEFL Scores and Results

Suggested: Complete Guide to IELTS

What is the difference Between IELTS & TOEFL: 9 Ways in Which the Exams Differ

The following are nine differences between TOEFL and IELTS, which will further help you decide which one is best for you. 

1. Scope

While both IELTS and TOEFL serve as suitable tests to evaluate students' language proficiency and suitability for specific countries and programs, IELTS has a broader application. IELTS extends its reach beyond academic purposes, functioning as an English proficiency test for study-abroad applicants, occupational endeavors, and immigration to English-native countries.

In contrast, TOEFL is primarily geared towards academic pursuits. While it is recognized as a language skills test for immigration in Australia and New Zealand, its predominant use remains among students providing evidence of English proficiency for academic purposes.

2. Types

The IELTS offers two primary variations: academic and general training. The IELTS Academic test is tailored for students preparing for education, including undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral levels. In contrast, TOEFL is favored for academic pursuits. Widely accepted by universities across the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, and various other countries, TOEFL stands as a widely recognized option for academic English proficiency.

3. Locations Available

While both exams are widely accessible, they vary in terms of availability. The IELTS exam is offered in over 140 countries, providing testing facilities at approximately 1,600 locations worldwide.

On the other hand, TOEFL allows students to take the exam in almost any corner of the globe. With testing centers spanning more than 170 countries and over 6,000 locations, TOEFL provides extensive accessibility. Moreover, for those opting for the TOEFL iBT Home Edition, the test can be scheduled 24 hours a day on four weekdays, further enhancing flexibility.

4. Popularity

Both exams enjoy popularity, attracting a substantial number of test-takers annually. In 2018, IELTS witnessed an impressive turnout, with over 3.5 million candidates estimated to have taken the exam. Meanwhile, TOEFL has over 2.3 million aspirants annually. Its predominant popularity in the USA and Canada solidifies its position as the preferred choice for many seeking English proficiency assessment in academic contexts in these regions.

5. Interaction With Examiner 

Another significant difference between IELTS and TOEFL is in the manner in which they are conducted, particularly in the speaking section. In the IELTS exams, the speaking section involves direct communication between the student and the examiner. This interactive format aims to assess the candidate's oral communication skills in real-time.

In contrast, the TOEFL adopts a fully computer-based approach. Here, students do not engage in direct conversation with examiners. Instead, they record their responses, which are then submitted for evaluation. This method ensures an impartial assessment of the speaking section, as examiners evaluate recorded responses without personal interaction with the test-taker.

6. Scoring  

A fundamental distinction between IELTS and TOEFL lies in their scoring systems. IELTS employs a band system, ranging from 1 (the lowest) to 9 (the highest). The overall IELTS score, as well as scores for individual sections, are assessed on this scale of 0 to 9. 

Conversely, TOEFL is scored out of a total of 120 points. Each section—reading, listening, speaking, and writing—is graded on a scale of 0 to 30, contributing to the overall TOEFL score. This numeric scoring system provides a clear and standardized evaluation of a test-taker's English proficiency across different skill sets.

7. Exam Duration

The duration of the IELTS exam is 2 hours and 45 minutes. On the other hand, the TOEFL iBT (Internet-based Test) takes 2 hours to complete. In the case of the paper edition of the TOEFL test, the duration extends to 3 hours. These variations in test durations provide candidates with insights into the time commitment required for each examination format.

8. Frequency 

The TOEFL iBT exam offers flexibility with a schedule that spans over 60 sessions per year at authorized test centers globally. In numerous cities, the test is available five days a week. The TOEFL iBT Home Edition provides even more convenience, allowing testing four days a week with the added advantage of scheduling at any time throughout the day.

In comparison, the IELTS exam allows for a weekly testing frequency. With test dates available on 48 days per year, candidates have ample opportunities to schedule their IELTS examination, providing a balance between regular availability and flexibility.

9. Result Declaration

Students can typically access their TOEFL scores within a relatively quick turnaround of 4-6 days from the test date. On the other hand, IELTS test results are released promptly, with online results available within a week, while offline results, received through traditional mail, may take up to 13 days after completing the exam. These timelines offer test-takers timely feedback on their performance.

Suggested: IELTS Exam Preparation

The choice between IELTS and TOEFL depends on factors including scope, type, location, popularity, exam duration, result turnaround, testing frequency, and more. The decision may be influenced by personal preferences, such as the comfort level with direct interaction with examiners or the specific requirements of one's academic or professional goals. 

TOEFL is usually preferred by aspirants who seek a fully computer-based examination without direct examiner interaction. On the other hand, IELTS tends to be favored by individuals pursuing educational, occupational, or immigration goals in English-speaking countries.

For prospective students, it is advisable to consult with the universities to ascertain the specific English proficiency requirements, ensuring that their chosen exam aligns with their academic aspirations. This proactive approach helps in making an informed decision tailored to individual needs and objectives. For more information on how to make the decision, connect with Yocket’s experts.

While both TOEFL and IELTS share the common objective of assessing English language proficiency, their approaches to evaluation diverge in several key aspects. Let's discuss them further.

IELTS vs TOEFL: Exam Pattern & Syllabus

Remember when we discussed that the two exams have a divergent structure and syllabus? Here is a further breakdown of the various sections:

Reading Section 

  • TOEFL

The TOEFL reading section assesses a student's ability to read and comprehend university-level educational texts. Test-takers are tasked with reading 3–4 passages, and for each passage, they must respond to a set of approximately 10 questions.

  • IELTS

Within the IELTS reading section, students typically encounter three passages. These passages serve as the basis for a variety of questions that assess the test-taker's capacity to comprehend and discern the author's principal concepts, as well as locate specific information. The primary objective of this section is to evaluate the student's proficiency in understanding and identifying key ideas within the provided textual content.

Exam Type

TOEFL

IELTS

Total Questions

20

40

Time Allocation

35 minutes

60 minutes

Listening Section 

  • TOEFL

The TOEFL listening section is designed to evaluate a student's ability to comprehend classroom lectures and conversations effectively. During this segment, students are presented with 3–4 lectures or 2-3 conversations, followed by a series of questions. Each lecture or conversation is accompanied by approximately six questions, while conversations entail around five questions each. The completion of this section typically takes between 30 and 40 minutes.

  • IELTS

The IELTS listening section assesses a student's proficiency in comprehending conversations and discerning crucial and specific information. This segment comprises four recorded monologues or conversations, each divided into four distinct sections. The initial two focus on social needs, while the latter two pertain to the domain of education. Importantly, the audio is played only once, and questions are derived from these recordings, evaluating the test-taker's ability to listen attentively and extract essential details.

Exam Type

TOEFL

IELTS

Total Questions

28

4 parts

Time Allocation

36 minutes

30 minutes

Writing Section 

  • TOEFL

The TOEFL writing section is structured to evaluate students' capacity to articulate and express their ideas coherently and thoughtfully. This segment consists of two tasks. The integrated task entails reading (3 minutes), listening (2 minutes), and subsequent writing (15 minutes), while the independent essay writing task stands alone. Overall, students are expected to complete this section in less than 30 minutes, showcasing their ability to convey ideas effectively within a constrained time frame.

  • IELTS

The IELTS writing section assesses a student's proficiency in crafting a well-organized, clear, and logical essay on a given topic. Test-takers are required to compose two essays—a concise one and a more extensive one—demonstrating their ability to convey ideas effectively within the constraints of the test format.

Exam Type

TOEFL

IELTS

Total Tasks

2

2

Time Allocation

29 minutes

60 minutes

Speaking Section 

  • TOEFL

The TOEFL speaking section evaluates a student's proficiency in spoken English. Comprising four tasks, each one is evaluated by an examiner. In the remaining three integrated speaking tasks, students are required to read, listen, or both and then articulate their thoughts on the given topic. The completion of this section typically takes around 15 minutes.

  • IELTS

The primary objective of the IELTS speaking section is to evaluate a candidate's proficiency in communicating ideas and opinions in the English language. This assessment involves a face-to-face interview with a designated examiner, providing a direct evaluation of the candidate's spoken English skills.

Exam Type

TOEFL

IELTS

Total Tasks

4

3 parts

Time Allocation

16 minutes

11 to 14 minutes

Suggested: Types of IELTS Exams

IELTS vs TOEFL: Questions & Tasks

Let us now compare the nature of questions and tasks in each section of IELTS and TOEFL:

Section

TOEFL

IELTS

Reading

20 questions; you are required to read passages and respond to questions.

40 questions from 4 long passages

Listening

With 28 questions, you have to answer questions about brief lectures or classroom discussions.

4 recorded texts are provided, and you have to answer a series of questions that assess your ability to comprehend the main ideas, detailed information, opinions, and attitudes expressed by the speakers.

Writing

2 tasks where you have to read a passage, listen to a recording, and type your response.

You will also have to state and support an opinion in an online classroom discussion.

2 tasks, where the test-takers are presented with graphs, diagrams, etc. and need to describe or summarise the data.

Speaking

4 tasks, and you will be required to talk about a familiar topic and discuss material you have read and heard.

1 test, which is divided into 3 parts, and questions on general topics are asked.

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Suggested: How to Prepare for IELTS at Home?

TOEFL vs IELTS: Mode of Exam

The TOEFL exam is conducted in two modes:

  • PBT (paper-based test): It is conducted in offline mode in locations where the internet is not available. It encompasses four sections, including reading, writing, and listening, with the speaking section being taken at home.

  • Internet-based Test: The exam replaced the computer-based test in 2006 and comprises four sections: listening, speaking, and writing. It is a favored format of the TOEFL exam that can be undertaken either at a test center or from the comfort of one's home.

Note: Due to the COVID pandemic, ETS has introduced a Home Edition for TOEFL test-takers. This version allows individuals to take the TOEFL test on their personal computers from the convenience of their homes, with online monitoring by a human proctor.

The IELTS exam is conducted in two modes:

  • Computer-Delivered IELTS Exam: In 2017, the computer-based version of the IELTS exam was introduced. In contrast, the paper-based IELTS test requires test-takers to complete the examination by writing their responses on an answer sheet.

  • Paper-based IELTS Exam: In the computer-delivered IELTS, candidates are required to input their answers by typing them into designated boxes on the screen.

Suggested: Best IELTS Books

IELTS Vs TOEFL: Result and Acceptance

Both TOEFL and IELTS scores are widely accepted as proof of English proficiency across the globe. The IELTS exam scores are accepted by over 9,000 institutions in more than 140 countries, including the US, UK, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand.

The TOEFL scores are accepted by more than 11,000 universities in 160 countries, including 100% acceptance in the US, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, France, and Germany. Between the two exams, TOEFL is preferred in the US, while IELTS is preferred in other countries.

IELTS vs TOEFL: Exam Fees

  • The IELTS exam fees as of 2024 is INR 16,250.
  • The TOEFL exam fees as of 2024 is INR 16,900.

Which is Better: TOEFL or IELTS?

While comparing the two exams (TOEFL vs. IELTS), the question that comes to mind is which exam is easier. The choice between the two exams and their level of ease is quite subjective. It is dependent on several factors, such as:

  • Score Accepted by your university or school

Absolutely, it is crucial for test-takers to verify the specific requirements of the universities or schools to which they are applying. While both TOEFL and IELTS scores are widely accepted for admissions to undergraduate and graduate programs globally, individual institutions may have preferences or requirements. 

Always consult the admission guidelines of the target university or school to ensure that the chosen English language proficiency test aligns with their criteria. This proactive approach helps applicants avoid any potential issues and ensures a smoother application process.

  • Preferred Choice of Question Type

While both IELTS and TOEFL assess the same language skills—reading, listening, speaking, and writing—their methodologies differ significantly. It's essential for prospective test-takers to familiarize themselves with the exam patterns and the types of questions posed in each test before making a decision. For instance, if someone is at ease with answering multiple-choice questions (MCQs), they might find TOEFL more suitable. Choosing the exam that aligns with one's strengths and preferences can contribute to a more confident and successful testing experience.

  • Your Comfort Level with the Exam Pattern

In IELTS, the speaking test involves a face-to-face interaction with an examiner who evaluates and scores your speaking abilities. It's noteworthy that the IELTS speaking test may not align with the same day as the other sections of the exam.

Conversely, in TOEFL, the speaking session occurs on the same day as the rest of the exam. Test-takers respond to prompts using a microphone, and their responses are recorded and later evaluated by reviewers and ETS's AI scoring system, ensuring a fair evaluation.

The choice between these exams should consider individual comfort levels with face-to-face interaction and the convenience of the test schedule. Selecting the exam type and pattern that align with personal preferences can contribute to a more positive testing experience.

  • Cost of the Exam 

Financial considerations can play a pivotal role in the selection between IELTS and TOEFL. The examination costs can fluctuate based on the country of test administration. In the case of India, the TOEFL test costs USD 203 (INR 16,900), whereas for IELTS, it costs USD 195 (INR 16,250).

  • Availability 

The decision on which exam to choose is also influenced by the convenience of test center availability in your vicinity. Opt for the exam with an easily accessible test center, ensuring that dates align with your schedule and are readily available.

TOEFL vs IELTS: Score Conversion & Comparison

Scoring in both the TOEFL and IELTS exams follows different scales. IELTS is assessed on a band scale ranging from 0 to 9, whereas TOEFL scores fall within a range of 0 to 120. Utilizing a TOEFL to IELTS conversion table provided by ETS can offer a rough estimation of your performance on one exam based on your practice test results for the other.

IELTS Score

TOEFL Score

0-4

0-31

4.5

32-34

5

35-45

5.5

45-59

6

60-78

6.5

79-93

7

94-101

7.5

102-109

8

110-114

8.5

115-117

9

118-120

From the Desk of Yocket

As an international student, you will have to take an English proficiency test to be considered for either an academic program or career opportunities abroad. While we have discussed both IELTS and TOEFL in detail, the final decision depends on your preferences and goals. Looking through an academic lens, achieving a good score in these exams will not only help you get closer to your dream university but also play a vital role in your visa application. So if you’re ambitious enough to take the big step, explore Yocket Premium today.  

With Yocket Premium, you will not only get consultations from experts in the industry on choosing between TOEFL and IELTS but also profile evaluation, guidance on university shortlisting, application documents such as the resume, SOP, visa counseling, and many others. So, why wait? Check out Yocket Premium right away.

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Frequently Asked Questions

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