IELTS vs TOEFL: Learn the Complete Differences Between IELTS & TOEFL

Author_Image
Yocket Editorial Team

Updated on Oct 11, 2021

Exams Know-how | 17 min read
~ 20502 views

For a non-native English speaker seeking admission in universities abroad, it is mandatory to provide scores of a English language proficiency test. IELTS and TOEFL are the two most common and widely accepted tests. While the purpose of both these exams is the same, they differ on several accounts. So, if you are confused between which one to take, read our guide to understand the difference and choose the right one for you.

An Overview of the IELTS & TOEFL Exams

Before we delve into the head on collision between the two exams, let us first take a quick overview of the two.

What is IELTS?

The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is a test which measures an applicant’s English language proficiency.  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.  

What is TOEFL?

The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) is a standardized test accepted worldwide and most foreign universities where the language of instruction is English. The exam is structured and designed in a way to effectively assess a student’s command over English language.

The exam  is conducted by Education Testing Service (ETS), a US-based private non-profit organisation. The exam has two modes:  Internet-Based Test (iBT) and Paper-Delivered Test

What is the difference between IELTS and TOEFL: 9 Ways in Which the Exams Differ

Now let us understand the main difference between IELTS and TOEFL exams:

1.Scope 

While both the tests are meant to assess an individual’s English language ability, there is a difference in the scope of the two exams.

IELTS has a wider scope when compared to TOEFL. It is used as an English proficiency test for individuals wishing to study abroad, occupational purposes and immigration to English speaking countries. 

TOEFL is used for academic purposes alone. It is taken by students who wish to enroll in English-speaking universities. 

2. Types

The IELTS exam has two main variations - Academic and General Training. While the IELTS Academic test is to be taken by students planning for higher studies, such as Undergraduate, Masters, Doctoral levels; IELTS General Training exam is for individuals planning to take up a vocational training program or to immigrate professionally. 

On the other hand, as discussed already, TOEFL is only used for academic purposes, therefore it has no major variations.

3. Locations Available

The exams are widely available but differ in terms of availability. 

The IELTS exam can be taken by students in over 140 countries at around 1,600 locations.

TOEFL is very convenient to take. Students can take the exam almost anywhere in the world. Testing centers are available in more than 165 countries at over 4,500 locations.

4. Popularity

Both the exams are quite popular when it comes to the number of students taking the exam each year. 

In 2018, IELTS was estimated to be taken by over 3.5 million candidates. The number is higher here because IELTS is not taken by students alone. 

TOEFL is estimated to be taken by over 2.3 million aspirants every year. 

5. Interaction With Examiner 

Another difference lies in the way the exam is conducted.

For IELTS exams, students are required to directly communicate with the examiner for the IELTS speaking section test.

TOEFL is a completely computer-based exam. Therefore, students do not interact personally with the examiners. For the TOEFL speaking section, students are required to record and send over their speech for checking.  

6. Scoring  

One of the main differences between IELTS and TOEFL is the way they are scored.

IELTS is graded on a band system ranging from 1 (the lowest) to 9 (the highest). IELTS exam scoring, overall and section-wise, is done on a scale of 0-9. 

Whereas, TOEFL is scored out of 120 points. Each section is graded on a scale of 0-30. 

7. Exam Duration

The IELTS exam takes 2 hours and 45 minutes to complete.

The exam duration for Internet Based TOEFL exam is 3 hours long and the paper delivered exam is 2 and a half hours long. 

8. Frequency 

The TOEFL iBT exam is scheduled for over 60 times a year at the authorized test centers around the world. The new TOEFL iBT home edition exam can be taken 4 days a week.

The IELTS exam can be taken up to once a week. It is scheduled for test dates 48 days per year.

9. Result Declaration

The TOEFL score is made available to the students anywhere between 6-10 days from the test date. 

The  IELTS test results are released within a week (online) or 13 days (offline) after taking the exam.

Comparing the Nature of TOEFL & IELTS Exam 

Although the basic method of evaluating skills in English language is the same for both TOEFL and IELTS, they differ in the approach of assessment. Let’s take a closer look at this below:

IELTS Vs TOEFL: Exam Pattern & Syllabus

In both the exams a student has to pass four sections- Reading, Listening, Speaking, and Writing.  However, there are variations in which the exam is conducted. 

Reading Section 

TOEFL

The TOEFL reading section tests a student’s reading and comprehension abilities of university-level educational text. You will be required to read 3-4 passages. Based on each of these passages, you will have to answer a set of about 10 questions per passage.

IELTS

In IELTS reading section a student is generally given three passages. Based on the passages, students are asked to answer different types of questions. The main intent of the section is to assess the student’s ability to understand & identify the author's main ideas, and find specific information.

 

TOEFL 

IELTS

Total Questions

40

40

Time 

54-72 minutes

60 minutes 

Listening Section 

TOEFL

TOEFL listening section aims to assess how well a student will be able to listen to classroom lectures and conversations.  Students will be asked to answer questions based on 3-4 lectures and 2-3 conversations.  A lecture is followed by 6 questions each and a conversation is followed by around 5 questions each. 

IELTS

IELTS listening section is designed to evaluate a student’s ability to understand a conversation, ability to listen for important and specific facts. Students will be provided 4 recorded monologues or conversations divided into four sections. The first two conversations/ monologues deal with social needs, while the last two are related to the area of education. The audios can only be heard once and questions are based on these. 

 

TOEFL 

IELTS

Total Questions 

40

40

Time 

41–57 minutes

30 minutes

Writing Section 

TOEFL

TOEFL writing section is designed to test student’s ability to present and write their ideas in a clear and well-planned manner. Students will be given two tasks - one integrated task involving reading (3 mins), listening (2 minutes) and then writing (15 mins); and an independent essay writing task. 

IELTS

IELTS writing section tests the skills of writing a well-organised, clear, and rational essay on the topic provided.  Students will have to write two essays-one short and one long. 

 

TOEFL 

IELTS

Total Questions 

2

2

Time 

50 minutes

60 minutes 

Speaking Section 

TOEFL

TOEFL speaking section is designed to test student’s efficiency in spoken English. The student is given 4 tasks the results of which are scored by an examiner. In one task a student is required to speak about a familiar topic. In the other 3 integrated Speaking Tasks, students are required to read or listen or both and then speak on the given topic.  

IELTS

The main aim of IELTS speaking section is to assess the ability of the candidate to communicate their ideas & opinions in English language. The student has to undergo a face to face interview with the designated examiner. 

 

TOEFL 

IELTS

Total Parts 

4

3

Time 

17 minutes

10-15 minutes

IELTS Vs TOEFL: Questions & Tasks

Both the exams differ significantly in the nature of tasks and questions being asked. 

Let’s compare the nature of questions and tasks in each section one by one: 

 

IELTS 

TOEFL 

Reading 

40 Multiple- choice questions based on 

3-4 passages

Questions like Short answer, Matching headings, Multiple choice, Sentence completion, Summary completion, Flow-chart completion, Diagram labelling, identifying writer’s views/claims, etc. based on 3 long passages

Listening 

40+ Multiple- choice questions based on 

2–3 conversations & 3–4 lectures

Questions like Multiple choice, Sentence completion, Summary completion, Flow-chart completion, Diagram labelling, Matching information, etc. based on recorded monologues or conversations

Writing 

1 integrated task based on reading a short passage, listening to a short lecture and then writing 

 

1 Independent Essay Writing task (30 minutes)

1 writing task of writing around 150 words based on the given topic

 

1 Writing task of a short essay of 250 words on a given topic

Speaking 

1 Independent Speaking task  

 

3 Integrated tasks – Read or/ and listen and then Speak 

A 3-part face-to-face interview

 

Part 1: Introduction of the candidate 

Part 2: Speaking on the given topic

Part 3: Discussion

TOEFL Vs IELTS: Mode of Exam

TOEFL: 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 has 3 sections - reading, writing and listening. 

  • iBT - Internet-based Test: The exam replaced the computer based test in 2006. It consists of four sections-reading, listening, speaking and writing. It is one of the preferred types of TOEFL exam.

Due to the COVID pandemic, ETS has also launched a Home Edition for test takers. The TOEFL Home Edition test can be taken on your own computer from home. It is monitored by a human proctor online

IELTS: The IELTS exam is conducted in two modes: 

  • Computer -Delivered IELTS Exam: In 2017, the Computer Based exam was introduced. At the paper-based IELTS test, you need to write the exam on an answer sheet. 

  • Paper-based IELTS Exam: In the computer-delivered IELTS, candidates need to type their answers in the given boxes. 

IELTS Vs TOEFL: Result and Acceptance

Both TOEFL and IELTS scores are widely accepted as proof of English proficiency across the globe. 

IELTS exam scores are accepted by over 9000 institutions in more than 140 countries including US, UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

TOEFL scores are accepted by more than 11,000 universities in 150 countries including US, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, France, and Germany.

Between the two exams, TOEFL is more preferred in the US, while IELTS is preferred in other countries.

Which is Better: TOEFL or IELTS?

While comparing the two exams, pertinent questions that come up are which is easier TOEFL or IELTS and which one should you take? 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/ School 

Although both the scores are accepted worldwide for admissions to undergraduate and graduate programs, you need to be sure.  Always check whether the university/ school has any preferences when it comes to accepting English language proficiency tests.  

Preferred Choice of Question Type

Both the IELTS and TOEFL test the same skills - reading, listening, speaking and writing. However, the way they do it is quite different.  Get acquainted with the exam pattern and kind of questions asked for both the exams before taking the final call. For example, if you are more comfortable with answering MCQs, you might want to choose the TOEFL exam over IELTS. 

Your Comfort Level with the Exam Pattern

A major difference between the two exams is with the pattern of the Speaking section. The IELTS speaking test is conducted face-to-face with an examiner and she/he would determine your speaking score.  Also, the IELTS speaking test may not be on the same day as the rest of the exam.

In the case of TOEFL you have to answer the given questions using a microphone. These are then recorded and later sent to the reviewers.

So, choose the exam type and pattern you will be most comfortable with.  

Cost of the Exam 

Cost can also be a deciding factor in choosing between IELTS and TOEFL. The cost of both the exams generally varies between 200 USD to 250 USD. However, these costs vary depending on the country from where you take the exam. So, if cost is one of your major concerns, check the price of the exams in your country before deciding.

Availability 

Your choice of exam also depends on the availability of the test centre near you. You can choose the exam for which the exam centre is easily accessible and dates are also easily available.   

TOEFL score vs IELTS score: Conversion & Comparison

The scoring for both TOEFL and IELTS exams vary. While IELTS is scored on a band scale of 0-9, TOEFL score range is 0-120.  So, if you have been taking a practice test for one exam, you can roughly estimate how well you would perform on the other with the help of this TOEFL to IELTS conversion table provided by ETS.

TOEFL Score 

IELTS Band

0-4

0-31

4.5

32-34

5

5.5

35-45

46-59

6

60-78

6.5

79-93

7

94-101

7.5

102-109

8

110-114

8.5

115-117

9

118-120

In conclusion, if we compare IELTS and TOEFL we will find that although the aim of both the exams is the same, both vary on a lot of aspects. If you are planning to take one of these exams, make sure you understand these differences before taking your final pick.