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IELTS vs TOEFL: Which English Proficiency Test is Right for You?

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Written by  Geetika Arora, MBA

Reviewed by  Priyanka Bhargava, MBA - Marketing and HR

Published on Sat, May 6, 2023 7:01 AM   Updated on Tue, January 2, 2024 5:15 PM   15 mins read

IELTS vs TOEFL: Which English Proficiency Test is Right for You?

Do you dream of studying abroad at an international standard college or university? You might have started searching for the best academic institute to pursue the desired course. 

However, if you move to an English-speaking country for study or professional purposes, you need to prove your English proficiency.

As you are not a native English speaker, most universities accept candidates who have passed the IELTS or TOEFL test. 

The score you have obtained matters most if you have applied for a course at a university. But, which test is the right option for you? Let us discuss the topic- IELTS vs TOEFL.

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An Overview of IELTS and TOEFL


IELTS, or International English Language Testing System, is a globally recognized test for evaluating your proficiency and knowledge of the English language. IELTS and TOEFL tests are important whether you need an overseas job or pursue a foreign education course.

If you are an employee or want to immigrate, you can undergo general training for the IELTS test. On the other hand, candidates who are thinking of studying abroad should choose IELTS Academic training.  

For the first time, the IELTS test was conducted in 1989. Cambridge Assessment English, IDP, and the British Council together administer the exam.

Test of English Language as a Foreign Language or TOEFL is another similar test for aspiring international students and workers. The test checks your ability to communicate in English in a classroom-based environment. TOEFL score is acceptable in 130+ countries. A US-based organization, ETS, conducts the test.

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The Difference in the Structure- IELTS vs TOEFL

IELTS vs TOEFL - Structure

If you do not know the IELTS and TOEFL exam formats, it is challenging to prepare. 

Exam Format for TOEFL

1. Reading Test

TOEFL candidates need to read three to four passages for the test. Most passages are from university-standard academic books of disciplines. Further, every passage includes 10 to 12 questions.

In terms of difficulty level, there is no difference in these TOEFL passages. Besides, each question is in an MCQ pattern. So, ensure that you are familiar with MCQ-type questions that provide a number of options. 

2. Listening Test

The listening test comprises 4 to 6 recordings in every set. Each audio has a length of 3 to 5 minutes. The recordings contain classroom discussions, lectures, and academic conversations.

Similar to the reading test, the listening section involves an MCQ pattern.  So, you should pick the correct option for the given categories. 

To pass this test, you should pay attention to the recording. Identify the speaker’s attitude, connection, reasoning, and inferences. Both listening and reading tests check your analytical skills and understanding abilities.

3. Speaking Test

The speaking test is intended to test your ability to speak in English. In this section, you have to speak out your answer to respond to the question. The speaking test involves 2 types of tasks. While accomplishing the task, you should convey your ideas and show your outlook. 

You need to put on your headphones to listen to questions. Besides, microphones are used for recording your answers.

The second one is the integrated task, where you should use your listening, speaking, and reading skills to give a proper response. 

There are differences in the speaking tests of TOEFL and IELTS.

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4. Writing test

Your written answers should cover 150 to 225 words. You need to write down your opinion on a topic. The length of essays must be around 300 to 350 words.

Exam Format for IELTS

1. Reading

IELTS passages are from newspapers, journals, books, and magazines. It comprises 3 passages with 10 to 12 questions each. This test is comparatively easier and includes MCQs, matching, diagram levelling, and short answers. 

2. Listening

IELTS checks your listening skills by providing recordings that involve monologues and conversations. There are 4 recordings, and each of them contains 10 questions. However, there are 2 ways to show your listening ability. You can either make a list or arrange the given options properly.

3. Speaking

It covers a 3-stage interview, and examiners will record your answers. After giving your general introduction, you need to choose a task card. You have to speak on the topic mentioned in the card.

In the final step, you have to discuss issues relevant to the topic. The examiner will check your ability to analyze your own opinion.

4. Writing

You will be provided with a graph, chart, or diagram. Your task is to describe it in words. Secondly, you should express your viewpoints about the topic. In the writing test, you have to focus on grammar, spelling, aptness, and fluency. The essay length for this test is around 250 words. 

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Other Criteria for Choosing Between IELTS and TOEFL

Criteria for Choosing Between IELTS and TOEFL

1. Your objectives

What is your intention behind taking the test? Do you need to travel as an international student? Do you like to get employed in a foreign country? Until you have identified your purpose, you cannot make a decision. It is already said that IELTS provides 2 options- General and Academic Training. 

To deal with the daily communication needs in a foreign country, you can opt for General Training.

Many applicants for the UK visa prefer the IELTS test. If the test is for a UK visa, the authority conducts it at the official UK Home Office-approved venue. You can consult your chosen academic institution beforehand to choose the right option.

2. Difficulty level

Both TOEFL and IELTS measure your English proficiency. However, if you try to identify the more difficult test, it is a subjective issue. Many candidates claim that the reading section of IELTS is easier when compared to that of TOEFL. IELTS candidates have found that most reading questions are from newspapers, magazines, journals, and books. 

On the contrary, reading passages for TOEFL are from various academic publications and textbooks. That is why students have found them challenging. They are not familiar with intricate sentence structures and technical terms.

However, everything depends on your prior knowledge and language competence. There is no particular answer to your question on the easier option between TOEFL and IELTS.

So, get ready to prepare yourself for the chosen test. Thorough preparation for the test will make everything easier. You can take a practice test, attend webinars, and use coaching apps. Although the accent is most important, you should be able to understand others’ thoughts during communication. 

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3. Length

The length or duration of IELTS and TOEFL tests is another significant factor for candidates. You should have a clear understanding of the timings in advance. It helps you make a plan and prepare according. The overall length of the IELTS test is 2 hours and 45 minutes. But, the TOEFL test will continue for 4 hours. 

Listening test

IELTS- 30 minutes

TOEFL- 60-90 minutes

Writing test

IELTS- 1 hour

TOEFL- 50 minutes

Reading test

IELTS- 1 hour

TOEFL- 60-80 minutes

Speaking test

IELTS- 11-15 minutes

TOEFL- 20 minutes

You will have no break during the IELTS test. But, TOEFL candidates will have a 10-minute interval between speaking and listening tests.

4. Speaking skill

IELTS aspirants have to use a microphone when they answer questions for the speaking section. The oral interview is a one-to-one process and involves an IELTS examiner. The day for conducting the written test and the speaking test is the same. 

There is also an option for choosing an in-person session or a video calling session.

The real-time face-to-face conversation for the speaking test is undoubtedly interactive.

In case of TOEFL also, you have to use a microphone to respond to questions. Your voice will be recorded during the test. However, the speaking tests for IELTS and TOEFL are not much different.

5. Delivery process

The delivery method is another relevant factor for differentiating between IELTS and TOEFL. However, you will not find significant differences in this respect. Most candidates prefer the online versions of the IELTS and TOEFL tests. But, in case of IELTS, a paper-based option is available for applicants.

If you have chosen the paper-based IELTS test, you need to wait at least 13 days for the test. However, computer-based test delivers faster result. TOEFL candidates should wait for 4 to 8 days.

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Comparison Based on the Scoring Process


The grading system is the biggest factor making a difference between IELTS and TOEFL. The TOEFL score is between 0 and 120. Again, the IELTS band scale varies from 0 to 9. So, a 118-120 TOEFL score equals the IELTS band scale of 9. Based on the test type, you can check your grade and measure your performance. 

The best fact is that there are no negative marks and pass marks for candidates for both tests. Still, you should try to boost your grades to increase your opportunity to get admitted into a university. 

TOEFL reading scores

The total score allotted to the reading test is 0-45. Every question carries 1 to 3 marks. 

IELTS reading scores

The total score is 40. With every correct answer, you will receive 1 point.

TOEFL listening scores

In the listening test, your score will range from 0 to 34

IELTS listening scores

The total score is 40, and each right attempt helps you secure 1 mark. 

TOEFL speaking scores

Scoring for the speaking test is complicated, as it is subjective. The score points range from 0 to 24. For every task, the mark allotted is 0 to 4. 

IELTS speaking scores

Examiners will check your grammar, accuracy, coherence, pronunciation, fluency, and lexical resource during the test. 

TOEFL writing scores

As TOEFL involves 2 writing tasks, each of them carries 0-5 score points. The total score is from 0 to 10.

IELTS writing scores

In case of IELTS, your writing performance is evaluated based on accuracy, grammatical correctness, coherence, and other details.

It is to be noted that the band score helps in determining your skill level. So, we have listed the band scores that denote various skill levels-

0- Test not attempted

1- Non-user

2- Intermittent user

3- Extremely limited user

4- Limited user

5- Modest user

6- Competent user

7- Good user

8- Very good user

9- Expert

Universities that Accept IELTS and TOEFL Passed Students

Universities that Accept IELTS and TOEFL Passed Students

Several students and workers moving abroad choose IELTS and TOEFL due to the wide acceptance of the scores. More than 9000 academic institutes across the UK, the US, New Zealand, Canada, and other countries accept IELTS.

The TOEFL certificate is valid to over 11000 universities across different countries like France, Germany, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand.

However, most US academic institutes prefer TOEFL, whereas IELTS is acceptable in several other countries.  

Do IELTS and TOEFL Test Results have Lifetime Validity?

The score you have obtained will be valid for two years. If you need to prove your English proficiency after this period, you should re-appear for the exam.

Where Can You Take Your TOEFL and IELTS Tests?


If you have chosen the paper-based IELTS test, it will be conducted at a test center. In the case of a computer-based IELTS test, you can choose from different exam dates. The most convenient option for you is to take the IELTS test online. 

But, no matter what mode you have chosen, there will be no difference in the test timing, content, and structure. In the speaking test, you have to interact with the IELTS examiner through video calling (for the online version). If you have chosen a paper-based test, you need face-to-face interaction.

For TOEFL computer-based tests, there are official test centers for candidates. However, a paper edition and a home edition are available for those who cannot access the Internet. To take the speaking test, you can use your personal computer from home.

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Final Verdict- IELTS Vs TOEFL


You have now read the detailed differences between IELTS and TOEFL. It will be easier to make a better choice. The most important thing is to select the institution where you will pursue the course. If you have no time constraint, you can focus on other aspects for making your decision.

TOEFL is computer-based but time-consuming. On the other hand, the IELTS test involves a faster process. However, it is a rigorous test with various assignments and questions. You need to communicate directly with an examiner.

If you are concerned about the cost, the TOEFL is more affordable. Above all, your personal opinion matters a lot in choosing the right test.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between the IELTS and TOEFL exams?

The IELTS and TOEFL exams are both English proficiency tests, but they differ in terms of format, content, and purpose. The IELTS exam is accepted by more universities and institutions globally, while the TOEFL is more commonly used in the United States.

How do I decide which exam to take?

The decision of which exam to take depends on the requirements of the institution or organization you are applying to. It is recommended that you check with the institution or organization to determine which exam they accept.

Can I take both the IELTS and TOEFL exams?

Yes, you can take both the IELTS and TOEFL exams. However, it is recommended that you check with the institution or organization you are applying to determine which exam they prefer.

TOEFL vs IELTS: which is more accepted?

Both TOEFL and IELTS are widely accepted English language proficiency tests for academic purposes, and their acceptance depends on the institution or program requirements. Generally, TOEFL is more commonly accepted in North American institutions, especially in the United States, while IELTS is often preferred in the United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada. However, this can vary, and many institutions worldwide accept both. It’s crucial for applicants to check the specific language proficiency requirements of the intended institution or program, ensuring they choose the test that aligns with their academic goals and geographic preferences.

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About the Author & Expert


Geetika Arora

Author • MBA • 13+ Years

Geetika Arora is the Sales Manager at AdmitKard. Born and brought up in Delhi to support her family, Geetika started working immediately after schooling at Medsource Healthcare Group of Fortis Healthcare in the Operation department and simultaneously completed her Graduation, i.e., B.Com from Delhi University. She is an excellent communicator with the ability to effectively manage internal and external teams, leads the Sales front of the organization, and is trusted by the industry’s best. She has also completed her MBA in Business & Finance. Geetika is a dynamic, accomplished, and result-driven professional with 13+ years of experience in the education industry with exposure to managing Sales and Operations, Business Development, Administration, Customer Relation Management, and MIS. With overall 5 years of experience in the study abroad industry, she is equipped with the ins and outs. Geetika’s relationship-building and Interpersonal skills set her class apart and makes her a star performer. She is a strong, creative, and inventive individual with a flexible and detail-oriented attitude. At AdmitKard, she is continuously working with students and counselors of various backgrounds to get them admitted into their dream programs in top-tier universities across the globe.


Priyanka Bhargava

Expert • MBA - Marketing and HR • 13+ Years

Priyanka possesses more than 13 years of extensive experience. Having pursued a Master's in International Business from a reputed university abroad, she has first-hand insight into the entire gamut of the study abroad admissions process. She has collaborated extensively with all categories of study abroad aspirants be it for Undergrad, Master’s (technical and non-technical), MBA, MPH and PhD. She boasts of an impeccable university placement record, including top-notch global universities such as Stanford, UPenn, UCLA, UC Berkeley, UCSD, Cambridge, and several others. She has an overall perspective of the admissions process of countries such as the USA, Canada, UK, Ireland, Singapore, Hong Kong, European Union.

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