IELTS VS TOEFL: Which One Should I Take?

Difference between IELTS and TOEFL

Are you planning to study abroad for your undergraduate or postgraduate studies or applying for scholarships in an English speaking country or an English Taught University?

 If so, you will most probably be asked to prove your proficiency in English through an IELTS or a TOEFL score. But which one should you take? The IELTS or TOEFL?

 The difference between IELTS and TOEFL is a common inquiry as they are the most common English standardized exams taken worldwide.

In general, both tests are designed to measure the proficiency of non-native English speakers in their reading, listening and writing, and speaking skills for educational and occupational purposes. Yet, there are some differences between IELTS AND TOEFL regarding structure, format, duration that make people prefer one over the other. 

In this guide, we will breakdown the differences between IELTS and TOEFL for you to help you chose the test that will be most reflective and suitable for you and your English abilities.

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Differences between IELTS and TOEFL

Both IELTS and TOEFL are widely accepted nowadays by many institutions. However, some universities might accept only one or prefer one over the other. Therefore, it is better to check the university’s requirements as a start.

Below we will discuss the IELTS and  TOEFL in detail separately.

All you need to know about IELTS

IELTS is an abbreviation for International English Language Testing System. It is owned by both the  British Council and IDP: IELTS Australia and Cambridge Assessment English.  IELTS are accepted in many institutions around the world, especially the UK, Australia, and New Zealand. The IELTS exam scores are valid for two years.

There are two types of IELTS exams available; IELTS Academic and IELTS General Training..

IELTS Academic assess whether your level of English language is suitable for academic purposes.

IELTS General Training: assess whether your level of English is suitable for everyday practical tasks in the workplace and social contexts.

In this guide, we will only focus on the IELTS Academic as it is the most type taken.

What is IELTS
The official logo of IELTS


There are four sections in the IELTS Academic Test: reading, writing, listening, and speaking. In each section, you will receive a score from 0-9. The total score will be the average of all sections. The IELTS test is 2 hours and 45 minutes long.

You can find the time as well as the number of questions allocated for each section.

Listening 40 Questions 30 minutes
Reading 40 Questions 60 minutes
Writing 2 tasks 60 minutes
Speaking 3 Parts 11-14 minutes

You can find the IELTS test location and dates from the IELTS website

The cost of IELTS ranges between 165$-300$ depending on the country. In most countries, however, the cost is less than 200$.

Below we will discuss the content of each section of the IELTS Exam in depth.

IELTS Academic Listening Section:

In the listening section, there are 4 parts with10 questions each. The type of recordings you will hear are conversations between people in everyday social contexts and monologues in a professional and educational context such as lectures.IELTS Academic Listening Section

The question types include sentence completion, true and false,  filling in the blanks, matching and labeling, sentence.

The recordings are played only once and the accents are mostly British.


IELTS Academic Reading Section:

The IELTS academic exam contains three texts on general topics taken form academic journals, books, newspapers.

The type of questions can vary from multiple-choice, identifying the writer’s main claims, matching headings, sentence completion, and more. The questions aim to test your cover reading skills such as identifying logical arguments, the writer’s purpose and opinion, skimming and scanning.

IELTS Academic Writing Section:

The IELTS Academic writing exam has two tasks.

In task 1: You will be provided with a chart, table, graph, or a diagram and you will be asked to explain the information provided in 150 words. You will have 20 minutes to answer task 1

In Task 2: You will be given a topic to write an essay in response to in 200-250 words. The topic could be argumentative or a point of view. You will have 40 minutes to answer task 2

 IELTS Academic Speaking Section:

The IELTS Speaking section has three parts

Part 1: is an introduction where both you and the examiner introduce yourselves. The examiner will ask you general questions about yourself such as work, studies home, family and so on. This part lasts for 4-5 minutes.

Part 2: The examiner will provide you with a card with a  particular topic to speak about for 1-2 minutes. You will be given a pencil and a paper to take notes to prepare and structure your talk in 1 minute.

 Part 3: Here, the examiner will ask you follow-up questions about the topic in Part 2 along with other questions discuss different issues. This part lasts about 4-5 minutes.

All you need to know about TOEFL

TOEFL  is an acronym for  Test of English as a Foreign Language designed and administers by ETS Educational Testing Service which is an American based organization. The TOEFL is widely accepted in thousands of institutions in over 140 countries and it is preferred in countries like the United States and Canada. The TOEFL score is valid for two years.

There are several types of TOEFL exams, but the one we will discuss in this guide is the TOEFL IBT.

what is TOEFL
The official logo of TOEFL

TOEFL IBT Test Format

Similar to IELTS Academic, the TOEFL IBT Exam has four sections: listening, reading, writing, and speaking. The validity of the TOEFL IBT exam is 2 years The test takes about 3 and a half hours to complete and the number of questions in each section varies.

Section Number of Questions Time
Listening 28-39 41-57 minutes
Reading 30-40 54-72 minutes
Writing 2 Tasks 50 minutes
Speaking 4 Tasks 17 minutes

To find the nearest test location and date, check TOEFL.

TOEFL IBT costs 165$-300$ with most countries under 200$.

Below you will find details on the content of each section of the TOEFL IBT Exam.

TOEFL IBT Listening Section:

The listening section is to test your basic comprehension of the English language in social and academic contexts. You will listen to recordings and answer questions based on what you hear.  This section lasts for about 50 minutes.

The format of the listening section is the following:

  • 3-4 lectures. Each lecture is 3-5 minutes long with 6 questions per each lecture
  • 2-3 conversations between two people. Each conversation is 3 minutes long with 5 questions per conversation.

TOEFL IBT Reading Section:

This section tests your ability to comprehend academic readings. It includes 3 to 4 reading passages taken from academic journals, articles book covering different topics. For each passage, you will answer10 and You have 54-72 minutes to complete this section.

All questions are multiple-choice questions. Questions might ask you to identify some information such as the author’s main idea or ask you to define a word.

TOEFL IBT Writing Section:

 The Writing section measures your ability to write academically. You will be tested on writing a well-organized and structured essay with clear and concise ideas.

There are two parts in the Writing section:

  Integrated Writing task: In this part, you will read a short text and listen to a short lecture about 2 minutes or so then you will respond to the information you have read and listened to in a short essay of typically 150-225 words. This task takes 20 minutes to complete.TOEFL IBT Writing Section

Independent writing task: Here, you will write an opinion or essay based on a writing topic that you will be given. The essay will have to be at least 300 -350 words. You will have 30 minutes for this task

You can find TOEFL Independent writing topics in The Official Guide to the TOEFL has which has over 150 practice topics for task 2 in the writing products.

TOEFL IBT Speaking Section:

The TOEFL IBT speaking sections test your English speaking ability in an academic setting. This section has 4 tasks to test your speaking skills in both academic and social situations.

You will be speaking into the microphone on your headset. The computer will record your responses and send them to where they will be scored later on.

Your response for each question has to be 45-60 seconds long and you will get 15-30 seconds. This section will take 17 minutes to complete.

  • Part 1 Independent Speaking task (1 question): you will be asked to give your opinions and ideas on everyday topics.
  • Part 2 Integrated speaking tasks (2-4 Questions): In this part, you will be asked required to read a short passage or listen to a recording first and then give your response. 

 TOEFL VS IELTS: What should I take?

The TOEFL vs IELTS debate can be overwhelming. While there is no one answer to this question, there are general differences that you can consider to help you decide which test will be more suitable for you.

  • Short answers or multiple choice questions?

One of the differences between IELTS and TOEFL is the type of questions in each Test.  Most of the TOEFL IBT questions are multiple-choice questions whereas the IELTS can have a wide range of question types such as filling the gap, short answers.

If you are not comfortable with producing your own answers and often do better in multiple-choice questions, the TOEFL IBT might be a better choice for you.

  • Computer-based or paper-based?

The TOEFL IBT test is mostly offered on a computer while the IELTS has both a paper-based and a computer-based version available.

Computer-based vs paper-based

If you find yourself faster in typing on a computer than writing, or your handwriting is not very clear/messy, you might prefer taking the TOEFL IBT. On the other hand, if you are comfortable with computers or typing with an English keyboard and prefer to write your answers using a pencil and paper, you might want to consider IELTS.

  • IELTS VS TOEFL Writing section

Another key difference that may help you decide the debate is the writing section. Both exams have two tasks in the writing section yet the timing and the word count are different.

The IELTS requires an average of 400 words for both tasks and gives you 60 minutes to complete the section, while the TOEFL requires about 500 words and only 50 minutes. Not meeting the word counts will result in points deduction which will lower your writing score.

If writing in English is your weak point and you struggle to write a long essay in a short time, you might find the IELTS easier for you since you have more time relative to the TOEFL IBT.  

  • Differences Between IELTS And TOEFL Speaking Section

The speaking section is among the most important differences between the IELTS and TOEFL.

The IELTS speaking exam is held face to face with the examiner whereas, in the TOFEL IBT, you will be speaking to a microphone.

Many people find it more comfortable to have the speaking exam face to face with a person since it tends to be natural than speaking to a computer. If you do not stress around people and you are more confident speaking in person, it might be wiser to take the IELTS exam

Conclusion: IELTS  vs TOEFL

The difference between IELTS and TOEFL is a common question since they are the most common English language proficiency exams sat for worldwide.


ielts vs tofel

Although both exams measure similar skills and have the same four sections; reading, listening writing, and speaking, there are general differences in structure and format of the exam that might play more to your strength.

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