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IELTS or TOEFL? Which English language test?

7th April 2014 Posted by: Naomi Todd

YOUR hard work has paid off and you're getting ready to study at an English-speaking institution. First, however, you need to prove you can speak, read, write and understand a high level of English. The two qualifications most widely accepted by universities across the world are the International English Language Test System (IELTS) and the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). 

But what's the difference between them and which is the test for you?

American or British English?

TOEFL uses American English and IELTS uses British/Australian English in the majority of their material. This may not seem like a big difference but if you are more at ease with the language used, then you will have a better chance of doing well. Also,North American institutions tend to prefer TOEFL while British and Commonwealth institutions tend to prefer the IELTS. Generally, both qualifications are accepted internationally but this is something to bear in mind.

Examination duration

TOEFL lasts approximately 4 hours. The length of the different sections can vary, therefore it can last up to 4.5 hours. The IELTS lasts 2 hours 45 minutes. This is not to say that IELTS is any easier!


TOEFL costs around $160-$250 and IELTS $200 but costs vary from country to country

Examination Structure

Here is a rundown of how the different components are examined:

  • Listening

TOEFL - lasts 40-60 minutes. The candidate will listen to excerpts of campus conversations and lectures. Throughout the extract, the candidate will take notes. Afterwards, there are multiple choice questions to answer.

IELTS - lasts 30 minutes. The candidate is expected to answer questions as the excerpt is played. Questions may be a variety of multiple choice, fill in the gap exercises, matching terms etc.

  • Speaking

TOEFL - the candidate will have to record responses of 45-60 seconds to six questions on a computer. The content of the questions is purely academic.

IELTS - the candidate will have a one-on-one interview with an examiner. The section takes 10-15 minutes and is divided into three parts: Introduction with ice-breaker questions, presentation with follow-up questions and a discussion related to the previous presentation. The content is both academic and everyday language.

  • Reading

TOEFL - lasts approximately 1-1 hour 40 minutes. You will have three to five passages (20 minutes per passage) to read through and then you will have to answer multiple choice questions related to the topics covered in the passage.

IELTS - lasts an hour. You will have three passages to read through and then a variety of comprehension exercises to complete such as multiple choice, fill in the gap exercises or written response. The passages increase in difficulty throughout the exam.

  • Writing

TOEFL - the writing section lasts 50 minutes. There are two writing tasks: an essay writing task of about 300-350 words lasting half an hour and an integrated task where the candidate is required to read a short passage, listen to a lecture and then subsequently summarise the material covered in the passage and lecture in about 150 words.

IELTS - the writing section lasts an hour. There are two writing tasks: an essay writing task similar to the TOEFL’s which lasts 40 minutes and should be about 200-250 words. The second task is a presentation of data which could be in the form of a chart, graph etc.

Where can I do the exam?

Both examinations have centres worldwide. However there are more TOEFL examination centres - 4,500 worldwide compared with IELTS’s 900. Regardless of your decision, you can rest assured that either the IELTS or the TOEFL is an internationally-respected qualification, one that will provide you with sufficient grounding for your academic career.

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