Should I take the IELTS or the TOEFL?

If you want to attend an English-speaking university, you will be required to prove your English language proficiency is at the level that an English-speaking university classroom requires.  To fulfill this requirement, the IELTS (International English Language Testing System) and the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) were created and are the standard bearers of English language standardized tests. Although both tests were designed to measure English proficiency, there are some subtle differences that you should consider before deciding which test will better serve your needs.

Overall Test:

The IELTS is jointly managed by the University of Cambridge ESOL Examinations, the British Council and IDP Education. The TOEFL is managed by the American company, Educational Testing Services (ETS), an organization that also manages a diversity of standardized tests which include the GRE (Graduate Record Examinations) and the TOIEC (Test of English for International Communication).

Difference:  The IELTS is a British test that will include a variety of accents and idiomatic language taken from British English.  The TOEFL is an American test that will also include a variety of accents but the idiomatic language will be taken from American English.


On the TOEFL, you are asked to record responses on the computer lasting 45 – 60 seconds each to six different questions based on short descriptions / conversations. The  speaking section of the test lasts 20 minutes.

The IELTS speaking section lasts from 12 to 14 minutes and takes place with an  examiner rather than a computer as on the TOEFL. There is a short warm up exercise consisting mainly of small talk, followed by a response to some sort of  visual stimulus and, finally, a more extended discussion on a related topic.

Difference: The TOEFL speaking section requires you to record your responses on a computer and the IELTS is an interview with an examiner.


On the TOEFL, you will have three to five reading selections of twenty minutes each. Reading materials are academic in nature. All questions are multiple choice.

On the IELTS, there are three reading selections of twenty minutes each. Materials are, as in the case of the TOEFL, related to an academic setting. There are  multiple type questions (gap fill, matching, etc.).

Difference:  The TOEFL reading section only asks for multiple choice answers while the IELTS includes a variety of question types.


In the  TOEFL, you will have 40 – 60 minutes worth of listening selections from lectures or campus conversations. Take notes and respond to multiple choice questions.

On the IELTS exam, there is a wider variety of question types, as well as exercises of differing lengths. You will answer questions as you move through the  listening selection of the test.

Difference: The TOEFL test requires more specific note-taking activities than the IELTS.


Two writing tasks are required on the TOEFL and all writing is done on the computer. Task one involves writing a five paragraph essay of 300 to 350 words. Note taking is also important as the second task asks you to take notes from a reading selection in a text book and then a lecture on the same topic. You are then asked to respond using your notes by writing a 150 – 225 word response integrating both the reading and listening selection.

The IELTS writing section also has two tasks.  The first is a short essay of 200 –   250 words. The second IELTS writing task asks you to look at an infographic  such as a graph or chart and summarize the information presented.

Difference: Once again, the TOEFL requires more note-taking skills for the writing tasks than the IELTS exam and it requires more overall writing.  Also, the TOEFL writing is on the computer so typing skills are necessary, while the IELTS writing section allows for handwritten responses.

Both the TOEFL and the IELTS are designed to test your level of English proficiency; they just do it in slightly different ways.  You know where your strengths and weaknesses are in English and hopefully the information presented above will help you in your decision as to which test best serves your needs.

If you need help preparing for either test, we can help! Bridge, an official IELTS testing center, offers IELTS Power Prep courses (online or in-person) and the IELTS 6.6/6.5 Guarantee Program, as well as private, one-on-one TOEFL preparation classes.

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