Test Your English Proficiency: IELTS vs. TOEFL

Last year, we gave you a comparative analysis of the IELTS and TOEFL exam for English proficiency. We get a lot of students asking about the difference between these two tests and which one is better for them, so we thought it’d be a good idea to review the differences and give you some guidance on which one is best for you.

Why do I need to take the IELTS or 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.

What does the IELTS test include?
The IELTS is a British test that will include a variety of accents and idiomatic language taken from British English.  It includes 4 test sections:

  • Speaking section: 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.
  • Reading section: 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.).
  • Listening section: 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.
  • Writing section: 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.

What does the TOEFL include?
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). The TOEFL is an American test that will also include a variety of accents but the idiomatic language will be taken from American English. It also includes 4 sections:

  • Speaking section: 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.
  • Reading section: 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.
  • Listening section: 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.
  • Writing section: 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.

Which to choose?
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.

How to prepare?
Fortunately, we can help you prepare for both tests! You can register for one of our IELTS Power Prep courses (offered in-person in Denver or online) or our IELTS 6.6/6.5 Guarantee Program. We also offer private one-on-one TOEFL preparation classes.