IELTS vs. TOEFL: What’s the difference?

28 June, 2016 Education James Burt



They are the top English tests. Once you’ve reached the end of your personal English journey, they are the ones you need to take to end your long study period. They are IELTS (International English Language Testing System) and TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) exams. They’re also pretty much the same…

Or are they?

Well, while similar in certain ways, there are some big differences between IELTS and TOEFL exams. Depending on your goals, each test is completed for different educational and professional needs. It’s best for students to know the difference between the two.

We've compiled some of the key differences between IELTS and TOEFL which we hope can help you to decide which course is right for you.


Striking similarities

Some students get confused with the two exams because they actually have some strong similarities. Both are broken down into four sections—listening, reading, writing (with essay questions) and speaking— and both cost around £100. As well as this, both exam scores expire after two years. However, aside from these traits, both exams are different.


One place to another

Students need to evaluate which test to take based on what type of English they wish to study, American or British. TOEFL is more American style, while IELTS is more British and required for a Tier Four British study visa.

Other small differences between the two are testing time - TOEFL is 4 hours, while IELTS is 2 hours 45 minutes - and the speaking component of each. TOEFL test-takers do their speaking with a recording while IELTS students do theirs with a speaking invigilator.


Options on one

One more aspect that separates TOEFL and IELTS is that there is only one TOEFL exam, while IELTS has both a general and academic test. IELTS General is more suited to immigration or work-related matters, while IELTS Academic is used to enter British universities. Students have to be sure which one is most suited to their future needs.


Post exam

Once students complete either TOEFL or IELTS, they are issued exam results in the post. Both are graded differently: TOEFL is scored on a sliding system between 0 and 120, while ILETS is scored on a bandwidth scale of 0 to 9. Obviously students want to score closer to the higher number to get a better final grade.


Specific training

If these tests sound difficult, it’s because they really are. Despite their differences, both are meant to test the skills of advanced students at an extreme level. With that in mind, students wishing to take either test are advised to take test preparation classes. These classes walk students through each section of the exam, explaining which skills to focus on and providing them with timed mock exams so students know what to expect on test day.


If you’re interested in taking either the TOEFL or IELTS exam, come to The Language Gallery and take our preparation courses in both TOEFL and IELTS, as well as our preparation courses in Cambridge Exam Preparation.  Our qualified instructors can assist you in getting ready for any of these tests.

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