TOEFL vs IELTS: Which is best for applying to top universities?

By Cassandra Evangeline Benjamin• Last updated: Mar 18, 2024
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If you want to study abroad in any English-speaking country, chances are you will have to take a standard English language assessment test. IELTS and TOEFL are two of the most widely accepted English language assessment tests. But which one should you take? Take a look at our TOEFL vs IELTS comparison and decide for yourself!

TOEFL vs IELTS: Which is best for applying to top universities?

  1. What is TOEFL iBT?
  2. What is IELTS?
  3. What are the major differences between TOEFL and IELTS?
  4. Which test should you choose?

1. What is TOEFL iBT?

TOEFL iBT (Test of English as a foreign language) is a computer based standard English language test used to assess the language skills of non-native speakers. ETS (Educational Testing Service), a private organisation based in the US, offers this test. 

Over 11,000 universities in over 150 countries accept TOEFL scores from their applicants as proof of English language knowledge. The test has four sections (listening, reading, speaking, and writing) and a duration of 4 hours.

2. What is IELTS?

IELTS (International English Language Testing System) is also a standardised English language assessment test. It is jointly offered by the British Council, IDP IELTS Australia and Cambridge Assessment English. Unlike TOEFL, there are two types of IELTS tests: IELTS General Training and IELTS Academic.

  • IELTS General Training (GT):
    • People moving abroad to work and students applying for courses below the degree level usually take the IELTS GT. This test will only assess the general language skills of the test takers. 
  • IELTS Academic:
    • Students applying for any course at or above the degree level need to take the IELTS Academic. This test will assess the test taker's English language knowledge in an Academic setting while simultaneously assessing general language skills. 

Both the tests have four sections, reading, writing, listening and speaking and have a duration of 2 hours and 45 minutes.

Why not take a look at our handy guide to IELTS tests to explore which test is right for you! 

3. What are the major differences between TOEFL and IELTS?

Since IELTS Academic is the test most study abroad students take, let's go ahead and compare IELTS Academic and TOEFL iBT.

Duration and delivery formatTOEFL is a computer-based test with a duration of 4 hours.The duration of IELTS is 2 hours and 45 minutes. This test is offered both as a computer-based test and a written test.

The approximate cost of TOEFL iBT is $185.

This cost can vary from country to country.

The approximate cost of the IELTS Academic test is $190.

This cost can vary from country to country.

Test sections with sectional duration
  1. Reading: 60-80 minutes
  2. Listening: 60-90 minutes
  3. Writing: 50 minutes
  4. Speaking: 20 minutes
  1. Reading: 60 minutes
  2. Listening: 30 minutes
  3. Writing: 60 minutes
  4. Speaking: 10-14 minutes
Speaking sectionYou need to talk into a microphone and record yourself speaking. The examiner will later listen to this audio and assess your speaking skills.You will have a face-to-face interview with an examiner who will assess your speaking skills. This interview can be scheduled before or after you finish the other three sections based on availability.
Listening sectionYou will be asked to listen to passages. You can take notes if needed, and then answer MCQs based on them.You will be asked to listen to passages and answer a series of different types of questions including, sentence completion, MCQs, and summary writing.
Reading sectionYou will be asked to read passages and answer MCQs based on them. These passages will be related to academics.You will be asked to read passages and answer a variety of questions similar to the test's listening section. These passages can be taken from multiple sources including, magazines, newspapers and subject textbooks.
Writing section

TOEFL’s writing section has two tasks. You need to write a 5-paragraph long essay on the given topic for task 1.

For task 2, you need to read the given passage and listen to a related audio lecture. Then you need to answer questions in 150 - 225 words.

IELTS's writing section also has two tasks. In task 1, you need to write a 250-word essay on the given topic.

For task 2, you need to look at a given graph or chart, interpret it and describe the information presented in the pictorial representation.

Test locationsTOEFL is offered in around 1,100 testing centres in 140 countries.IELTS is offered in around 4,500 locations in 165 countries.
Accepting universitiesTOEFL is accepted by over 10,000 universities and educational institutions around the world.IELTS is accepted by over 9,000 universities and educational institutions worldwide.
ScoresTOEFL scores range between 0-120. Test takers receive the scores within 10 days after taking the test.IELTS scores are given in the form of bands ranging between 0 and 9. Test takers receive the result within 13 days after taking the test.

Also Read: Tips to prepare for the TOEFL Exam

4. Which test should you choose?

Before taking either one of these tests, the main factor you need to consider is your university's requirement. Though TOEFL and IELTS have global recognition and wide acceptance, some universities are particular about the English language test they accept. So, check your university's requirements before choosing one. 

If your university accepts both TOEFL and IELTS, look at the differences and see which test suits you best. For instance, if you are nervous to talk to a person directly for the speaking section, you can opt for TOEFL because you can just speak into a microphone. If you want a shorter test, you can opt for IELTS.

Once you’ve chosen a test, don’t forget to check out our TOEFL prep tips or IELTS prep tips before you start your preparation!

Related tags:
study abroad
english language tests
english language testing
universities tests
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