IELTS vs TOEFL: which is better?

If you are applying to university in an English speaking country and English is not your first language, your institution may require you to take a standardised test.

There are two main English language tests accepted by universities around the world, IELTS (International English Language Testing Service) and TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language). But the big question that faces students is; which one is better?

The similaritiesBoth are English language tests aimed at pre-university students planning to make the step to higher education. Both evaluate how well you can combine your listening, reading, writing and speaking skills. You have to pay a fee to take both tests, for both it can vary depending on where exactly you take the test but expect to pay between $150 to $250.

The differencesAlthough both tests ostensibly focus on the same thing, they do so in different ways, which is why so many students want to know which is better (and even more commonly, which is easier). One of the main differences is the speaking part of the test. For IELTS you are required to take this with an IELTS examiner face to face. For TOEFL the speaking test consists of six questions which you answer into a microphone. These are recorded and sent to an examiner to mark.

The scoring system is also different, with IELTS rating between 0 and 9, with halfway points in between. TOEFL gives a more numerical SAT-type grade, totalling your scores from all the areas. This gives an insight into another key difference. TOEFL is administered by the Educational Testing Service, a non-profit US based organisation, and conducts its test according to US English. IELTS is administered jointly by the British Council, the University of Cambridge ESOL Examinations and IDP Education Australia, and conducts its test in UK English. While the differences are not as great as some assume, accents and spelling variations can cause a problem for some students.

So which is better?

The answer really depends on you; what kind of learner you are and where you want to study. The question of which is easier is largely irrelevant as both tests will grade you accurately according to your level of English. TOEFL may tend to favour more abstract learners as many of the questions are multiple choice whereas IELTS may be more suited to concrete learners as it involves memory recall. The face to face speaking section of the IELTS may be daunting to some candidates who would be more comfortable speaking into a microphone.

Finally, it may be necessary to check that your chosen institution accepts the test. Although both are accepted at more than 6,000 institutions and organisations worldwide, so there is a fairly good chance you will be able to use either, it is always necessary to check beforehand.

Useful linksFor more information on the TOEFL test, see The TOEFL Test

Or to find out how to learn English faster, see 10 ways improve your English

Have you taken either or perhaps both of these tests?Let us know:

  • How did you do?
  • What you thought was good?
  • What you thought was bad?
  • Which you would recommend?

Your experiences can help fellow learners. 

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