IELTS vs TOEFL: What Are The Top Differences?

IELTS (International English Language Testing System) and TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) are two of the most commonly recognized English language proficiency tests worldwide. You might be wondering what is the difference between these two. In this article, we’ll dig deep into the IELTS vs TOEFL difference and guide you on how you can prepare for the IELTS exam or TOEFL exam.

It often happens among people who wish to obtain a title that certifies their level of English to wonder which is the best certification among those available. Before proceeding with the selection, each interested party should ask himself why they are seeking certification. Once this step has been made, the students can start analyzing the different courses available on the market that embrace all levels of linguistic preparation.

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Top differences between IELTS vs TOEFL | An overview

To decide IELTS vs TOEFL which is better, the comparison must be made on the basis of certain criteria. The criteria includes the purpose (study or work), the tests used for selection, the syllabus and pattern of the test, and the countries in which the test is available and recognized. 

This article aims to show you the similarities and differences between these two certifications to help you choose the one that is right for you. In this way, you can either opt for IELTS preparation or TOEFL preparation as per your demands.

What is IELTS?

The IELTS or International English Language Testing System is a standardized English proficiency test administered jointly by the British Council and the International Development Program. There are two versions of IELTS, IELTS Academic, and IELTS General Training. To judge a person’s skills, a candidate’s ability to communicate effectively in English in the areas of listening, reading, writing, and speaking is assesed.

The IELTS test is a qualification often required by academic institutions and professional bodies and for immigration purposes. Specifically if you want to enter Canada or Australia. It basically measures the language proficiency of non-native English speakers. IELTS is suitable for candidates who want to study at an English-speaking university,  work internationally and improve their career prospects. 

IELTS has two versions: IELTS General and IELTS Academic. The first is an exam used for those who do not need it for educational purposes, but who perhaps want to move to an English-speaking country such as Great Britain or Australia. Some countries may require it to issue an entry visa. Instead, the second version is just what is needed for academic purposes, like getting an admission into Masters.

In the IELTS, the English used is the British one. This language is spoken in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand. On the other hand, the TOEFL, created by the American company Educational Testing Service (ETS), uses North American English, which is spoken in the United States and Canada. Let’s find out what’s TOEFL is in detail.

What is TOEFL?

The TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) is an English proficiency exam produced by ETS. It is the same organization that develops the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE), an elementary school entrance exam and many other tests. This exam has several versions, but we will look at the TOEFL CBT (computer-based), the most commonly supported and accepted version. TOEFL, unlike IELTS, has only one version, the academic one.

IELTS vs TOEFL | Pattern

The pattern or format of the IELTS vs TOEFL tests differ in several ways. Both these tests are scored as a single test. The score of TOEFL considers the test as a whole without distinguishing between errors of logic or grammar. On the other hand, in the IELTS score, some criteria are evaluated separately, for example, grammar, the relevance of the vocabulary used, fluency of the language, coherence of words, etc.

In the IELTS test, the speaking portion takes place in front of an examiner. On the other hand, in the TOEFL test, the candidate is in front of a computer. In this case, your conversation is recorded and subsequently evaluated by the examiners. Therefore, if you find it difficult to interact with an examiner, choose the TOEFL. Alternatively, if you need to have a real interlocutor in front of you, you should choose the IELTS.

For the Listening and Writing portions of the TOEFL, you are primarily asked to answer multiple-choice questions. The answer options are then displayed, from which you will have to select the correct one. The IELTS test includes short answers, sentences to complete, true/false answers, and multiple-choice answers. In short, the types of questions are varied. It is up to you to choose which type of exercise you prefer.

The TOEFL can be taken on the computer and lasts 4 hours, interspersed with 10-minute breaks. Each of the 4 blocks is worth 30 points for a total of 120. On the other hand, the IELTS exam is structured so that the whole exam (except the oral part) is carried out in 160 minutes without interruption. After which, on the same day or on a subsequent date, the candidate is called to have a 15-minute conversation. 

The final mark varies from a minimum of 1 point to a maximum of 9. The IELTS exam, on the other hand, is taken on paper, and there are two different types of exam. When faced with the need to understand which certification is most suitable for us, these and a thousand other questions and doubts can assail us, making us feel lost in not knowing which is the best way.

IELTS vs TOEFL | Reading section


The duration of the exam is 60 minutes (it is made up of 3 parts of 20 minutes each). The level of English required gradually increases over the course of the 3 parts. The types of questions are varied: open-ended, multiple choice, or true or false.


The duration of the TOEFL, on the other hand, can vary from 60 to 100 minutes depending on the number of exam parts that the students will have to face (they vary from a minimum of 3 to 20 minutes each to a maximum of 5, always of 20 minutes each). The student has no choice. The level of English is constant in all exercises and is ultimately equivalent to the level of English required by the IELTS. The questions all have multiple answers but are of various types.

IELTS vs TOEFL | Listening Section


In IELTS, listening involves conversations of various kinds with British or Australian accents. Participants will have to answer at the same time listening to the various questions and various exercises, which can be: finding the word to insert in a sentence, completing a table, or a multiple choice. The total duration of the exam is 30 minutes.


TOEFL, unlike IELTS, involves listening to conversations that take place on a university campus or during lessons with an American or Canadian accent. Participants will listen and take notes; only then will they have questions to answer. Here too, the questions are multiple-choice. The duration of this exam varies from 40 to 60 minutes.

IELTS vs TOEFL Speaking Section


It takes place sitting in front of the examiner and is divided into 3 parts: the first part of general questions as an introduction, the second part consists of the examinee’s monologue on a topic given to him by the examiner, and the third and final part of the exam it is a dialogue/discussion on the previous topic between the examinee and the examiner. In all, the test lasts between 11 and 14 minutes.


In the TOEFL, the examinee is seated in front of a computer equipped with headphones and a microphone and will have to record his answers to the 6 tasks that make up the test. Responses can be up to 45 or 60 seconds long. The entire test lasts 20 minutes.

IELTS vs TOEFL Writing Section


The IELTS written test is divided into two parts. The first part consists of an essay for which you have about 40 minutes to write between 200 and 250 words. The argument available is unique. The second part of the exam consists of tables or graphs. Test takers are asked to process and then describe the information given. This exercise requires knowledge of graph terminology. The exam will be written entirely by hand.


The TOEFL also includes two written tests. The first is always a theme for which you will have 30 minutes available to write between 300 and 350 words with only one topic available. In the second part, however, paragraphs on a topic will be provided, and later the student will attend a university lecture where he will necessarily have to take notes with which he will be able to answer the subsequent questions. This second part of the written exam requires between 150 and 225 total words. The exam will be written entirely on the computer.

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IELTS vs TOEFL | Who accepts what?

Both exams are recognized by over 10,000 organizations worldwide, including colleges and universities, employers, governments, immigration departments, and professional bodies. Therefore, we have to start upstream to understand which exam to choose: you have to check which certification it admits on the website of the organization of your interest or check it on the websites of the respective exams – here for the IELTS and here for the TOEFL.

Major differences between IELTS and TOEFL

There are no major differences between the two exams, at least regarding the written part. It is at the oral level that everything gets complicated. IELTS favors the more “British” English accent, unlike TOEFL, which uses American English. If you are used to an English accent, you should choose IELTS. If, on the other hand, you are more comfortable with an American accent, it is better to opt for the TOEFL. Furthermore, it must be considered that the duration, validity, and costs of the TOEFL and the duration, validity, and costs of the IELTS also differ.

Both allow you to assess your level of English accurately and are widely accepted in thousands of institutions around the world. However, they differ in terms of their focus and structure. Regarding the oral test, while in the TOEFL, you will answer certain questions through a microphone, in the IELTS, you will be interviewed directly by a person. The scoring system between these two exams is also different. 

The TOEFL English test measures the level of a candidate through a score that goes from 0 to 120; on the other hand, the IELTS English test score goes from 1 to 9. It is difficult to level the systems and compare the scores and levels between tests since each one of them is unique. The following table gives you an approximate idea of ​​the equivalencies between test scores and level systems of both tests: the TOEFL and the IELTS.

IELTS vs TOEFL | Which is easier?

Difficult question to answer. Some students who have taken both exams prefer IELTS and, in some cases, have even scored higher. In any case, it is an absolutely subjective question, and the difficulty of one exam rather than the other derived exclusively from the student’s attitude. Although the IELTS is indeed shorter than the TOEFL, it is also true that the latter has multiple-choice questions that could be easier or more difficult, depending on the person. 

Therefore, before deciding which exam to take, it is highly recommended to think carefully about which type of exam could be easier depending on your individual characteristics. Still, in any case, it is strongly advisable to try them both with facsimile tests to verify them and be sure of your choice. Both exams have the same 4-part structure: Reading, Listening, Speaking, and Writing. The duration is markedly different. In fact, while the IELTS lasts about 2 hours and 45 minutes, the TOEFL lasts about 4 hours. However, this is no real indication that one is more difficult than the other.


Indeed, the TOEFL is more in demand in US universities, while the IELTS exam is more popular in Europe. If the student fails to obtain the certificate, both exams will still issue a certificate attesting to the momentary level of knowledge. More specifically, we can assert that the TOEFL aims to evaluate the student’s ability to communicate in English, especially in academic environments and contexts. The IELTS exam, on the other hand, is more commonly used for professional and immigration reasons. Both the TOEFL and the IELTS exams are valid for 2 years, however, the structures of the two exams are totally different. As far as the TOEFL is concerned, only one type of exam is performed on a computer and presents almost entirely multiple-choice questions.

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