IELTS vs TOEFL: What is the difference? - A.I.B.E | Aadharsila Institute of Basic Education

IELTS vs TOEFL: What is the difference?

What are IELTS and TOEFL?

IELTS stands for International English Language Testing System. It is an exam that is designed to test your English proficiency and is essential to migrate to countries where English is the native language. This includes countries such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK, and the USA. Your ability to listen, read, write, and speak in English will be assessed during the test. IELTS is graded on a scale of 1-9. IELTS is jointly owned by IDP IELTS; and Cambridge University Press & Assessment. 

TOEFL is an abbreviation for the Test of English as a Foreign Language. It is a standardized test of proficiency in the English language for non-native speakers with an interest in studying in an English-speaking country. It is developed and administered by the US-based Educational Testing Service (ETS). TOEFL specifically sets out to test English communication ability in academic settings such as classrooms and universities. The test tends to be more related to the USA and is more favored by American institutions, such as schools and grad schools. However, most countries and universities accept the test, including the UK and Australia.


Both IELTS and TOEFL check your English language skills. They are two of the most popular and widely used tests. Both have a high degree of credibility and recognition by institutions that wish to assess a person’s English. Both of them test reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills. So let us discuss, which exam to take IELTS or TOEFL.


The scoring is another difference between IELTS and TOEFL, as TOEFL being a points system, IELTS is based on band scores, ranging from 0-9

The final total TOEFL scores fall between 0-120, with a score range of 0–30 for each skill of reading, listening, writing, and speaking.ETC break that score down into the following proficiency levels so that institutions can assess a test taker’s skill.

TOEFL Score Levels

In the IELTS, on the other hand, writing and speaking are based on a set of marking criteria which are assessed by an examiner, who then awards a band score. The reading and listening tests are scored from 0-40, but these scores are then in the converted to band scores. So a candidate ends up with a band score for each skill (reading, writing, listening and speaking), and these are then averaged to give one final band score. Half scores (e.g. 6.5) are also possible.

This is how the scores roughly translate to proficiency:

IELTS band score proficiency


Administration and testing options

The TOEFL iBT test is offered in three different ways:

  1. TOEFL iBT test: on a computer at an authorized test center
  2. TOEFL iBT Home Edition: on a computer at home, monitored by a live human proctor
  3. TOEFL iBT Paper Edition: Two test sessions:
    • Reading, Listening, and Writing sections: on paper at a test center
    • Speaking section: on a computer at home

Test time

The total test takes about 3 hours to complete, but you should plan for 3.5 hours, allowing 30 minutes for check-in.

Test sections overview

Use the table below to view the breakdown of each TOEFL iBT test section.

Section     Time LimitQuestionsTasks
Reading54–72 minutes30–40 Read passages and respond to questions
Listening41–57 minutes28–39 Answer questions about brief lectures/classroom discussions
Break10 minutes
Speaking17 minutes4 tasksTalk about a familiar topic and discuss material you read and listened to
Writing50 minutes2 tasksRead a passage, listen to a recording, type your response
The detail description of TOEFL iBT.


  • 3–4 passages, each 700 words
    • multiple-focus passages (compare/contrast, cause/effect)
    • 10 questions for each passage
  • Time: 54–72 minutes
  • Score scale: 0–30


  • 3–4 lectures, some with classroom discussion, each 3–5 minutes, 6 questions each
  • 2–3 conversations, each 3 minutes, 5 questions each
  • Time: 41–57 minutes
  • Score scale: 0–30


  • 4 tasks
    • 1 independent task to express an opinion on a familiar topic
    • 3 integrated tasks based on what is read and heard
    • Up to 30 seconds to prepare the response, up to 1 minute to respond
  • Time: 17 minutes
  • Score scale: 0–30


  • 2 tasks:
    • 1 20-minute integrated task based on what is read and heard
    • 1 30-minute independent task to support an opinion on a topic
  • Time: 50 minutes
  • Score scale: 0–30

IELTS Test Format

Like TOEFL, IELTS is paper-based or computer-based, depending on what you prefer and whether a center has both options. The exam is for 3 hours, there are four sections in IELTS, and one needs to have a separate approach to ace each section. Let us discuss them one by one.

  1. Writing section- In this section essay writing is common to both general and academic students. The total duration is 40 minutes and the word limit is 250 words. There are four categories of essay which one needs to be familiar with viz: problem solution, merit demerits, opinion based and discussion based. It has more weightage than task 1. One needs to structure the essay in different paragraphs and each paragraph should be logically connected. In task one of the writing section there are separate topics for academic and general candidates. In general, it is letter writing. In this section, all bullet points need to be addressed. The task is for 20 minutes and the word limit is 150 words. The letter can be formal, informal, and semi-formal. For academic students, the task is reporting an image. Again one gets 20 minutes to finish this task and the word limit is a minimum of 150 words. Images asked are generally tables, pie charts, line graphs, bar graphs, maps, and process cycle. It can be a single image or a combination of two.
  2. Listening section – This section is the same for general and academic candidates. There are total of 40 questions and the total time to solve is 30 minutes.10 minutes extra are given to candidates who are pen and paper-based exams. In listening, one hears four different recordings viz: a conversation between two people based on social context, a monologue based on local facilities; like a garden in your neighborhood. Recording 3 is a group conversation for an assignment and recording 4 is a monologue on an academic lecture. There are a variety of question types that ae tested viz: multiple choice questions, form, table, note, flowchart completion, short answer questions, sentence completion, matching features and labeling a diagram.
  3. Reading section – This consists of 40 questions and three sections R1, R2, AND R3. The reading section is different for academic and general candidates. However, the topics remain more or less the same. The topics include true, false, not given, yes, no, and not given. This is the most important topic as one gets 5-13 marks on questions from this topic. There are other topics like Matching features, Matching headings, matching information, and matching sentence endings. Out of these, one can again expect two types. Then we have completion questions like notes, tables, flowcharts, sentences, diagrams, and summary completion questions. Again one can expect 3-4 types out of these in the exam. Other than these there are short answer questions and multiple choice questions: single and multiple where again a 5 -7 marks questions can be asked. One needs to learn the tips and tricks for each topic and finish each section in 20 minutes so that one can complete the entire paper.
  4. Speaking section- This is held on a separate date. There are three parts in speaking: Part 1 is a general introduction which is an ice-breaking round where general questions about a candidate’s name, place, hobbies, family, what he does, neighbors, sports, food,TV channels he watches. Part 2 is a que card-based question, where a question followed by three–four sub-points are asked and a candidate needs to answer that. One gets one minute to prepare and 2 mins to speak on the topic. This is the most scoring topic. One needs to speak non-stop for 2 minutes to get a good score. Part 3 is a discussion-based round, also known as a question and answer round where a candidate is asked questions and he needs to give lengthy answers with reasons.The total speaking is for 11-14 minutes.


The IELTS exam is for 3 hours in the paper based format and for 2 hrs. 40 minutes in the computer based. You get extra 10 minutes in the listening section, if you give paper based exam. On the other hand, the internet based TOEFL exam is for 3 hours but the paper delivered exam is for 2 hours 30 minutes.


Both IELTS and TOEFL have four sections viz: writing, speaking, listening and speaking. However, there are certain differences in IELTS VS TOEFL test sections. Let us discuss it.

Reading40 Multiple –choice questions based on 3-4 passagesQuestions like Multiple choice, Sentence completion, Summary completion,Flow chart completion,  Diagram labelling, Matching information, etc. based on recorded monologues or conversations
Listening40 + Multiple- choice questions based on2-3 conversations & 3-4 lecturesQuestions like Multiple choice, Sentence completion, Summary completion, Flow chart completion,  Diagram labelling, Matching information, etc. based on recorded monologues or conversations
Writing1 integrated task based on reading a short passage, listening to a short lecture and then writing1 an Independent Essay Writing task (30 minutes)1 writing task of writing around 150 words based on the given topic 1 Writing task of a short essay of 250 words on a given topic
Speaking1 Independent Speaking task3 Integrated tasks- Read or/and listen and then Speak1 integrated task based on reading a short passage, listening to a short lecture, and then writing1 an Independent Essay Writing task (30 minutes)


IDP conducts IELTS in India and delivers the paper-based IELTS test four times a month or 48 times in a year and computer-delivered IELTS multiple days a week with the flexibility to choose your own time slots. Before registering for your IELTS, it is important to figure out which mode you are comfortable with– on paper or on a computer.

TOEFL iBT Testing Options

The TOEFL iBT test is offered in three different ways, so you can choose the best option to fit your needs and preferences.

Test at a test center

If you prefer a traditional test environment, a test center is the best option for you. It is available worldwide at more than 3000 authorized TOEFL iBT test centers. Regarding dates, this test is offered more than 60 times a year.

Test at home

The TOEFL iBT Home Edition is the same TOEFL iBT test you would take at a test center, just taken from the privacy of your own home and monitored online by a human proctor. It’s trusted and accepted by universities worldwide. It is also available worldwide but one needs to make sure to meet the environment and equipment requirements for at-home testing before you register. The test is available 24 hours a day, 4 days a week, with appointments available as early as 24 hours after you register.

Test on paper

The Paper Edition is the same 4-skills TOEFL iBT test, but you’ll take it in two sessions.  There will be two test sessions: Reading, Listening, and Writing sections which will be held on paper at a test center. The Speaking section will be held at home on your computer within 3 days after the paper sections. Your Speaking session will be monitored online by a human proctor.

This type is only available in Colombia, India, Mexico, and the United States. More countries will be added in the future. The dates offered are one to two times a month. You’ll need to register for two appointments: one at your local test center and the other at home.

Which test should you take between IELTS AND TOEFL; which test is easier IELTS vs TOEFL?

Factors to consider while taking IELTS OR TOEFL

Both tests are meant to assess an individual’s English proficiency but there are certain differences between the two exams.. A clear difference between IELTS and TOEFL however is that no modules in IELTS involve integrating skills. For example, speaking is not based on a reading but is just based on questions asked by an examiner. So each skill is assessed independently.

1. Scope

IELTS has a wider scope when compared to TOEFL. It is used as an English proficiency test for individuals wishing to study abroad, for occupational purposes and for immigration to English-speaking countries. So IELTS has both exams academic which is for students and general which is for people who want to settle abroad. TOEFL is used for academic purposes alone. It is taken by students who wish to enroll in English-speaking universities.

2. Types

The IELTS exam has two main variations – Academic and General Training. While the IELTS Academic test is to be taken by students planning for higher studies, such as Undergraduate, Master, and Doctoral levels, the IELTS General Training exam is for individuals planning to take up a vocational training program or to immigrate professionally. On the other hand, as discussed already, TOEFL is only used for academic purposes; therefore, it has no major variations.

3. Locations Available

The exams are widely available but differ in terms of availability. 

The IELTS exam can be taken by students in over 140 countries at around 1,600 locations. TOEFL, on the other hand, is very convenient to take as it can be taken from home also. Students can take the exam almost anywhere in the world. Testing centers are available in more than 165 countries at over 4,500 locations.

4. Popularity

Both exams are quite popular when it comes to the number of students taking the exam each year. The number is higher for IELTS as it is given by both students and professionals. TOEFL is estimated to be taken by over 2.3 million aspirants every year. 

5. Interaction with the Examiner 

Another difference lies in IELTS TOEFL, the way the exam is conducted.

For IELTS exams, the examiner takes the speaking section so students are required to communicate directly with the examiner for the IELTS speaking section test be it in the online mode or offline mode. However, TOEFL is a completely computer-based exam. Therefore, students do not interact personally with the examiners. For the TOEFL speaking section, students are required to record and send over their speech for checking.  

6. Scoring  

One of the main differences between IELTS and TOEFL is how they are scored. IELTS is graded on a band system ranging from 1 (the lowest) to 9 (the highest). IELTS exam scoring, overall and section-wise, is done on a scale of 0-9. Whereas TOEFL is scored out of 120 points. Each section is graded on a scale of 0-30. 

7. Exam Duration

The IELTS exam takes 2 hours and 40 minutes to complete in the online mode, while 3 hours approx. in the offline mode. However, the Internet-based TOEFL exam duration is 3 hours long, and the paper-delivered exam is 2 and a half hours long. 

8. Frequency 

The TOEFL iBT exam is scheduled over 60 times a year at authorized test centers around the world. The new TOEFL iBT home edition exam can be taken 4 days a week while the IELTS exam can be taken up to once a week. It is scheduled for test dates 48 days per year.

9. Result Declaration

The IELTS test results are released within a week (5 working days) in the online mode and for offline mode it takes 12-15 days for the results to come after taking the exam. The TOEFL score is made available to the students anywhere between 6-10 days from the test date. 


So first of all, let’s focus on some benefits of the IELTS test:

  • IELTS Speaking test

Unlike other exams, IELTS speaking section is taken by a person, where there is human interaction with qualified and experienced examiners. Speaking with a human as opposed to a computer is much more natural.  Examiners will always encourage you to keep speaking by asking you more questions. That means you won’t feel “frozen” like you would if you were staring at a computer screen. 

  • The IELTS Speaking realistic and test environment is good-

Speaking with a clock ticking in front of you makes you nervous! The IELTS speaking test does not include a timer in front of you. You will have a 2-minute timed response in Part 2 of your test, but your examiner will control it for you. Nobody speaks with a timer in front of them in real life. The Speaking exam is held in a quiet and private environment between the candidate and the speaking examiner. That means candidates have the privacy and silence they need to think and speak calmly. On the other hand, the other tests like PTE, and CELPIP have several other candidates speaking in the same room which is noisy and distractive.

  • Time Management on the IELTS exam

Writing task 2 in your IELTS exam gives you 40 minutes to write one essay which is a good time to write 250 words, unlike other exams. Moreover, students can think through the topic and write in detail.

The cons of the IELTS test

  • The IELTS listening test

Getting an 8 out of 9 on their listening test of IELTS is difficult. First of all, the listening test includes a variety of accents.  But either way, many students find it hard to do a listening test with a mix of British, Australian, and American accents Also, the format of the listening test is tough since you’ll have to fill in the blanks. You won’t be given a dropdown menu with choices so if you don’t hear the right answer, you’ve missed your opportunity as you only get to listen to your test once.

  • The IELTS Test Duration

Even though the test duration itself is approximately 2 hours and 45 minutes but on the test day experience on the IELTS can be quite long since you have to take your speaking test separately from the other exam sections. Moreover, on the day of the pen and paper exam, it becomes tiresome as the entire day is almost gone, and one needs to reach 1-2 hours before the exam.

  • Spelling Counts on the IELTS Test

Most of the students make errors in the spelling and singular plural as spelling can be tricky, even for a native speaker.

Finally, the IELTS test is an internationally renowned English test that can open doors for you, so it’s definitely worth the investment. If you’re planning on taking the test, it’s worth it to invest in proper training. Studying alone isn’t easy, and studying online with conflicting and often misleading information can definitely be confusing. Getting the right support you need can set you up for success! Studying the right way can and will save you time, stress, and money!

Pros for taking the TOEFL test

1.  TOEFL is a highly recognized test in the world.

And accepted by all universities in the U.S.  About 10,000 universities in 130 countries accept TOEFL, including Canada, the UK, and Australia. All top 100 universities in the world accept TOEFL. This means that wherever you choose to apply, the TOEFL test will come in handy. 

2. Booking the test is super easy

You can book a TOEFL test wherever you are, online. Plus, you can find test centers everywhere in the world, which not all other test providers offer. Plus, you are not confined by a rigid schedule, as there are 50 TOEFL iBT test dates every year. Plus, results come out in about 15 days.

3. There’s a lot of free learning material

As this test is so popular there are a plethora of resources available online just for free, including tons of exercises, books, videos, and online courses.

 Cons for taking the TOEFL test

1. TOEFL Test places are filled really quickly

That’s because of the test’s popularity. So even if the test is organized 50 times a year, depending on the facility in your country, you might not get a place at the immediate next exam and have to wait until the next round.

2. The exam takes longer than others to complete

The TOEFL iBT test is estimated to take about 5 hours to complete. This requires you to have the ability to maintain focus for a long time, especially since you’ll have to remember some of the listening to write an essay about it, for example.

3. Good computer skills are important for this test

Since TOEFL iBT is delivered exclusively online, you really need to be good with computers, especially typing. So if you don’t have good computer skills then this test is a challenge. The faster you type, the more time you save for focusing on the right answers for a higher score.


Tips to prepare for IELTS

  1. Decide the right IELTS  test for you

Your IELTS test will depend on whether you plan to work, study, or migrate to an English-speaking country. If you plan to study abroad, then take IELTS –Academic but if you migrate to countries like Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and UK the you need to give IELTS –General.

  1. Get familiar with the test and know each question type

Once you’re down to the IELTS test that suits your requirements, you need to familiarize yourself with the test which includes question types, and test patterns by practicing a mock IELTS test. You need to understand what IELTS is, the skills that are tested, and what the IELTS results mean.

3. Mock analysis

Both the IELTS Academic and General Training tests are made up of 4 test sections- Listening, Reading, Writing, and Speaking. The question type varies with each section since different skills are tested with each section. Practicing of mock tests is highly recommended since it’ll help you get familiar with the question types and time allotted for each section. Students can get to know their mistakes in each section which helps them to improve their scores.


1. Know the format

Spend some time on the official TOEFL site to get familiar with the way it works, and to find out any information you need. Know that there are two ways for you to take the test –the internet-based test (or iBT), and the paper-based test. The former is much more popular nowadays, and it’s likely the one you’ll be doing. But just in case, here’s how each is set out.

  • The internet-based test follows this format:
  • Reading (36-56 questions;60-80 minutes)
  • Listening (34-51 questions;60-90 minutes)
  • Speaking ( 6 tasks; 20 minutes)
  • Writing ( 2 essays; 50 minutes)

The paper-based IELTS takes the following format:

  • Listening ( 50 questions; 30-40 minutes)
  • Writing  ( 40 questions; 25 minutes)
  • Reading ( 50 questions; 55 minutes)
  • Test of written English ( 1 essay; 30 minutes) 

2. Prepare a study guide

Prepare from a good book, which will take you through all the sections, practice points, strategy pointers and example answers.

3. Read and listen to English outside of TOEFL

Try reading novels or watching YouTube videos, and movies, watching series in English, and even listening to songs. This way you will get accustomed to various accents.

4. Practice speaking

Pick up a general topic and speak on that for a couple of minutes. Practice doing that in front of the mirror. You can record and see your progress.

5. Keep a check of writing

Writing under a time limit can be stressful. Practice writing essays with the help of a timer. This will help you manage your time better, allowing a certain amount for planning your writing, enough time to actually write the thing and do proofreading also.

6. Practice as much as you can

Practice lot of mocks so that on the test day, you have no surprises remaining.

Give at least one mock every alternate day and keep on giving practice set every day and do proper analysis of the tests as well as mock.

7. Don’t forget the QWERTY

The QWERTY computer keyboard is challenging if you are not used to it. If you’re taking the TOEFL iBT though, you’ll be doing so on one of these keyboards, so try to get as much practice in as possible.


When it comes to choosing the right test for you, it’s worth it to consider the pros and cons of each test. Many people struggle to choose between the IELTS and the TOEFL test, and both tests come with their own set of challenges. The TOEFL is more commonly accepted by American institutions, while the IELTS is more commonly accepted overseas, but many schools accept scores from either exam. However, a school may have a preference to which test you take, so that is also worth checking out. But, people who are looking for PR, need to take IELTS only.


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