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IELTS or TOEFL: Which is Best for You?

ELTS and TOEFL are two English language tests.

They are usually taken by people from non-English speaking countries who wish to study or immigrate into an English speaking country.

The two exams are similar but do have key differences so it is important to choose the right one to study.

Here’s a look at the key differences between IELTS and TOEFL, to help you choose the exam that’s right for you.


Both exams test your English proficiency and ability to communicate in a classroom and to fit into an English-speaking culture.

What They Test

Both IELTS and TOEFL have four sections:

    • Speaking

This section tests your ability to speak logically about a given subject and to have a conversation in English.

In IELTS the test includes a formal interview.

    • Reading

This section tests your basic reading skill. You will be shown 3-4 passages and then asked questions about them. The passages cover a wide range of topics, varying from journalistic articles to first person accounts.

    • Listening

This section tests your understanding of lectures and conversations, which is important for academic and social success.

    • Writing

This section tests your writing skills, especially how you organise your thoughts, and whether you can write fluent English which would be acceptable in a business or academic environment.

Key Differences between IELTS and TOEFL

Here are the key differences between the IELTS and TOEFL exams.


IELTS is a British test, so is a requirement for studying at universities in the UK and commonwealth countries like Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Some American universities also accept IELTS.

TOEFL is develop at Stanford University Center in USA. Consequently, it is widely accepted at universities in USA.

If you are a prospective student then you should consult the requirements of your target university. Broadly speaking, choose IELTS for UK and the British Commonwealth; otherwise choose TOEFL.


TOEFL has 4,500 centres in 165 countries, whilst IELTS has only 900 centres globally. This should not be a problem though as IELTS has a centre in most major international cities.

Both IELTS and TOEFL are held 48 times per year.


The TOEFL test is called the TOEFL iBT (Internet-based Test) and some centres also offer a paper version, which is called the Paper-based Test (PBT). For IELTS there is also a choice of paper or computer based tests but some of the centres do not offer the computer based option.

IELTS has two types of tests:

    • Academic

This test is a requirement for studying at university so the questions test performance in an academic setting.

    • General

This is a general purpose test to meet the visa requirements for immigrating into a country. It is easier than the Academic exam as most questions are concerned with performance in a real world, social setting.

The number of takers for each exam is split almost equally at 50% academic and 50% general.


The fees for IELTS and TOEFL are broadly similar, varying between $150-$250 depending on the location and type of test.


TOEFL is scored out of 120 points whilst IELTS scores are based on a 9 point scale with half-point increments. Since TOEFL is scored on a wider point range, some students think that TOEFL is fairer than IELTS because a few mistakes could mean a lower band score for IELTS.

Other Differences

Besides the key differences above, there are some other differences:


IELTS accepts both UK and US English spellings, whereas TOEFL uses mainly US English spellings.


IELTS uses a variety of accents in the listening section, including, British, American, Canadian and Australian accents.  Conversely, TOEFL uses the standard American accent.


The IELTS speaking section is actually a conversation with an examiner whereas the TOEFL speaking section involves speaking into a microphone.


There are a few differences between the two exams, the main one being that IELTS is primarily for British and Commonwealth Universities and immigration, whereas TOEFL is for USA.

For more help on preparing for the IELTS and TOEFL exams consider taking a free assessment and free trial lesson.


Paul Andreas

Paul Andreas is a Certified Speaking Coach and qualified TEFL Teacher Online English Lessons delivered by Skype for IELTS exam preparation and conversational English. Get a free trial lesson.

This Post Has 5 Comments


    Unlike the IELTS which is divided into academics and general, does it mean that the TOEFL exam is meant only for academic purposes or there is also a general aspect of it for people who wish to meet a visa requirement into the US?

    1. Paul Andreas

      Ikechekwu, the TOEFL exam focuses primarily on how English is used in an academic setting. Schools and universities use it for admissions purposes. The reading passages use formal, academic language and vocabulary as apposed to casual or conversational English.

  2. Lilian snow

    When it comes to the various sections of test for both the IELTS and TOEFL exam, there is news that some sections, typically the writing and speaking sections carry more marks than the listening section. How true is this or is it mere speculations?

  3. Dianne

    A wonderful article that I have shared. I was wondering whether IELTS or TOEFL was best and this is useful information.

  4. Gina

    Thank you for publishing this article. I found it very helpful.

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