IELTS Or TOEFL: Which Is Preferable?
Universities in English speaking developed countries want to make sure students applying from abroad have the English language skills necessary for successful study in their country so if you aren’t an English native speaker, you’ll almost always be required to take an English language proficiency test as part of your application to study abroad at an English-speaking university.
The TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) and IELTS (International English Language Testing System) are two of the most widely-accepted and standardised tests to certify your English proficiency.
Some people get really confused about which exam to take. Of course everyone wants to choose the one they can pass easily. But that is relative because of the many similarities in both tests. For example, both of them have four basic sections, each of which tests a basic skill (reading, listening, speaking, writing).
However, the decision to take either test will ultimately depend on a number of factors.
Some schools specify a particular test they prefer but other schools will take either of the test (or some other English proficiency test). You need to note that though both of them accurately test your level of English, the two tests are different in their approach, structure and scoring criteria, so you should think carefully about which one you’ll choose if you have a choice.
How do the two tests differ?
Although both tests test the same thing, they do so in different ways
While TOEFL exam questions are almost entirely multiple choice, IELTS requires you to respond to a range of different question types such as short answer, gap-filling and short essay tasks.
The IELTS takes approximately 2 hours and 40 minutes to complete while the TOEFL exam takes four hours to complete.
There is only one type of TOEFL exam that is done entirely on the computer, whereas there are two types of IELTS that are both completed on paper. Students applying for English-speaking tertiary programmes will need to sit the Academic IELTS exam, whereas the General Training exam is used to meet immigration and some occupational requirements.
IELTS and TOEFL support different modes of thought and problem solving. If you are strong in analytical thinking, then the TOEFL exam will be your best bet. On the other hand, IELTS requires more use of memory, and draws on broader comprehension skills as students are faced with different question styles.
Differences in the exam formats
Both exams have a speaking component. IELTS speaking test is taken face-to-face with a single examiner who singlehandedly determines your score, while in the TOEFL exam, you’ll answer six questions into a microphone which are recorded and later sent to a group of six reviewers.
The IELTS speaking test will take between 11-14 minutes and may not necessarily be on the same day as the other exam components, whilst the TOEFL will take about 20 minutes and is always on the same day as the rest of the exam.
For TOEFL, you will have 3 – 5 reading selections of twenty minutes each. The reading materials are usually academic in nature and as usual, the questions are multiple choice.
IELTS has 3 reading selections of twenty minutes each. Just like in TOEFL, the materials are academic with multiple type questions (gap fill, matching, etc.)
The biggest difference between the two exams is in the listening test. In the TOEFL, you will have 40 – 60 minutes worth of listening selections from lectures or campus conversations. You will need to take notes and respond to multiple choice questions at the end of listening.
But in the IELTS exam, you are given a wider variety of question types, as well as exercises of differing lengths. You will answer questions as you move through the listening section of the test.
Two written tasks are required on the TOEFL and all writing is done on the computer. Task one involves writing a five paragraph essay of 300 to 350 words. The second task asks you to take notes from a reading selection in a text book and then a lecture on the same topic. You are then asked to respond using notes by writing a 150 – 225 word selection integrating both the reading and listening selection.
The IELTS writing test also has two tasks: the first one is a short essay of 200 – 250 words and the second writing task asks you to look at an infograhic such as a graph or chart and summarize the information presented.
IELTS gives scores between 0 and 9, with halfway points in between but TOEFL gives a more numerical SAT-type grade, totaling your scores from all the different sections of the exam.
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.
If you still need help making this decision, below are some questions you can ask yourself to help you make a decision. Your answers to the following questions are pointers to the best exam of the two for you:
Question 1: Are you more comfortable with North American or British accents?
If you are more comfortable with British English (or Australian English), take the IELTS as their vocabulary and accents tend more towards British English. If however, you like US idiomatic language, choose the TOEFL as it reflects American English.
It’s important to note that neither test will penalize you for using one or the other dialect, as long as your answers are fluent, clear, and, of course, correct.
Do you want to finish the test as quickly as possible?
If you become extremely nervous during a test and want it to end as quickly as possible, then making a decision is easy. The TOEFL is almost twice as long as the IELTS! But remember that shorter does not necessarily mean easier!
Do you feel comfortable with a wide range of question types?
The TOEFL exam is made up of almost entirely multiple choice questions. The IELTS, on the other hand, has a much wider range of question types including multiple choice, gap fill, matching exercises, etc. If you do NOT feel comfortable with multiple choice questions, the TOEFL is not the test for you.
Are you proficient at taking notes?
Note taking is important on both the IELTS and the TOEFL. However, it is much more critical on the TOEFL exam. The TOEFL listening section depends on note taking skills as you answer questions after you have listened to a longer selection. The IELTS asks you to answer questions as you listen to the exam.
No matter which test you take, be aware that the scores all expire 2 years after your test date.
By now you should be tending towards one of these tests – but whatever one you choose, don’t forget that you still need to put in as much study time in order to pass.
All the best