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IELTS vs TOEFL: Which Should You Take?

Should you take a language proficiency test?

Proficiency refers to the person's competency in using a particular skill. Language proficiency tests assess a person's practical language skills and focus on the practical application of that knowledge.

English proficiency tests are typically associated with international students, but there are a wide variety of reasons that organizations of all types would need an accurate English language proficiency test.

  • Higher Education:

Colleges and universities worldwide have an English language proficiency requirement for admission of non-native English speakers. Typically, the test is taken at a test center in the applicant’s home country, and the score is submitted with their application.

  • For visa applications:

Several visa classes require proof that an applicant meets certain minimum standards of English language proficiency. Furthermore, in points-tested visa classes, the applicant’s level of English proficiency has a major impact on the overall points they obtain and consequently, on their chances of a successful visa application.


If you need to take an exam to prove you have the required level of English, there are a few English language exams accepted by universities and organizations worldwide. This blog will focus on two of the most popular options: IELTS and TOEFL.

1. What is TOEFL?

TOEFL stands for Test of English as a Foreign Language, and it is an English language proficiency exam produced by the US-based ETS (Education Test Service).

There are several versions of the TOEFL, either paper-based or computer-based. We will focus on the TOEFL iBT which is administered over the internet. The TOEFL iBT is, by far, the most widely taken and accepted version of the TOEFL.

1.2. TOEFL Format?

The TOEFL lasts a total of 3.5 hours and includes four sections. There is a ten-minute break between the Listening and Speaking sections. For each section, you’ll receive a score of 0-30. These scores are then added together, meaning your total TOEFL score will be from 0-120.

1.3. Why TOEFL?

The test tends to be more related to the USA and is more favored by American institutions, such as universities and graduate schools. However, most countries and universities accept the test, including in the UK and Australia.

It's important to note though that although TOEFL is accepted in UK university admissions applications, it is no longer accepted in applications for UK student visas due to incidences of fraud several years ago.

2. What is IELTS?

The IELTS (International English Language Testing System) is an English language proficiency exam jointly owned by the British Council, IDP: IELTS Australia, and Cambridge English Language Assessment.

There are two versions of the IELTS: the IELTS Academic and the IELTS General Training. The IELTS Academic is for people applying for higher education or a profession. The IELTS General Training is for people traveling to English-speaking countries for secondary education, or work experience.

IELTS Academic is the version for students applying to undergraduate and postgraduate institutions (although the two versions both have the same scoring system and similar formats).

2.1. IELTS format:

The total time of the IELTS is 2 hours and 45 minutes. The IELTS has the same four sections as the TOEFL, and for each section, you’ll receive a score from 0-9. Your overall score is an average of those four scores and will also be from 0-9.

Unlike the TOEFL, which you must take all at once, for the IELTS, you are able to take the Speaking section up to a week before or after the other sections (you schedule your speaking time when you register for the exam).

2.2. Why IELTS?

IELTS has two parts - an Academic Module that tests for academic settings, and the General Training Module, which is for work settings and general immigration purposes. So, the test mainly helps those wishing to work, study or migrate to native English-speaking countries, such as the UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the USA.

3. TOEFL vs. IELTS: Which to choose?

While the content is similar, with four basic areas of competency, the structures of the tests differ quite a bit. TOEFL questions are almost entirely multiple choice, while IELTS tests have many types of questions throughout, including short answers, small essays, and gap-filling tasks — where you'll fill in missing words.

Further, For IELTS exams, students are required to directly communicate with the examiner for the IELTS speaking section test. 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.

To choose, ask yourself the following questions to figure out which exam to go for:

  • Which test(s) the institutions you're interested in will accept?

Make a list of which tests are accepted at each school on your college list. Is only one test accepted by all the schools? Take it! This is a great way to minimize the number of tests you must take and focus your studying efforts.

  • Which test plays more to your strengths?

Using the information above, you can start getting familiar with the formats of each test and the types of questions they will ask. Are you getting your best results on one particular test, or are you most comfortable with one format? Take that one!

  • Where can you easily take the test?

Logistics are also a factor to consider when deciding to take the TOEFL or IELTS. If the testing center for one of the exams is much closer to you and/or one of the exams has a better option of available test dates, that can help you make your decision. Check out the test dates and test locations for the TOEFL or IELTS to learn more.

Finally, If you’ve decided which test to take, next, you should know, when you’ll be able to take the exam (IELTS / TOEFL), and what score you should aim at. And how can you prepare for the test?

For preparation, EFA has a special offer, prepare for the test in a small group with Jane Delaney, IELTS and TOEFL trainer, and achieve high scores in Reading, Writing, Listening, and Speaking!

For more information, contact us: at, or +212 668-547072.


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