IELTS vs TOEFL: Similarities, Differences & Which One To Consider (2020)

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Overview: IELTS And TOEFL


The IELTS (International English Language testing System) is one of two generally preferred tests worldwide to evaluate the English language proficiency of non-native English speakers.

It is an international standardized test, and therefore provides a global level certification to the candidate. IELTS is jointly administered by the British Council, IDP Education and Cambridge Assessment English. 

Candidates who appear for the IELTS are usually pursuing education, employment opportunities, or want to migrate to countries where English is the predominant language.


The TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) is a standardized examination to assess the English language capability of non-native speakers who wish to apply to English speaking universities.

It is one of two international standardized tests, the other being IELTS (International English Language Testing System) and therefore provides certification to the candidate which can be used globally.

TOEFL is conducted by the Educational Testing Service (ETS), based in the United States. It is the world’s largest private nonprofit educational testing and assessment agency.

TOEFL tests English predominantly for academic purposes, that is, it measures the candidate’s proficiency in applying English language skills at the university level, and assesses how competently the candidate is able to combine skills such as reading, writing, speaking and listening to accomplish academic responsibilities.

Why choose between IELTS and TOEFL?

Although both tests are for speakers of English as a foreign language and have widespread acceptance, they differ in some vital areas.

A candidate can therefore appear for one or the other depending on the requirements of the institution of his/her choice, and can play to his/her strength to obtain the highest possible score.

Similarities Between IELTS & TOEFL

Skills tested – Both the IELTS and TOEFL test English language skills across the board that is, speaking, writing, reading and listening skills.

Eligibility – There are no official eligibility requirements to appear for IELTS or the TOEFL. However in case of TOEFL the iBT cannot be taken more than once every twelve days.

Validity period of test results – Both the IELTS and TOEFL recommend a period of two years from the test date as the validity period of results, as it has been noticed that for non English speakers second language skills decrease with passage of time.

Acceptance of scores – Both IELTS and TOEFL enable candidates to maximize opportunities as most Australian, Canadian, British and New Zealand academic institutions, as well as the ones in the United States give credence to this test.

Various professional organizations worldwide also accept these test scores.


Exam pattern:

IELTS – In case of both IELTS Academic and IELTS General Training, the candidate is assessed on his/her listening, reading, writing and speaking skills.

Marks are given for each individual test component, which are then averaged and rounded off to produce an overall result. 

The scoring pattern is reflected on a scale of 0 to 9, where 0 indicates that the candidate did not appear for the test, while 9 indicates that the candidate is an expert and has full operational command of the language.

TOEFL – For iBT: it consists of four sections:

Reading – three to five passages of about seven hundred words are given, and questions must be answered on these in about sixty to eighty minutes.

Listening – candidates must answer questions after listening to two student and four academic lectures, each around three to five minutes in length in about sixty to ninety minutes.

Speaking – candidates must complete six tasks, two independent and four integrated which involve expressing one’s opinions spontaneously and answering questions based on what they heard in about twenty minutes.

Writing – consists of two tasks – summarizing a lecture and writing an essay in about fifty minutes.

For PDT: it consists of the same sections as the iBT, and scored on the same scale, however in this case there is no total score.

Exam duration – For IELTS the duration takes approximately two hours and forty five minutes to complete.

The TOEFL takes about four hours to complete.

Special considerations in certain cases:

For IELTS – In case of candidates whose primary motivation is immigration, IELTS is designated as the only “Secure English Language Test” approved by the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) for visa customers applying both inside and outside the UK.

For TOEFL – International students who are citizens of certain commonwealth countries, which are part of the English speaking world, or are former colonies of the British empire such as Hong Kong SAR, or previous protectorates of the United States, such as Puerto Rico or the Philippines and those of Canada (excepting Quebec) are exempt from the requirement of appearing for the TOEFL test for university admissions as their countries’ official language is English.

The same does not apply to some other nations such as India, Pakistan or Bangladesh where English may be only one of the languages used for communication.

Candidate’s comfort:

For IELTS – If the candidate is more comfortable appearing for a more traditional paper based exam which includes writing and communicating with a real person, IELTS would be preferred.

Also, the candidate must be more comfortable with English as used in general situations.

For TOEFL – If the candidate is more comfortable with typing and appearing for a test which is multiple choice and entirely computer based, TOEFL would be preferred.

Also, the candidate must be more at ease with English used in predominantly academic scenarios.


For IELTS – There are 1200 IELTS locations in over 140 countries. The candidate may visit the official website to locate the nearest centre.

For TOEFL – There are approximately 4500 TOEFL locations in over 165 countries. The candidate may visit the official website to locate the nearest centre. Registration closes seven days before the test date.

Intended destination:

IELTS – For candidates seeking entry into the UK, Australia or New Zealand IELTS scores are preferred.

TOEFL – For candidates seeking entry into the US or Canada TOEFL scores are preferred.

Cost of appearing:

IELTS – The cost of appearing for the test varies between 215 to 240 USD for candidates applying in the United States depending on the test location.

For international students, the amount varies from country to country. In India, for example, the fee is INR 12,650.

TOEFL – The registration fees for appearing for the test varies from country to country but is on an average $170.

This amount is exclusive of taxes and other charges for late registration, rescheduling or score reviews.

Result declaration:

IELTS – declared about thirteen days after test date.

TOEFL – declared about ten days after test date.

Cultural comfort:

IELTS – Candidates who are more comfortable with British English accents and culture may prefer IELTS.

TOEFL – Candidates who are more comfortable with American English accents and culture may prefer TOEFL.

As a final note, both IELTS and TOEFL scores are accepted by the majority of organizations worldwide.

Candidates may consider the above similarities and differences to arrive at an informed choice.

Must Check: Important articles on TOEFL Test:

What is a good TOEFL Score?

TOEFL vs IELTS: Similarities, Differences and Which One to Consider

PTE vs TOEFL: A Comparative Analysis

Recommended Books and Online Resources for TOEFL

TOEFL Syllabus, Test Pattern, Exam Dates and Application Form