If you are a non-native English speaker who wants to apply for a US or other English language university or college, then you are probably required to take either the TOEFL or the IELTS standardized tests. These tests are used by admissions offices to assess your knowledge, use, and understanding of the English language.

The question is how to choose which test to prep for and take?

The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) and the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) are tests certifying proficiency in English. The TOEFL vs IELTS scores are accepted by most English speaking universities, colleges and employers.

The decision whether to take the TOEFL versus IELTS depends on a number of different factors.

If you are new to these tests or are faced with a TOEFL vs IELTS dilemma, read on to find out more about the similarities, differences, and the specifics of each test. This can help you determine whether the TOEFL test is easier than the IELTS or vice versa, and to find out which one is more suitable for your needs.

General information about the IELTS

The IELTS is a computer-based or paper-based standardized test which is administered by the British Council. It is 2 hours and 45 minutes long and focuses on a more international approach towards the English language, making it more suitable if you are applying for an English based school located in a country outside of the USA.

It comes in two versions – General and Academic, so if you are planning on applying for a higher education level, you should focus on the Academic version of the IELTS.

In general, the IELTS prep courses are more common abroad, but they tend to be less expensive than the TOEFL prep courses.

General information about the TOEFL

The TOEFL is a computer-based standardized test which is often referred to as TOEFL iBT (internet-based test). It is 3 hours long and administered by the US-based ETS (Educational Testing Service). It is a test more focused on American English, making it more suitable for applicants to American universities and colleges. Some grad schools in the US accept only the TOEFL by applicants.

There are more TOEFL prep courses and materials available in the US than those for the alternative IELTS test.

What is the main difference between TOEFL and IELTS?

Overall, as mentioned previously, the TOEFL is the more suitable test to take if you are planning on studying in an American language school or working in the US. The IELTS is a better option if you are going to study or work in another non-English speaking country.

As a whole, the TOEFL and IELTS are quite similar in structure. Each of them consists of four sections testing basic skills in English, including reading, listening, speaking, and writing.

There is some difference between IELTS and TOEFL worth noting, including:

  • The speaking section is recorded at the TOEFL test and is in person at the IELTS speaking section of the test.
  • They are also both standardized tests, so you can sign up for a test prep course or practice taking either one in order to perform better and to determine which exam is more suitable and easier for you if you are faced with a GMAT vs IELTS choice.
  • On the other hand, their scoring systems are pretty different, and there are also some major differences in the content tested.
  • The TOEFL is available in more than 500 locations in the USA and more than 4,500 around the world, and the IELTS is available in 59 locations in the USA and around 900 test locations around the world.
  • The price of the TOEFL is between $160 and $200, and the IELTS costs differently depending on the location.
  • The scoring of the TOEFL is based on a sliding scale of 0-120, while the IELTS is scored in 9 levels.
  • The TOEFL is a test that is most commonly used for applying for universities and colleges, and thus is academically focused. The IELTS is a universal test for non-native English speakers and comes in an Academic and in a General version, so it is commonly used for work and immigration purposes in some countries.
  • In both cases, the test scores have a validity of up to 2 years after the test date.

As noted, the TOEFL is American dialect based, while the IELTS test is British English based. Still, neither test will penalize the test-takers for using either British or American English on either of the tests.

TOEFL vs IELTS formats of the tests

IELTS format

The IELTS exam consists of four sections and lasts for a total of 2 hours and 45 minutes.

What makes this standardized test unique is the fact that it comes in a General or Academic versions, which have the same sections but different content.

The IELTS General exam is for testing the proficiency of the English language for day-to-day use in an English-speaking environment, while the Academic version of the exam is more difficult and aims to assess the command of the language in an academic environment.

The sections of the IELTS test are:

  • Listening. The test-taker must answer 10 fill in the blank, true or false or sentence completion questions after listening to four audio recordings in various English dialects.
  • Reading. The test-taker has to answer 40 questions about several included passages. The questions are in a fill-in-the-blank format or require short answers.
  • Writing. This section consists of two parts, one is a 150-word essay for 20 minutes based on the provided information, and the next one is a 200-250 word essay for 40 minutes based on a provided argument.
  • Speaking. Usually, the IELTS speaking test of English is taken separately from the rest of the test and includes a face to face conversation with a test administrator for normal everyday topics, and the other is a brief speech based on a topic provided by the administrator.

TOEFL format

The TOEFL has four sections testing the same English skills but in a different order. They are reading, listening, speaking, and writing.

Here is what the TOEFL sections include:

  • Reading. The students have to answer a number of multiple-choice questions based on the provided 3 to 5 passages.
  • Listening. For the TOEFL listening section, the students listen to up to 6 audio recordings of conversational speech and academic speech and need to answer a number of multiple-choice questions regarding the context and motivations of the speakers.
  • Speaking. This is a part of the test which is recorded, and students and other test-takers need to express their opinions vocally, and then they need to respond to an audio or written material.
  • Writing. This section is split into two parts. One is a 300-350 word essay in response to a written passage and audio recording, and the second part is writing a brief essay based on a topic provided in the test

IELTS vs TOEFL questions and time

The IELTS test lasts for 2.45 hours, and the TOEFL iBT is 3 hours long. Here is how many questions there are, and how much time you will have for each section on the tests:

Listening:

IELTS – 40 questions, 30 minutes

TOEFL 30-40 questions, 54-72 minutes

Reading:

IELTS – 40 questions, 60 minutes

TOEFL – 28-39 questions, 41-57 minutes

Writing:

IELTS – 2 questions, 60 minutes (20 minutes for the first essay and 40 minutes for the second one)

TOEFL – 2 questions, 50 minutes

Speaking:

IELTS – 2 questions, 10-15 minutes

TOEFL – 4 questions, 17 minutes

IELTS vs TOEFL score – how are they scored

How is the IELST scored?

IELTS test scoring uses a band score system. The raw scores from the correctly answered sections are converted into band scores of 0 to 9 each.

You will get a 0 to 9 band score for each of the 4 sections of the test, which is then averaged and rounded up to the next .5 for an overall composite score. So if you get a 7.3 score, it will be rounded up for a total score of 7.5 points.

How is the TOEFL scored?

The TOEFL iBT uses a scaled score system, so the raw scores from your correct answers from each section are converted into a scaled score of 0 to 30.

The total TOEFL test score is the sum of all subscores and ranges from 0 to 120 points.

Can the IELTS scores be converted to TOEFL scores?

Since the scoring systems of each of the tests are so different, it is difficult to make a precise TOEFL-IELTS or IELTS-TOEFL conversion of the scores of one test to the score of the other.

There is an approximate IELTS to TOEFL total score conversion calculation method offered by the ETS, which is as follows:

Table 1.

If you are interested in the TOEFL IELTS score conversion of each section sub-score to the other, you can check out the approximations made by the ETS here.

IELTS vs TOEFL – how to prepare for the tests

Both tests are standardized and test the understanding and use of the English language. Still, unless you live in an English speaking environment or have studied it in a language school, you will probably need to prepare for taking either of the two tests.

Here are some of the best ways to prepare for the IELTS or the TOEFL test:

Use test prep books

There are numerous prep books available to help students study for the IELTS or for the TOEFL tests, the most popular ones being those published by Kaplan.

Preparing for any one of these tests with a book is suitable for students and other people used to this type of self-paced and book-based studying.

Practice your speaking

Many foreign language speakers find the speaking section of the TOEFL and IELTS the most challenging, especially if they have studied the language on their own or have prepared for the exams individually.

The best way for students to practice English as a foreign language is to talk with native English speakers and ask them to correct or point out any mistakes or any improvements they can make.

Practice a lot

Since each of these standardized tests is quite specific, students and other test-takers must prepare by completing practice questions, and if possible full-length practice tests. This will help you get used to the format of the test you are taking and will give you an idea of what the real test will be like.

You will save a lot of time and perform better if you already know what is expected of you when the test day comes.

Most prep books offer practice tests and questions, and most TOEFL and IELTS prep courses and platforms have Qbanks with realistic practice questions, as well as offer timed, full-length practice tests.

Enroll in a TOEFL or IELTS prep course

This study strategy is probably the best way to get ready for and to perform at your best at the TOEFL or IELTS test.

Courses usually include either on-demand or instructor-led lessons and answer explanations. Most of them offer access to multiple practice questions and tests, and some offer other services and prep products such as one-on-one tutoring, essay review, vocabulary flashcards, and many more.

The good news is that the majority of the test prep companies will offer you a higher score guarantee or will refund your money in case you fail to achieve the promised score or to improve it.

Which is easier-IELTS or TOEFL?

Since the IELTS and TOEFL tests are quite different, it is hard to determine which is easier – TOEFL or IELTS.

Determining IELTS or TOEFL which is easier of the two depends on a number of factors, which include:

  • How comfortable you are with using computers and with computer-based tests
  • How comfortable you are with multiple-choice questions
  • Whether you are more proficient in British English, International English language or American English
  • How comfortable you are with in-person interviews
  • How well you understand different English dialects
  • Are you better at answering questions of different types rather than just ones with multiple choice options
  • Is your knowledge of the English closer to the everyday casual use, or are you more proficient in academic English

So, if you are better in American English, perform better with multiple-choice questions, and are good with computers, typing, recording and taking notes, and usually read or watch authentic English academic or informative sources, then the TOEFL will most probably be the easier and the more suitable exam for you.

On the other hand, if you can understand different English dialects, have studied British English, and prefer a wider variety of questions, mainly listen to read or watch English language entertainment, as well as feel comfortable to speak directly to an interviewer, you should opt for the IELTS general exam.

As a whole, when compared side by side and deciding between the TOEFL or IELTS which is easier, it seems that in general when determining IELTS or TOEFL easier, then the IELTS General exam can be considered slightly easier of the two tests for some students, because:

  • It is slightly shorter than the TOEFL what is easier for some students
  • It is usually split in between two days (the speaking section is done in person)
  • The audio in the listening section is answered as you listen to the recording, while in the TOEFL exam, you need to listen to the entire passage and then answer the questions
  • The speaking section is more conversational as you will be speaking to a test-taker, which some people may see as a positive and others may conceive as a negative factor

How to choose between IELTS versus TOEFL

Apart from the factors from the previous paragraph, the most important factor to keep in mind when choosing which the better test for you to take is the reason why you are taking it.

If you are planning on applying for a school or program, ask the admissions offices for their requirements and whether they require a specific test to be taken as proof of English knowledge and proficiency for their students

Then, if you have an option to choose either the IELTS or the TOEFL test, you can select the one which you will feel more comfortable with and which you think that you will score better at.

A great way to decide which test to choose is to complete full-length practice tests of both types and see how well you perform on each, and how you feel about taking each one.

Final words

As you can see, there is no clear winner in the IELTS vs TOEFL comparison when it comes to which test is better and which is easier.

You will need to research which test score is required by the school or other organization you are applying for, and also to decide which one will be easier for your English speaking, listening, reading, and writing level.

In either case, you will need to take the time to properly prepare for the tests if you want to get a high score.

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