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IELTS and TOEFL: What's the difference?

If one of your plans includes studying abroad in the UK, the USA, Canada, or in any English-speaking country, you are most likely familiar with IELTS and TOEFL. Although both English proficiency examinations determine your English level by evaluating your aptitude in the four macro-skills (reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills, these two tests are different in format, scoring, and more.

In this article, we are going to discuss the difference between these two types of English examinations. Additionally, I’ll also be giving you advice on and take the test that is right for you. With our IELTS plan at QQEnglish, we guide you from start until the end so that you’ll know the best techniques and methods.

Generally, the IELTS and TOEFL are just simple English proficiency exams that assess how well you are in the English language. Moreover, these tests will also determine how able you are to understand the course material they have in the English-speaking University you are going to be part of.

The IELTS and TOEFL exams are two of the most widely accepted exams for English proficiency in the world. But despite their popularity, both tests differ in their structure, approach, and teaching criteria. This means that you need to understand how the two differ before selecting which test to study for and ultimately take.

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What is the IELTS exam?

IELTS stands for International English Language Testing System. This examination has two formats: Academic and General. The Academic IELTS is the type of test you must take if you plan to pursue higher education abroad. This means planning to get a Master’s Degree or Ph.D. in an English-speaking country. On the other hand, the IELTS General training assesses how well your English social skills and workplace contexts are. In this article, we’ll focus on the Academic IELTS.

Although the English language has many variants, the IELTS uses British English. This type of test has four parts that assess the four macro-skills of learning: reading, listening, writing, and speaking. Overall, each candidate is given only two hours and 45 minutes to complete the test, including transfer time from one section to the next.

You might have heard of other English proficiency exams. However, there are only very few which are accepted in thousands of institutions in over 140 countries, and IELTS is one of those. After taking the test, each student can then select up to five organizations where copies of their IELTS results will be sent free of charge.


What is the TOEFL exam?

As mentioned earlier, IELTS and TOEFL are some of the most popular English exams accepted abroad. We’ve already talked about IELTS, but not yet for TOEFL.

TOEFL stands for Test of English as a Foreign Language. It is an examination for English proficiency developed by an American company, ETS. Like IELTS, this examination measures an individual’s reading, speaking, writing, and listening proficiency in American English. TOEFL scores are a requirement for over 900 universities and other institutions in over 130 countries.

If the IELTS exam has two formats, TOELF, on the contrary, also has two methods of taking this test. The candidate can take it as a Paper-Based Test (TOEFL PBT) or an Internet-Based Test (TOEFL IBT). Interestingly, TOEFL IBT, however, is more popular. The only thing you must do is to register and take the TOEFL IBT at designated centers in almost all countries. The test taker can finish the exam in just four hours. This test is accepted in Australia and the UK, although American institutions favor this exam over the IELTS test.

IELTS and TOEFL: The Comparison

For the UK, only the IELTS UKVI, which is also used to support your UK Visas and Immigration application, is accepted. But for Canada and the US, either the TOEFL or IELTS will do. Students looking to take the test can find local centers where the test is offered. To find a test location for the IELTS, you can go to the IELTS website. They offer the TOEFL over 50 times a year and you can search for the test locations here. The price for both tests is similar, about USD 200-300 depending on where you are taking the test.

Both tests comprise four sections that assess the most important aspects of language: speaking, listening, writing, and reading. The TOEFL, however, is entirely multiple-choice, while the IELTS has a mix of brief answers and essay questions.

The TOEFL is available as a paper-based test, but the internet-based test is more popular. Prior to 2016, the IELTS was only available as a paper-based test, but since then it has introduced computer-based testing as well. The internet-based TOEFL can take up to four hours to complete, while the IELTS is two hours and 45 minutes long. However, the IELTS may take over one day because the speaking test with the instructor is separate from the other sections.


Comparatively, the speaking test in IELTS and TOEFL is totally different. Simple because the other one is conducted face-to-face while the other one is online.

If you think you are more comfortable talking with someone face-to-face rather than a microphone, then the IELTS is best for you. During the exam, there will only be you and the examiner inside the room, and the test happens as if the two of you are having a normal conversation. As you give your answer, the examiner will record you on tape and ask you some general questions. A minimum of 11 minutes and a maximum of 14 minutes are needed to complete the IELTS speaking test. There will be 3 parts to the speaking test. The questions could be about your home, family, studies, etc. In part 2, you will be shown a card with a specified topic and you will have about two minutes to prepare, after which the examiner has a discussion with you about the topic.

Meanwhile, the TOEFL speaking test has six sections and has a test time of 20 minutes. Two of the six sections will ask you for your opinion on everyday topics–this is the Independent Speaking Test. The other four sections will focus on Integrated Speaking. In Integrated speaking, you will need to listen to or read something and then build a response to the recording or a passage. For each section, you will be given some time to prepare before giving your answer in the microphone.

Test Tip: Make sure you speak well and voice your opinions clearly out loud.


For the IELTS listening test, each candidate must answer 10 questions while the audio is playing. All these questions are about everyday life topics related to situations in an education and training context. In this part of the exam, the format of the question may include filling in the blank, completing the sentence, and answering true or false. The candidate must finish taking the IELTS listening test in just 40 minutes. 30 minutes is for the examination proper, and the other 10 is for transferring the answer in the official answer sheet.

The TOEFL speaking test, in comparison, takes an hour. In the listening section of the TOEFL, each candidate must listen to four to six recordings and then answer questions based on what he/she heard. These questions will show the candidate’s ability to understand the content that is being shared. Also, he must also show his ability to understand the speaker’s emotions and motivations. In this part of the TOEFL listening test, you’ll hear two types of recordings: conversation recordings and lecture recordings.

Test Tip: Find the time and make it a habit to listen to different accents to avoid getting confused since this exam assesses international English. And for both exams, don’t forget to take notes while you’re listening!


The writing test for both IELTS and TOEFL both comprises two parts. In the IELTS, you will be given a graph or chart in the first part. During the test, you will have 20 minutes to write a short essay of 150 words based on that information. In the second part of the IELTS, you will be given an argument or a point of view which you need to write at least a 200- to 250-word response for 40 minutes. The TOEFL writing test, however, requires you to read a short text about a certain topic and then listen to a two-minute lecture about this topic. Then, you will have to write 300 to 350 words in response to a question about this topic. The second part requires you to write another short essay.

Test Tip: Listen to podcasts and spend more time reading articles and then practice summarizing what you heard or read.


Both tests provided in the reading part of the IELTS and TOEIC are academic in nature. You will encounter lengthy articles followed by questions that examine how well you comprehend the passages. In the IELTS, this section comprises 40 questions in three parts, with varying styles of questions. The examination includes giving short answers and fill in the gap questions that cover different aspects. Some common topics may be about reading for details and key themes, and recognizing the writer’s opinions and purposes, etc.

In the TOEFL, the questions will be multiple choice and are divided into three to five parts, or “passages”. The requires you to read the passages before answering between 12 to 14 questions. The set of questions may ask you to define a word (“vocabulary test”) and identify the idea (“understanding test”), etc. And speaking of time, both IELTS and TOEFL are the same since you will have 20 minutes to complete each part.

Test Tip: Learn to love reading pieces of literature and examine your comprehension by asking questions about them.

Test Score Comparison between IELTS and TOIEC

When talking about the test scoring, IELTS and TOEFL are slightly different?

IELTS Scoring

Comparatively, IELTS is graded by human only whereas TOEFL test scoring is done by both human and machine. The candidate for the IELTS test will get separate scores in each section. This means to say that the test in each skill has a corresponding Band Score from 1 to 9, and a final overall BS of all the sections. So if you did not do well in one of the sections, your score will affect the final average score.

In a clear sense, the IELTS score helps you easily identify your English proficiency level; simply put, a non-user score is 1 and an expert score is 9. On a side note, the average band score a candidate must get to be accepted in an English-speaking university varies depending on what her nationality is and where is she planning to go. For example, Filipinos who plan to study in Australia or Canada must get at least a 7 or 7.5 average band score to be admitted to the university.

TOEFL Scoring

Compared with IELTS, TOEFL is graded by both humans and an automated scoring system. One difference could also be the different score structures, with 1 point for each question, and a final score out of 120. Furthermore, the candidate will also receive a score from 0 to 30 for each section. Along with your TOEFL scores, you will also receive a performance feedback report. This report provides you with the ordinary test takers’ score range, which will give you a better sign of how you performed on your exam compared to the average.

You also need to remember the test result for both IELTS and TOEFL you will not know the results right away right after the exam. The candidate must need to wait for at least 10 days to receive his/her scores. After, the testing center will mail the results to you 13 days after your test date.

Which test is best for you?

As previously mentioned, one major requirement you need to have is a very good score on the IELTS test. Now, if you are planning to study in the UK, get a good band score in the IELTS UKVI. However, if you intend to study in Australia, Canada, or the US, you have the option to choose which exam you are comfortable with provided that academic institutions in those countries accept both.

But the question at hand is: Which country is best suitable for you? The answer is simple. If you prefer multiple-choice questions and prefer speaking into a microphone, the TOEFL is suitable for you. If talking to an actual person is better and you prefer a variety of question types, then the IELTS is better for you.

Things to consider when preparing for the exams

1. Make it a habit to answer mock and practice tests.

Prior to taking the real IELTS and TOEFL tests, it’s very important to make answering mock and practice tests a habit. Doing this will help you practice the exam and will help you examine your strong and weak points.

In doing so, your choice of specific exams is so important. In some cases, some IELTS or TOEFL practice tests aren’t so detailed. This means that there are some practice tests created by people who are not carefully imitating the real exam. It is best that you consider those IELTS and TOEFL practice tests made by the same people who created the real ones. Additionally, you can also find free supplementary materials made by reputable companies that carefully recreate the “real thing.” When you already found some, try taking the practice tests regularly so you can consistently test if your skills are improving or not.

How can you find an excellent test that will measure your skills? One way is to look online for guides to finding good IELTS and TOEFL sample tests.

2. Make sure you find the most effective and detailed test preparation materials.

Your baseline does not just give you a specific benchmark about your strengths and weaknesses. However, it also tells you which sections of the IELTS and TOEFL exams are the hardest for you. You can think of these difficult areas as your target areas. These are the parts of the test that you need to target for extra study.

3. Make sure you are ready to take the exam on the day you registered.

When taking the IELTS and TOEFL exams, setting a date is also very important. Thus, you need to remember choosing the right IELTS and TOEFL dates is paramount. Your test date determines how much time you have prepared for the exam. Also, your choice of test day must allow you to get your official score report in time for application deadlines. Most importantly, choosing the best date for you to take the exam is a significant factor to consider. So make sure you register on the day you are very ready.

If you’re still not sure which test to take, our QQEnglish team of expert IELTS advisors can help you determine the right one based on the progress you made in each section of the test.

IELTS and TOEFL: How are these two English Proficiency exams different?

Learning IELTS and TOEFL with Filipino Teachers

In recent years, the number of ESL students has been increasing due to its effectiveness and affordability.

With ESL schools cropping all over the Philippines, learning IELTS is no longer very difficult. Now, you can learn it online with the most qualified English language professionals. The IELTS and TOEFL exams may sound difficult but with our effective yet affordable packages, you’ll surely get the best value for your money.

For more information about our IELTS and TOEFL courses, follow us on our website at https://qqeng.net/

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