Student and Graduate Publishing

TOEFL or IELTS -- Which is better?

Friday, 26 September 2014 12:28

By Laura Leung-How

 - The TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) and IELTS (International English Language Testing Service) are the two most common tests that universities from English speaking countries will require you sit if you are applying to their institution, and if your first language is not English. Here are the 5 most important things to consider when deciding which one is best for you:

1. American or British English?

The TOEFL is administered under the Educational Testing Service, which is based in the USA, and thus marked according to US English standards. On the other hand, the IELTS is administered by 3 organisations from Britain and Australia, and conducts its test with UK English. The variations between spelling, idiomatic expression, and accent in US/UK English can pose difficulties to non-native students, so best choose the test with the ‘type’ of English you are most comfortable using.

2. Old-school handwritten, or touch-type whiz?

The TOEFL lasts around 4 hours, but the IELTS is over in well under 3 hours. This does not mean the latter is easier, simply that their methods of testing students differ drastically. The TOEFL consists almost exclusively of multiple choice questions, whereas the IELTS includes multiple choice, gap fill, match exercises, and short essay-style questions (etc.). On top of this, the TOEFL requires typed essays in the written section of its test, but the IELTS calls for handwritten responses.

3. Speaking and listening skills

For the speaking portion of the exam, the TOEFL requires that candidates use computers to record their spoken answers to 6 different questions based on short texts or conversations. Contrastingly, the IELTS has students respond to an examiner in person, engaging in small talk, and discussing topics related to a visual stimulus that they will provide. 

Listening tests also vary. The TOEFL listening exercise lasts between 40-60 minutes and requires that candidates take notes whilst listening to excerpts from university lectures or conversations, then answer multiple choice questions related to the audio content afterwards. IELTS students have to answer questions at the same time as listening to the recordings, and as with all other parts of the test, questions will not be limited to multiple choice, varying in both length and type.

4. Vocabulary and grammar, or logic and expression?

Grades for the TOEFL are awarded out of a total of 120 points, and favour students who present strong, logical progressions of ideas in their responses. The IELTS is based upon a grade system of bands 1 to 9, where the band reflects an average of students’ scores in four categories: logic, cohesion, grammar and fluency.

5. What does the university want?

Ultimately, it all boils down to what the institution prefers. There is no point in trying to submit your test scores for the TOEFL when applying to a university that favours the IELTS. However, both tests are becoming equally popular worldwide, so examination costs, location of test centres, and availability test dates are the next factors to consider. You can find out more about these through the TOEFL and IELTS websites, which also provide useful information for students thinking of sitting the tests, as well as a wide range of preparatory material and exam tips.

For more information about studying for, applying to take and differentiating between various English Language Tests.