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TOEFL vs. IELTS for English Proficiency Exams

Thursday | November 14, 2013 | by Mirae Kang

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Chances are if you studied in a non-English speaking country, you will need to take an English proficiency exam. The most common exams are the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) and the International English Language Testing Service (IELTS).

These two exams are administered by two different companies—and now that you know that, you may be left wondering, “What option would be the best for me?” Do not worry! We are here to help you understand some of the differences between each exam as well as which one may be better for you.

Differences between TOEFL and IELTS

The TOEFL Exam

The TOEFL exam is administered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS), a U.S. non-profit organization. Therefore, the exam is conducted in U.S. English. The test is administered either via paper or the Internet, depending on where you take the test. The Internet-based test is commonly called TOEFL iBT and accepted by more than 8,500 institutions worldwide. The TOEFL test can be taken more than 50 times a year and students can retake it as many times as they want. However, you are allowed to take it only once every 12 days. Keep in mind too that the cost of the test ranges anywhere from $160 to $250 USD, depending on where you take the test.

The TOEFL is broken into four sections that test each student on their Reading, Listening, Speaking, and Writing abilities. The entire test takes four and a half hours overall, with scores ranging from 0–120 points.

The IELTS Test

The IELTS test is administered by three companies: the British Council, the University of Cambridge ESOL Examinations, and IDP Education Australia. As a result, the test uses U.K. English. For students more familiar with U.K. English, the IELTS may be a better option. Like the TOEFL, you can take the exam either as a computer-based test (CBT) or paper-based test. The IELTS is accepted by more than 8,000 organizations worldwide. One of the main differences of the IELTS is that you can take an Academic exam or General Training exam. The Academic exam is geared toward those seeking to enter university whereas the General Training exam is more for individuals planning to immigrate to English-speaking countries.

The IELTS is offered up to four times a month worldwide. While the exact cost is determined by your local currency, if you take the test in the U.S., it costs around $215 to $240 USD. Similar to the TOEFL, the IELTS is broken into four sections: Listening, Reading, Writing, and Speaking. However, the speaking portion of the exam is administered face-to-face by a native speaker. The entire exam takes about two hours and 45 minutes and test scores range between 0–9 with half scores.

Below is a comparison of test scores for TOEFL and IELTS:

*Source: https://www.ets.org/toefl/institutions/scores/compare/

So, if you are an international student thinking about studying abroad in the U.S. be sure to confirm with the schools that you will apply to for their testing requirements. Not all U.S. universities accept both or some may prefer one over the other. Do not hesitate to ask questions!

Mirae Kang

Mirae Kang is a Research Associate of the Research and Advisory Services team for World Education Services.