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TOEFL or IELTS? An Important Choice.

Universities around the world require some form of selection criteria in order to decide who to choose and who to reject, no matter what the degree subject may be. The TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) and IELTS (International English Language Testing Service) tests allow the admissions departments of universities to quickly tick one of the required boxes for applicants whose native language is not English. Most clients come to us requiring one of these 2 certificates on their C.V. and the majority automatically thinks the best option is the TOEFL because it is so well known and is no.1 in the USA. However, universities in the UK, Ireland, Canada, Australasia and many other regions of the Commonwealth stipulate the IELTS as their preferred ESL certificate, although they usually accept a TOEFL score. Likewise, many US universities now accept an IELTS score. So what should you be considering when making this choice of prep course? Here are some VERY important factors to consider:

  • What do the universities you are applying to stipulate as their TOEFL/IELTS requirement?
  • The IELTS is approximately 1 hour shorter than the TOEFL at 3 hours versus 4.
  • Unless you are sure you want to study in the USA, some countries in Asia or some countries in Europe, is it necessary to take the longer, harder TOEFL?
  • Do you want your vocabulary to be biased more towards British or American English?
  • Are you comfortable doing the listening parts of the TOEFL (there is listening in the SPEAKING, WRITING and LISTENING sections of the TOEFL) wearing a headset in front of a computer in a room full of lots of other test takers talking into their microphones?
  • Are you happy to write your essays by hand (IELTS) or only via keyboard (TOEFL)?
  • Do you better understand American, British or other accents?

The following is a recent comparison table showing how a TOEFL score compares to an IELTS score.

0 - 1.0 0 - 8
1.0 - 1.5 9 - 18
2.0 - 2.5 19 -29
3.0 - 3.5 30 - 40
4.0 41 - 52
4.5 - 5.0 53 - 64
5.5 - 6.0 65 - 78
6.5 - 7.0 79 - 95
7.5 - 9.0 96 - 120

Both exams have the 4 main parts: Speaking, Listening, Reading and Writing.

Here is an overview of what each test focuses on and what you have to expect:


  • Subject Material: academic/university-based
  • 4–6 lectures - 2 conversations between 2–3 people; heard only once
  • 34–51 questions in 60–90 minutes
  • Question types: chart completion and multiple choice
  • Includes a variety of American accents
  • Subject Material: social, educational, and training contexts
  • Monologues and dialogues between 2–3 people; heard only once
  • 40 questions in 30 minutes
  • Question types: multiple choice, short answer, notes/summary/flowchart completion, sentence completion, labelling a diagram, and matching
  • Includes a variety of native English accents
  • Academic reading - authentic university material
  • 3–5 passages appropriate for undergraduate or graduate courses
  • 36–60 questions in 60–100 minutes total
  • Question types: summary completion, table completion, and multiple choice
  • Academic reading skills
  • 3 reading passages appropriate for undergraduate or graduate courses
  • 40 items in 60 minutes total
  • Question types: multiple choice, sentence or prose summary completion, short-answer questions, and matching lists or phrases
  • Total of 6 academic speaking tasks - university material
  • 4 integrated tasks: short reading passage and listening to related material - integrate information in own words
  • 2 independent tasks: respond to familiar topics based on own experience
  • No direct human interaction so via headset
  • 20 minutes total
  • Face-to-face using a structured interview conducted by an examiner and recording
  • Part 1: Introduction and interview based on familiar topics
  • Part 2: Individual long response to a selected topic
  • Part 3: Two-way discussion – continuation of Part 2
  • 11–14 minutes total
  • 2 tasks assessing academic writing - authentic university material
  • Task 1: Integrated task - read a short passage, listen to related material, describe how the information relates (20 minutes)
  • Task 2: Independent task - essay on given topic, draw examples from own experience (30 minutes)
  • 50 minutes total
  • Academic writing skills
  • Task 1: review the information contained in a diagram, table/chart/graph (20 minutes)
  • Task 2: essay on given topic, draw examples from own experience. (40 minutes)
  • 60 minutes total
SCORE RANGE 0 - 120 0 - 9
LOCATION CVUT / Wall St English / Real Training Solutions British Council, Prague
PRODUCER The Educational Testing Service, USA The British Council, the University of Cambridge ESOL Examinations and IDP Education Australia