TOEFL or IELTS? Which exam should you take?

If English is not your first language and you are applying to a job or a University in an English-speaking country, it is likely that you may be required to sit a standardized test to show your level of proficiency.

There are two main English language tests you can sit that are accepted worldwide – TOEFL and IELTS. Both evaluate how well you can combine your reading, writing, listening and speaking skills. You can expect to pay between USD $195 to USD $250 subject to location.

Below are some key differences to help you decide which one to take!


TOEFL is tested across 4,500 centers worldwide in comparison to IELTS which is available in 900 centers. This is because TOEFL is an older test and has a very wide acceptance in US universities, having originated from there. Both are tested around 48 times a year.

University Acceptance

It is recommended that you speak to the university to find out their requirements. IELTS is more readily accepted in universities within the Commonwealth and many US universities are starting to accept it too. The US tends to prefer the TOEFL with more than 8,000 universities in the US accepting it.

Test Formats

The IELTS is a 2 hour, 45 minute paper-based test consisting of four sections: Listening, Reading, Speaking and Writing. The most widely-accepted version of the TOEFL is the iBT (Internet Based Test) which is longer at 4 hours but with the same four sections.

The TOEFL only offers an Academic English test for admissions requirements whereas the IELTS offers a general test in addition to this. The general test is based on questions concerned with real-world, social settings and is commonly used for immigration and visa purposes.


The TOEFL is scored out of 120, with 30 points for each of the four sections. In comparison, the IELTS is on a 9 point scale with halfway points in between.

Test Specific Differences

The main difference between the TOEFL and the IELTS is within the speaking section. In the TOEFL, the test-taker speaks into a microphone and the recordings are sent to an examiner to mark.

In the IELTS, the test-taker has to speak face-to-face with an examiner. This can be quite an important factor depending on your level of confidence.

Another key difference is the accents used in the TOEFL Listening Section are mainly North American English in comparison to IELTS which is a range of international accents.

Last but not least, TOEFL relies mainly on multiple choice questions whereas the IELTS gives you many different question types including multiple choice, fill-in-the-blank, true/false, matching, and flowcharts.

Now that you’ve had a chance to see the key differences between these two tests, you can more readily assess which one better fits your ability!

Remember, each university has a preference on whether a TOEFL or IELTS score is needed for admission and the minimum score required, therefore you also must research this first before deciding on which test and preparing for it.

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