IELTS vs. TOEFL – Which is Better?

IELTS or TOEFL: Which is Better?The IELTS and TOEFL exams are known by English students worldwide. Both exams are used to assess the English ability of applicants, especially those who wish to study in English language universities. If you intend to study or live abroad, chances are at some point you’ll have to take one of these tests.

TOEFL stands for Test of English as a Foreign Language. It is developed and administered by ETS – a non-profit organization in the USA. IELTS stands for International English Language Testing System. It is developed and administered by three organizations: the British Council, Cambridge ESOL, and IDP from Australia.

Let’s examine both exams to see which is right for you.


  • Both are standardized English tests aimed at pre-university students.
  • Both exams are widely accepted by universities, companies, and immigration services worldwide.
  • Both require an investment of time…and money!
  • Both examine four skills: Reading, Listening, Speaking, and Writing. The Reading and Listening sections consist of multiple-choice questions, which are rated by computer; the Speaking and Writing sections are rated by human examiners.


  • IELTS and TOEFL use different scoring systems:
    • With TOEFL you can reach a top score of 30 for each section (reading, writing, listening, speaking), and 120 for the whole test.
    • IELTS grades you on a band of 0-9 (with half-points in between) for each section and for the test as a whole
IELTS vs. TOEFL Scoring System Comparison
  • TOEFL generally takes around 4 ½ hours; all sections are taken on the same day. IELTS is a little shorter – about 2 ½ hours – and the Reading and Listening may be done on a different day from the Speaking and Writing exams.
  • TOEFL has integrated skills sections, which test several skills in combination. For example, you may be required to listen to a short lecture, read a short passage, and then write an essay that summarizes the two.
  • Reading sections are similar, but the two tests have different question types. Some people feel the IELTS Reading questions are a bit trickier than the TOEFL.
  • Listening sections are similar, but TOEFL listening passages use North American accents, while IELTS uses a range of native speaker accents (US, UK, Australia).
  • Speaking sections are quite different. The TOEFL speaking test consists of six sections, and you speak to a computer. The IELTS consists of an 11-14-minute interview which you conduct face-to-face with an examiner.
  • Writing section:
    • TOEFL consists of two long essays – an Integrated essay and an Independent essay. If you are taking the IBT, you will write your essays on a computer, using a keyboard.
    • The IELTS also consists of two essays – Task 1 and Task 2. Task 2 is similar to the TOEFL Independent essay, but Task 1 requires you to describe the information in a chart, graph, or diagram. You write your essays using pencil and paper.

Which is Better?
There is no simple answer to this question. Most institutions accept both tests, so the answer depends on YOU. What type of learner are you? What type of test-taker? If you feel more comfortable with one test, that may be the best reason to take it.

Generally, I feel TOEFL prepares you better for the kind of work you will do once you’re in university. This is because the integrated tasks test skills in combination – which is how we usually use them. But IELTS provides a more comfortable environment for some students, and in particular, speaking to an examiner is more natural than speaking to a computer.

Which Is More Difficult?
This is the question most students want to know, but the truth is there’s no easy answer. Personally, I feel the IELTS Reading and Listening sections have some tricky questions, while TOEFL’s questions are more straightforward. But some people feel an IELTS 6.5 is easier to get than a TOEFL 80 – the minimum scores needed to get into many foreign universities.

In any case, for both tests, the best way to guarantee a high score is to speak better English! If your English skills are not strong, you will not do well on either test – no matter how much you prepare.

Your Study Program
To succeed with the IELTS or TOEFL, work in these stages:

  1. Build your general English skills, using natural methods such as reading, watching TV, listening to music, and using English in conversation.
  2. Develop strong academic skills – such as, listening to lectures, writing essays, and taking notes. Language Link has classes that can help you.
  3. Prepare for the test. Learn the format and question types for the test you are going to take, and then practice extensively.

Remember, test-preparation only comes after you build a strong foundation. After that, practice and confidence are the keys to success!

What Do You Think?
Have you taken one or both of these tests? What did YOU think? Let us know what you thought was good or bad about each test, and which you would recommend – or if you have any other questions.

This entry was posted in IELTS & TOEFL and tagged , by Hal. Bookmark the permalink.

About Hal

My full name is Hal Medrano. I am originally from New York City. I have been teaching English since 1991 and working with educational technology since 1996. I am the Blended Learning Program Manager at Language Link Vietnam and the Webmaster for this blog.

4 thoughts on “IELTS vs. TOEFL – Which is Better?

    • I’ve just had my IELTS don’t know the result yet, but my iadvce to all would be please pay attention to the timing do really develop the skill 2scan texts for the key words (or paraphrased key words) after that read this paragraph in details. Otherwise you won’t have enough time! Out of three texts, I only read one in full! (as there was a task to name the passage) And it was not difficult at all, I did harder tasks at home while preparing

  1. Reading can be very difficult, lecpecialsy given the time you have. The best advice I can give you is to practice as much as possible. You might also want to visit our other site IELTSforFREE (dot) com and take the free practice that’s on that site.All the best,Patrick

  2. I had taken my exam on Sep 28 last year. Event though the article published later, I dont think services have improvd. Me and two of my other friends underwent simlar experiences with errors from the system. While, for me the questions dint load, for my friend the questions took 20 minutes to load. We have filed a case with ets, but as yet no response. Lets hope for the best.

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