“Which test is better? TOEFL or IELTS?” are questions we receive very often from new users, and to be fair, the answer all depends on your goals and purpose for taking an English exam.

In today’s post, we’ll go over the 5 KEY differences (and a few similarities) between the TOEFL and IELTS exam, and how you can decide which one fits your needs.

1. What is TOEFL?

We’ll skim over the basics so everybody is on the same page.

Short for the “Test of English as a Foreign Language”, TOEFL is an English exam organized by the Educational Testing Service (ETS) to test students’ ability to use and learn English at a university level. The TOEFL is great for non-native students who wish to study abroad in America and/or Canada.

Since TOEFL tests your English at the University level, it may not be best suited for those wishing to work or immigrate to North America.

If this sounds like you and want to study for the TOEFL exam, get started here with a free mock test from TestGlider.

2. What is IELTS?

Short for “International English Language Testing System”, the IELTS is another English exam organized by multiple governing bodies like the British Council, Cambridge University, and the International Department Program (IDP).

Unlike TOEFL, IELTS is entirely tested in British English, thus preparing students who wish to study, work, or immigrate to the UK and other English speaking countries. Fortunately, the exam itself is accepted by 150 different countries and over 12,000 institutions around the world, so we recommend the IELTS to anyone who’s planning to go overseas in general.

If you ARE planning on taking the IELTS, whether it’s for studying abroad or immigrating, note that there are two types of IELTS exams:

  • Academic: Tests your ability to learn and study in English (mainly for students)
  • General: Tests your ability to use English in an everyday setting (mainly for immigrating)

If this sounds like you and want to study for the IELTS exam, get started here with a free mock test from TestGlider.

3. Similarities

In general, there are 3 main similarities between TOEFL and IELTS:

  1. They’re both LARGELY ACCEPTED by most English-speaking countries and academic institutions
  2. They both test you on FOUR SECTIONS: reading, listening, speaking, writing
  3. Both scores are valid for 2 years

4. Differences: General

We’ll start wide and narrow down by sections as we go, but to start TOEFL and IELTS are different in their testing method and time.

  • TOEFL:
    • Method: the full exam can be taken on the computer (mostly done via computer)
    • Time: ~ 2 hours
  • IELTS:
    • Method: test takers have the option of taking it on the computer or paper
    • Time: ~ 2 hours 45 mins

In terms of test cost, it depends on your country and test center, but, in general, they cost the same.

5. Differences: Reading

In the TOEFL exam, the reading passages are sourced from university-level textbooks to test you with university-level English.

The IELTS exam, however, sources reading passages from real novels, journal entries, magazine and newspaper articles, etc. and tests you on understanding the writer’s perspective and opinion on a subject.

6. Differences: Listening

The TOEFL exam tests you on your ability to understand a debate or conversation on any given matter.

The IELTS exam tests your ability to understand a speaker’s perspective and opinion and follow their point of view.

If you want to know some hot tips on improving your Listening, click here!

7. Differences: Speaking

First, let’s look at the Speaking test methods between TOEFL and IELTS.

  • TOEFL:
    • Environment: Record on a computer
    • Grading: Done by computer with human supervision
    • Test day: Tested with other sections
  • IELTS:
    • Environment: 1:1 interview with real person
    • Grading: Done by Interviewer
    • Test day: May/may not be tested with other sections

TOEFL speaking tests your ability to respond to spoken questions based on a passage and/or a recording.

IELTS speaking tests you on 3 parts:

  1. Self introduction + daily conversation
  2. Stating your opinion on a topic
  3. Debating your answer to #2 with the Interviewer

8. Differences: Writing

Since changing its Integrated topic to Academic Discussion, TOEFL writing tests your ability to present a clear and well-structured opinion on a subject.

IELTS writing tests your abilities with 2 tasks:

  1. Task 1: Your ability to summarize and describe visual information (graph, table, chart, map, etc.)
  2. Task 2: Your ability to provide or discuss opinions and support it from the passage

Note ALERT! In IELTS writing, Task 2’s score is worth 2x Task 1’s score, so do well on Task 2!


If you read all the way through, thank you so much, and may this article help you choose the best exam for your needs. Have a good day!