IELTS VS TOEFL: What's the difference?

Athena Barris

Updated on Apr 04 • 4 minute read

This blog was originally posted on

When applying to a university in an English speaking country, you'll have to submit an IELTS or TOEFL test score, in this article we examine the difference between the two.

If you're planning to study abroad in an English speaking country, you'll most likely have to submit either an IELTS or TOEFL score. Although these are both standardized tests aimed at assessing your English language proficiency, the two tests differ in format, scoring and more.


For the UK, only the IELTS UKVI, which is also used to support your UK Visa and Immigration application, is accepted. But for Canada and the US, either the TOEFL or IELTS will do. Students looking to take the test can find centers locally in most big cities. To find a test location for the IELTS, you can go to the IELTS website. The TOEFL is offered more than 50 times a year and you can search for the test locations here. The price for both tests is similar, and ranges between USD 150-250, depending on where you are taking the test.

Both tests consist of 4 sections that test the most important aspects of language: speaking, listening, writing and reading. The TOEFL, however, is entirely multiple choice, while the IELTS has a mix of short answers and essay questions.

The TOEFL is available in paper version test, but the internet version is the most popular. The IELTS is only available in paper version. The internet version of the TOEFL can take up to 4 hours to complete whereas the IELTS is 2 hours and 45 minutes long. However, the IELTS may take more than one day because the oral test with the instructor is separate from the other sections.


There's a big difference with the speaking part of the test. If you feel you're more comfortable speaking English to a person face to face, rather than a microphone, then the IELTS might be more suited to you. The oral part is conducted as if it were a normal conversation. You will be alone with the test instructor, and they will record you on tape as they ask you some general questions about your hometown, or even your pet. The TOEFL oral test consists of six sections and lasts 20 minutes. The questions will range from academic to personal. You will also be given a short conversation or text, and asked to summarise the information. For each section, you will be given some time to prepare yourself, before giving your answer in the microphone.


In the listening section for the TOEFL, you will listen to experts and will have to take notes and answer multiple choice questions after its done. In the IELTS however, you will have to answer the questions while the audio is playing. The questions that will come up for IELTS include filling the blanks, completing the sentence, and answering true or false. Also, the IELTS uses many different accents while the TOEFL uses American. The TOEFL speaking test takes an hour, while the IELTS is only 30 minutes.


The writing section for both tests consists of two parts that require you to write a short essay. In the TOEFL, the first part requires you to read a short text about a certain topic and then listen to a 2-minute lecture about this topic. Then, you will have to write a short response between 300 to 350 words, to a question about this topic.

The second part requires you to write another short essay. In the IELTS, you'll be given a graph or chart in the first part, and you are then required to write a short essay based on that information. In the second part of the IELTS, you will be given an argument or a point of view, and you will be required to write a 200 to 250 word response.

The big difference between the two tests is that for the TOEFL, the essay has to be typed on a computer, while the IELTS has to be written down on paper. It's best to know what you are comfortable with; if you don’t know your way around a computer keyboard, then you should take the IELTS. But if you have good typing speed, then you will be more comfortable doing the TOEFL. You should also consider how good your handwriting is, if your handwriting is difficult for the examiner to read, then they might deduct points.


Both tests provide you with texts that are academic in nature, and then it is followed by questions that test how well you understood the text. In the TOEFL, as with every other section on this test, the questions will be multiple choice and are divided into three to five parts. In the IELTS, this section consists of three parts, with varying styles of questions that include short answers, and fill in the gap questions. The timing is similar for both tests, as you will have 20 minutes to complete each part.

Test Scores

The IELTS test has separate scores for each section from 1 to 9, and a final overall score of all the sections. So if you feel that you are weak in a certain section, then the score for it will bring your overall average down. The TOEFL is structured differently with 1 point for each question, and a final score out of 120.

Which is Best for You?

As mentioned in the beginning, if you are planning to study in the UK, you have no choice but to do the IELTS UKVI. But if you plan on studying in Canada or the US, you have a choice as to which test you can take, because they accept either test. So which is best suited for you? To keep it simple, if you prefer multiple choice questions, feel more comfortable writing on the keyboard, and understand an American accent easier, the TOEFL is better suited for you. If you enjoy writing with a pen, feel more comfortable talking to a person rather than a microphone, and prefer a variety of different question types, then the IELTS is best for you.

You can visit our blogs page for an in-depth look at the IELTS and the TOEFL. Check also IELTS Pass for useful preparation courses.

About the Writer: Mohammad Al Onaizi who wrote it for SchoolApply, has graduated from the American University of Kuwait with a Bachelor’s in History and International Studies. He is currently a Marketing Trainee, living in Dubai. He loves sports and has a passion for writing on subjects related to his own experiences and international education. He is currently in the process of writing his first fictional novel.

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