Should I Take the TOEFL iBT or IELTS?

Should I Take the TOEFL iBT or IELTS?

If English is not your first language and you are applying for a job or to study in an English-speaking country, it is likely that you will be required to take a standardized test to show your level of English proficiency. There are two main English language tests you can sit that are accepted worldwide – The Internet-based Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL iBT) and the International English Language Testing System (IELTS). Both evaluate how well you can combine your reading, writing, listening and speaking skills. It can be hard to decide which English language test to take to make sure you get the best score possible to put on your application. Below, we list some factors to consider when making your decision.

NEWS: TOEFL iBT® Enhancements Launching July 2023 

ETS has announced a series of TOEFL iBT enhancements debuting July 26, 2023. As of this date, the test will be shortened from three hours to less than two hours. 

Changes to the shortened TOEFL iBT exam include:

  • Streamlined instructions and navigation throughout the test
  • A new “Writing for an Academic Discussion” task, which will replace the previous Independent Writing task
  • A shorter Reading section
  • A shorter Listening Section
  • The removal of all unscored test questions

A simplified registration process for the TOEFL iBT will go into effect in July 2023, making it easier to register for a test date. Increased score transparency will also begin at this time, allowing test-takers to see their official score release date upon completion of the test as well as receive real-time notification of changes to their score status. 

The TOEFL score scale will remain the same despite these changes.

Institution Requirements

It is recommended that you check with the schools you are applying to in order to see which test they accept. Generally, the IELTS is more readily accepted in universities within the Commonwealth, although many U.S. universities are starting to accept it too. The U.S. tends to prefer the TOEFL iBT, but it is accepted by over 11,000 universities worldwide. Ultimately, you will need to take the corresponding exam to that which your schools require, although many now accept both.

Test Availability

Both the IELTS and the TOEFL iBT are offered worldwide. You can take the TOEFL iBT at a test center or at home, making it easily accessible for most students.  The exam is offered almost everywhere in the world, with testing available in over 200 countries and territories. The TOEFL iBT Paper Edition is also currently offered in the U.S., Colombia, India, and Mexico. You can take the IELTS at one of their 1,600 locations in 140 countries and territories, or take the IELTS Online which gives you flexibility on where you take your test.

Test Differences

Test section differences between TOEFL and IELTS are another factor to consider, as whether or not an exam plays to your strengths will greatly impact the maximum score you can achieve. Here are the main differences between the TOEFL and IELTS exams that students usually find play to/ against their strengths:

  • Answer Formats

    The Reading and Listening sections of both exams will require you to answer series of questions with short answers or to create an ordered list of stages or event items. The TOEFL is comprised of mainly multiple choice “drag and drop” questions and those that are not (such as the list/ stage questions) will have the question items displayed. The IELTS however, will require you to come up with the answer to many of the questions in these sections yourself. So if the Reading and Listening test sections are areas that you find difficult, the TOEFL may be slightly less challenging.

  • Listening Section Samples

    The TOEFL Listening section is based on a classroom/lecture environment playing discussions by teachers and students, whereas the IELTS Listening section has more conversation based samples or a speech by one person. Some students find the TOEFL more challenging in this area due to the use of expressions, slang, ideas etc. in the discussions, which require more concentration. So if the Listening section is a test area you find more challenging, you may find the IELTS less intimidating.

  • Reading Passages

    The reading section in both exams bases several questions on each passage given. The main difference is the type of texts used. The IELTS uses a mixture of academic texts and passages from news articles, whereas the TOEFL uses only academic passages, which can use more challenging vocabulary and are often slightly longer. If you are not confident in your reading skills, you may therefore prefer the IELTS exam.

  • Recorded Speaking vs. Oral Interview

    A section that most test takers find the most daunting is the speaking section. The TOEFL speaking section (just like the rest of the test) is administered on the computer, you will hear a recorded question and then give your response into a microphone, which will then be recorded and submitted for review. The IELTS however is conversation based – a live interview with an examiner. This really will depend on your own preference. Whether you would find a live conversation more natural or you would better remember your preparation without the distraction of another person.
    The TOEFL exam therefore all takes place on one day, whereas due to the IELTS’ format this section is taken separately from the rest of the exam, sometimes on a different day before or after. Some students prefer this as they can focus their preparation better. However, some prefer to get the whole exam over with in one sitting.