Should I take the TOEFL 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 sit a standardized test to show your level of English 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. 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. Here are some factors to consider when making your decision: 

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 US universities are starting to accept it too. The US tends to prefer the TOEFL with over 8,000 universities that accept it. Ultimately you will need to take the corresponding exam to that which your schools require, although many now accept both.

Test Availability

Is the TOEFL or IELTS available to closer to you? The TOEFL is available in 4,500 centers in 165 countries, whereas the IELTS exam is available in 1,100 centers across 140 countries. It may also be the case that one test has more convenient test dates available for you.


Free Resources

Getting a passing grade on the TOEFL or IELTS starts with practice. Click on your test to access free practice and resources:
TOEFL                          IELTS

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.