IELTS vs. TOEFL: What Are the Differences?

IELTS vs. TOEFL: What Are the Differences?

Some U.S. colleges and universities require or recommend that international applicants submit proof of their English language skills, usually in the form of a standardized test score.


Two of the more popular English language proficiency tests out there are the IELTS and the TOEFL.

Some colleges prefer one test over the other, while others accept scores from either test – plus a few others. Prospective international students should make sure they research the preference of the colleges they want to apply to. If a college doesn’t have a preference, students should consider whether the TOEFL or the IELTS plays more to their strengths as they decide which to take.

TOEFL’s structure and language is more academically focused, while the IELTS has a more real-world communication feel. However, this doesn’t mean the IELTS is easier. Another difference is that students take the IELTS on paper, while most test-takers face the TOEFL on a computer. According to the TOEFL website, 97 percent of people who take the TOEFL take the iBT, or internet-based test, as opposed to the paper version. Students with strong typing skills may find the TOEFL to be a better fit, while those who prefer handwriting their responses might lean toward the IELTS.

Prospective international students can use the table below to compare and contrast the IELTS Academic test – the version of the IELTS meant for those applying to colleges and universities – and the TOEFL iBT test. The average minimum scores information comes from U.S. News Best Colleges data.

IELTS (Academic) TOEFL (iBT)
Owned by: British Council, IDP: IELTS Australia and Cambridge English Language Assessment ETS
Test delivery format: Paper-based Computer-based
Cost: – Varies by country
– In the U.S., the test costs $215-$245
Varies by country between $165-$300, with most countries under $200
Length: 2 hours and 45 minutes 4 hours
Test sections
(in order):
– Listening: 30 minutes
– Reading: 60 minutes
– Writing: 60 minutes
– Speaking: 11-14 minutes (section can also be taken before the other three sections)
– Reading: 60-80 minutes
– Listening: 60-90 minutes
– Speaking: 20 minutes
– Writing: 50 minutes
Speaking section format: In-person with an examiner Computer-based (students speak into a headset microphone)
Breaks: No breaks during the listening, reading and writing sections, but the speaking portion can be taken up to a week before or after the rest of the test 10-minute break between listening and speaking sections
Accents test-takers might hear: Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the U.K. and the U.S. Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the U.K. and the U.S.
Where the test is offered: More than 1,100 locations in some 140 countries worldwide Offered around the world, though ETS couldn’t provide an exact count of test sites
How frequently the test is offered: 48 test dates per year More than 50 test dates per year
Where scores are accepted: Accepted by more than 9,000 organizations globally, including around 3,000 U.S. institutions (see test website for searchable list) Accepted by more than 10,000 organizations globally, including more than 5,000 U.S. institutions (see test websitefor searchable list)
Results timeline: Results are issued 13 days after the test Results are issued approximately 10 days after the test
Scoring scale: zero to 9 zero to 120
Average minimum score required by ranked National Universities(fall 2015): 6.3 78
Average minimum score required by ranked National Liberal Arts Colleges(fall 2015): 6.5 82.2

Prospective students whose English proficiency test scores are a little low but otherwise have strong applications may be offered conditional admission. This generally means students will be fully admitted into a degree program after they boost their English skills to a certain level.

Some colleges don’t require English test scores from international applicants who have had substantial prior experience with the language, such as attending a high school where English was the primary language of instruction. Since minimum scores vary, prospective international students should check the specific requirements for the international universities they are interested in.



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