Understanding English Language Proficiency Tests: IELTSVs. TOEFL

For human beings seeking higher education or employment opportunities in English-speaking countries, demonstrating language proficiency is crucial. This is where standardized tests like the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) and Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) come into play. In this article, we will explore the differences between these two tests, their formats and structures, scoring methods, and validity to help you make an informed decision when choosing which test to take.

Firstly, it’s important to note that both IELTS and TOEFL are widely recognized by universities, employers and immigration authorities globally as reliable indicators of one’s ability to communicate effectively in English. These tests evaluate your reading, writing, speaking and listening skills through a series of tasks designed specifically for non-native speakers. However, there are some key differences in terms of format and structure that you need to be aware of before deciding which test suits your needs better.

Key Takeaways

  • IELTS and TOEFL are two standardized tests used to measure English language proficiency.
  • Both tests have four sections that evaluate different language skills, and are valid for two years from the date of taking the test.
  • Factors to consider when selecting between IELTS and TOEFL include the purpose of the exam, its format, and the institutions accepting the scores.
  • Preparation is crucial for success, and resources for improving English language skills include textbooks, online courses, podcasts, and language exchange programs.

Overview of IELTS and TOEFL

Let’s delve into the key differences between IELTS and TOEFL, shall we? Both of these tests are used to measure English language proficiency, but they differ in several important ways. IELTS (International English Language Testing System) is primarily used in the UK, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. On the other hand, TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) is more commonly used in the US and around the world.

One of the main differences between IELTS and TOEFL is their format and structure. IELTS has four sections: Listening, Reading, Writing, and Speaking. The Listening and Speaking sections are conducted face-to-face with an examiner while Reading and Writing sections are completed on paper. On the other hand, TOEFL consists of only four sections: Reading, Listening, Speaking, and Writing which are all taken on a computer-based platform.

Format and Structure of IELTS

You’ll be surprised by the unique format and structure of IELTS, which sets it apart from other language proficiency exams. Unlike TOEFL, which is conducted entirely on a computer, IELTS is a test that involves both paper-based and computer-based components. It assesses four language skills: listening, reading, writing and speaking. What’s interesting about IELTS is its use of different accents in the listening section to test your ability to understand various English dialects.

To give you an idea of what to expect during an IELTS exam, here’s a breakdown of its format:

ListeningFour sections with 10 questions each. You’ll have to answer multiple-choice and short-answer questions based on conversations and monologues in different accents.30 minutes
ReadingThree long texts with 40 questions in total. You’ll have to answer multiple-choice, short-answer or summary completion questions based on the text.60 minutes
WritingTwo tasks – Task 1 requires you to describe data presented in a graph/table/chart while Task 2 requires you to write an essay expressing your opinion.60 minutes
SpeakingA face-to-face interview with an examiner where you’ll be asked general questions followed by more specific ones related to a topic given beforehand.11-14 minutes

Now that we’ve covered the format and structure of IELTS, let’s move on to discussing TOEFL’s unique system.

Format and Structure of TOEFL

The TOEFL exam is a computer-based test that consists of four sections: reading, listening, speaking, and writing. Each section measures different aspects of English language proficiency. Here’s a breakdown of each section:

  1. Reading: The reading section contains 3-4 passages with 12-14 questions per passage. Test takers have 60-80 minutes to complete this section.
  2. Listening: The listening section contains 4-6 lectures or conversations with 6 questions each. Test takers have 60-90 minutes to complete this section.
  3. Speaking: The speaking section consists of six tasks where test takers must express their opinions on various topics and summarize information they’ve heard in the previous sections. This section lasts for about 20 minutes.
  4. Writing: Lastly, the writing section requires test takers to write two essays within an hour.

Overall, the TOEFL exam assesses a test-taker’s ability to understand and communicate effectively in academic settings using the English language.

As we move on to discuss scoring and validity, it’s important to note that understanding the structure of the TOEFL exam is crucial for success as it helps you identify your strengths and weaknesses before taking on the actual test itself.

Scoring and Validity

When it comes to English language proficiency tests like IELTS and TOEFL, understanding the scoring system is crucial. As someone who has taken both exams, I know that they use different scales to measure proficiency in reading, writing, speaking, and listening. Additionally, it’s important to consider the validity period of scores and which universities accept each exam for admissions purposes.

Scoring system for IELTS and TOEFL

If you’re aiming to score well on the IELTS or TOEFL, it’s important to familiarize yourself with their respective scoring systems. The IELTS is scored on a scale of 0-9, with half points also possible. This means that the lowest possible score is 0 and the highest possible score is 9. Each section of the test (Listening, Reading, Writing, and Speaking) is given a separate score, which are then averaged together for your overall band score. For example, if you receive a Listening score of 7, Reading score of 8, Writing score of 6.5 and Speaking Score of 7.5 then your overall band would be calculated as follows: (7+8+6.5+7.5)/4 = 7.

On the other hand, TOEFL scores range from 0-120 with increments of 1 point each. Similar to IELTS, each section has its own separate scaled scores ranging from 0-30 points and these individual scores are added up for an overall composite score out of 120 points maximum total marks achievable in this examination. In addition to providing a total composite score for all sections combined (Reading/Writing/Listening/Speaking), TOEFL also provides separate sub-scores for each individual section so that universities can see how applicants perform in each skill area specifically.

It’s important to note that while both tests have different scoring systems they are accepted by most universities worldwide as proof of English language skills proficiency without any biasness towards any specific nationality or region where one comes from or studied previously before appearing for these examinations which we will discuss further in our next section about ‘validity period and acceptance by universities’.

Validity period and acceptance by universities

Universities around the world have a varying acceptance policy for international English language tests, much like how different restaurants have their own unique recipe for a popular dish. Some universities require a minimum score on either IELTS or TOEFL, while others accept both and leave it up to the student’s preference. Here are three things to keep in mind regarding validity period and acceptance by universities:

  1. Validity period: Both IELTS and TOEFL scores are valid for two years from the date of taking the test. This means that if you plan on applying to a university after this time frame, you will need to retake the test to ensure your score is still valid.
  2. Acceptance by universities: While most universities worldwide accept both IELTS and TOEFL scores, some may only accept one or the other. It is important to check with each individual university about their specific requirements before choosing which test to take.
  3. Minimum score requirement: Some universities may require a minimum score on either IELTS or TOEFL for admission into certain programs or courses of study. Be sure to check with each individual program about their specific minimum score requirements.

With these factors in mind, it is important to carefully consider which English language proficiency test to take when applying for admission into an international university.

Choosing the Right Test

When choosing an English language proficiency test, it is essential to consider various factors that may affect your decision. These factors include the purpose of the exam, its format, and the institutions accepting the scores. It is also crucial to prepare for the test adequately and improve your English language skills to achieve a higher score.

Factors to consider when selecting a test

You’re not just picking a test, you’re choosing your destiny – so make sure to consider all the factors when selecting between IELTS and TOEFL. The first thing to consider is the purpose of taking the test. If you are applying for admission to an English-speaking university or college, then TOEFL might be the better option since it focuses more on academic language skills. On the other hand, if you plan to work or migrate to an English-speaking country, then IELTS might be more appropriate as it evaluates practical language skills needed for daily communication.

Another factor to keep in mind is the test format and structure. Both tests have different sections and time limits, so consider which one suits your strengths and weaknesses best. Additionally, take into account which test is available in your area and how much it costs. Don’t forget that preparation time also varies depending on your current level of proficiency and desired score. Therefore, it’s essential to plan ahead and give yourself enough time to study before taking either exam.

As you begin considering these factors when deciding which test is right for you, keep in mind that simply taking a proficiency exam isn’t enough – preparing for the test and improving your English language skills should also be a top priority moving forward.

Preparing for the test and improving your English language skills

After careful consideration of the factors that affect our choice between IELTS and TOEFL, we must now focus on how to prepare for the test and improve our English language skills. As someone who has taken both tests, I can attest to the importance of preparation in achieving a good result.

The first step in preparing for either test is to understand its format, structure, and scoring system. Both tests have four sections: Reading, Writing, Listening, and Speaking. Familiarizing oneself with these sections is crucial in developing a study plan that addresses one’s strengths and weaknesses. Additionally, taking practice tests under timed conditions will help increase familiarity with the time pressure inherent in these exams. In terms of improving one’s English language skills outside of taking practice tests, there are numerous resources available including textbooks, online courses, podcasts, and language exchange programs. Ultimately, it is important to recognize that hard work and dedication are essential components of success when it comes to English language proficiency tests like IELTS or TOEFL.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are some common mistakes that test takers make during the IELTS or TOEFL exams?

During my experience as an English language proficiency test taker and tutor, I have observed several common mistakes that students make during the IELTS or TOEFL exams. One of the most frequent errors is not managing their time effectively. Test takers often spend too much time on one section, leaving little to no time for others, resulting in a lower overall score. Another mistake is not following instructions properly, such as writing outside of the given space or exceeding word limits. Additionally, some test takers do not fully understand the question prompts and end up providing irrelevant answers. Lastly, nervousness and anxiety can lead to careless errors like misspelling words or omitting crucial details. By being aware of these common pitfalls and practicing good test-taking strategies, such as reading instructions thoroughly and managing time effectively, students can increase their chances of achieving better scores on both exams.

How do I prepare for the speaking section of the IELTS or TOEFL exam?

To prepare for the speaking section of the IELTS or TOEFL exam, I start by familiarizing myself with the format and structure of the test. Then, I practice speaking in English as much as possible. This includes recording myself answering sample questions and listening back to identify areas for improvement. Additionally, I seek out conversation partners who are fluent in English to practice speaking with. One adage that comes to mind is “practice makes perfect.” The more I practice speaking in English, the more comfortable and confident I become during the actual exam. It’s important to also focus on pronunciation and fluency while practicing, as these are key elements that are evaluated during the speaking section of both exams. By dedicating time and effort towards preparation, I am able to perform at my best come test day.

Can I take the IELTS or TOEFL exam multiple times? If so, how often can I retake the exam?

Yes, both the IELTS and TOEFL exams can be taken multiple times. However, there are restrictions on how often you can retake them. The IELTS exam can be taken as many times as you want, but it is recommended that you wait at least 90 days before retaking it. On the other hand, the TOEFL exam can only be taken once every 12 days and a maximum of five times within any 12-month period. It is important to note that each time you take the exam, you will have to pay the registration fee again. Therefore, it is advised that you prepare thoroughly for your first attempt in order to avoid having to retake the exam multiple times.

How long does it take to receive my test scores after taking the IELTS or TOEFL exam?

After taking the IELTS or TOEFL exam, you can expect to receive your test scores within a few days to a couple of weeks. The exact timeline may vary depending on the testing center and location, as well as any unforeseen circumstances that may cause delays in processing. In my personal experience, I received my IELTS scores via email approximately five days after taking the exam. It is important to note that some institutions may require official score reports directly from the testing service rather than self-reported results, so it is best to confirm with your intended recipient regarding their specific requirements and deadlines.

Are there any special accommodations available for individuals with disabilities or special needs taking the IELTS or TOEFL exam?

There are special accommodations available for individuals with disabilities or special needs taking the IELTS or TOEFL exam. In fact, according to the official websites of both exams, nearly 5% of test takers use these accommodations. The types of accommodations vary depending on the individual’s needs and may include extra time, a separate testing room, or an interpreter. To receive accommodations, test takers must submit a request along with documentation from a qualified professional outlining their specific needs. The exam administrators strive to ensure that all test takers have equal opportunities to demonstrate their English language proficiency regardless of any disabilities or special needs they may have.


In conclusion, both IELTS and TOEFL are English language proficiency tests that cater to different requirements of individuals. While IELTS is preferred by those who wish to study or work in countries like the UK, Australia, and Canada, TOEFL is more commonly accepted in American universities and institutions.

It is important to understand the format and structure of each test before deciding which one to take. Both tests have their unique scoring patterns and validity periods. As a test-taker, it is crucial to choose the right exam that aligns with one’s goals and objectives. By doing so, one can increase their chances of success while achieving their desired level of proficiency in the English language parallelly with their academic or professional pursuits.