The English language might arguably be the third most spoken language in the world.

It is, however, likely the most powerful language today. What this basically means, is if you can speak English, it is simpler for you to get around in the world today.

Even for those who don’t find the language particularly important but wish to travel or study abroad, a basic understanding of the language is necessary. You can’t study in a university where the medium of instruction is English if you can’t speak it.

The TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) and IELTS (International English Language Test System) were developed to assess this ability.

Both these tests are reliable gauges of your level of English proficiency. Both tests are also accepted and recognized the world over by well reputed establishments and institutions. That being said, the two tests are formatted differently. They follow varying approaches to teaching and testing, hence where the TOEFL might suit some people more, others might find the IELTS preferable. Before looking for IELTS or TOEFL exam preparation courses or IELTS and TOEFL online practice tests, it is important to be clear on what it entails.

This blog should help you understand what these two tests are about, and what you will need to consider when deciding which to appear for.

TOEFL Basics

The TOEFL is geared to assess your English language proficiency in an academic environment. It is recognized by over 8000 institutions, 100 countries and the world’s blue-chip (the very best) universities.

The test is designed and conducted by the Education Testing Service. Since this organization is U.S.-based, American English is used as the medium and is widely accepted in American institutions.

IELTS Basics

The IELTS was created not just to test English proficiency for the purpose of education, but also for immigration and employment.

It is recognized in more than 100 countries and an excess of 9000 institutions. The IELTS is designed and conducted collaboratively by the University of Cambridge ESOL Examinations, the British Council as well as IDP Education Australia.

It uses British English and is widely recognized in commonwealth countries. IELTS tests can be requirement-specific (academic or general).


As we already know, one difference between the two is the kind of English used. Another difference is the test durations: the TOEFL being longer at 4 hours, whereas the IELTS only lasts 2 hours and 40 minutes.

The two tests also follow different questioning formats. The IELTS contains varying question types. These include brief answer questions, fill in the blanks and essay writing. The TOEFL is nearly all multiple choice.

The TOEFL is entirely computer based, whereas IELTS is paper based.

The last point to keep in mind is, due to difference in allotted time and structure, the two tests facilitate slightly different forms of intellectual process. The IELTS largely relies on recall and comprehension whereas the TOEFL draws on prompt analytical skills.

Students appearing for academic reasons will likely need to sit for the IELTS academic test.


Both tests have a speaking, writing, reading and listening component to them. We’re going to brush over some of these for the sake of clarity. We will also touch upon the scoring criteria of both tests.

Speaking Component

The IELTS spoken section is taken by an examiner in person. The TOEFL requires you to answer six questions.

You will need to speak into a microphone so that your answers may be recorded and forwarded for review.

A single examiner will decide your IELTS Spoken English score, whereas a group of six is needed for the TOEFL.

The IELTS Spoken section lasts about 14 minutes and is not always taken on the day of other parts of the test. The TOEFL lasts roughly 20 minutes and is conducted on the same day as the rest of the test. Accents used in IELTS tests are variable. Those used in TOEFL are usually exclusively American.

Reading Component

The IELTS contains three reading sections. Each of these is about 20 minutes long. The content of these sections is classroom level or academic. Questions will be in the three forms mentioned in the overview; essay, short and fill in the blanks.

The TOEFL reading section, similar to the IELTS format, has three 20-minute-long parts. The level of content too will be similar to that of IELTS. The only difference here is that your understanding of the text will be determined by what answers you pick in the multiple-choice section.

Both test your understanding and comprehension of the overall texts.

Writing Component

The first point as discussed is that the IELTS is paper based whereas the TOEFL is computer based. The two TOEFL written tasks include an essay and a response. The essay needs to be 300 – 350 words in length and split into five paragraphs. The response will entail taking notes from a text or part of a lecture and responding to a question or statement appropriately within word limit.

The second task of the IELTS written test is also a response. The first, however, is a verbal summary of some form of information or data representation. The response is also directed and might require a certain style of language. There is, however, more flexibility allowed with regards to word count for the TOEFL, as opposed to the IELTS.

Listening Component

Listening! Something we all can be pretty bad at.

This section is both similar and different in both tests. It is similar as both use extracts from speeches or university lectures as content. The difference is in how you answer.

In the TOEFL, you need to take notes for about 40–60 minutes while listening and answer questions later; the IELTS allows you to answer some questions on the spot. Again, the types of question in the IELTS are more variable.

Scoring Criteria

The final TOEFL grade is an overall assessment of how good your use of vocabulary, style of writing and understanding and application of grammatical structures, is. With the IELTS, your logic, grammar and fluency are also taken into account separately.

The TOEFL is graded out of 120 points, whereas the IELTS uses a band system—the highest score being 9.

In short, the TOEFL iBT requires more test writing skills and strategies, whereas the IELTS exam is more intuitive in nature. If you are still having trouble deciding which to go for, explore our website. If you’ve decided that it is TOEFL you’re going for, get started with our free online resources! Remember, regardless of which you choose, it is the work you put in that will finally determine your score!

uMasterExam endeavors to support students appearing for their TOEFL iBT by allowing them access to numerous essential preparation materials and guides.

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