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IELTS vs TOEFL: Which is easier?


IELTS vs TOEFL: Availability

The first thing you need to check is which universities and colleges accept each test. If you really want to go to a certain university and it only accepts IELTS, then that is the test you should do. You can check which institutions accept IELTS and the band score you need.  For TOEFL you should check

You should also check if there is a test center in your local area. The test is already stressful without having to do lots of travelling. You can find your local IELTS test centre.

You should also think about why you want to do the test. If it is for university entrance there is not much difference between the two tests, but if you are not attending university and just need it to move to another country, the General Training paper that IELTS offers is proabably much more suitable for your needs.


IELTS vs TOEFL: Similarities

Both test the four main language skills: reading, writing, listening and speaking. They are both standardised tests which- in theory- means that the scores are consistent throughout the world.

That is where the similarities end and there are many more differences. Below I will look at how each of the four skills are different.


Differences: Speaking

This is probably the biggest difference between the two tests. In the IELTS test you will talk to a real person and in the TOEFL test you will speak to a computer!

Some people find talking to a computer very strange while others actually prefer it.

In the TOEFL test you will be asked 6 questions and it lasts around 20 minutes. You will be asked two questions on familiar topics, such as your home town or family. You will also be asked to summarise information from a text or conversation and to give your opinion.  Finally, you will be asked to summarise information from a short conversation.

The IELTS speaking test consists of 3 sections and lasts around 15 minutes. This test is with a real person and feels more like a real conversation. The first part is on familiar topics such as your home, job or studies. You will then be given a topic and you will have one minute to prepare a monologue of between 1-2 minutes. Finally, you will be asked question linked to the topic you spoke about in part 2.

Another point I should add is students have remarked that they can clarify information with examiners and ask them occasionally to repeat a question. This is obviously not available in the TOEFL test.


Differences: Writing

The biggest difference here is how you actually input your words. For TOEFL you will type everything on a keyboard, but for IELTS you will be writing on paper.

Both writing exams have two questions but the formats are a little different.

In the TOEFL writing test you have to first read a text and then listen to a 2 minute lecture on the same topic.  You must then write a short response to a specific question on that topic. Some students prefer this approach because it does not require as much prior knowledge about the topic.

The second question is a longer discursive essay on a particular issue, similar to a university style academic essay.

IELTS has two different types of writing paper: Academic and General Training. Academic is suitable for people hoping to attend university and General Training is mostly used for immigration purposes.

The test has two parts and they both take 1 hour. In the Academic paper you will be required to write a short essay about a graph, chart, map or process. In the General Training paper you will be asked to write a letter for task 1. In the second part you will be asked to write a short essay on a particular topic.


Differences: Listening

The main differences here are the length of the test, context, question type and accent.

The TOEFL test is 60 minutes long and the IELTS listening test is 30 minutes. Most of my students have never listened to English for more than a few minutes at a time and find the TOEFL test very long and this results in them losing concentration and missing answers.

The TOEFL test is all in an academic context whereas the IELTS test is half academic and half social.

The TOEFL test is multiple choice only, so if you like those questions this might be the test for you. IELTS has a range of different questions including sentence completion, matching headings and True, False or Not Given.

You will also hear a range of different accents from English speaking countries such as Ireland, Wales, Scotland, the USA, Canada and Australia on the IELTS test whereas the TOEFL test will always be standard American English.

Some students have commented that it is easier to listen to American accents and this makes the TOEFL listening easier, but you should also bear in mind that you will never get a very difficult accent on the IELTS test.


Difference: Reading

The two main differences here are questions types and context.

The TOEFL test is multiple choice only and the IELTS test has a wide range of question types. If you like multiple choice then TOEFL might be the test for you but other people really don’t like them and feel that a range of question types gives them a better chance of getting a high score.

TOEFL has only academic texts available, but with IELTS you can choose either the Academic paper or the non-academic one, if you would like to do the General Training paper.

Students have remarked that the TOEFL paper is much longer than the IELTS paper and it requires greater levels of concentration and mental stamina. Many have also said that they did not like the fact that it was just multiple choice questions and they found it very difficult to do the same thing over and over again.


IELTS vs TOEFL: Which should I choose?

If you can answer yes to most of the following questions you should do the TOEFL test:

I find American accents easy to listen to.

I like multiple choice questions.

I prefer reading and listening in an academic context.

I can concentrate for long periods of time.

I prefer talking to a computer.

I am good at typing.

I can easily follow a lecture and take notes.

I am comfortable with computers.


If you can answer yes to most of the following questions you should do the IELTS test:

I like talking to people one-on-one.

I don’t like multiple choice questions.

I don’t like reading or listening to academic contexts.

I like to write by hand.

I can understand a variety of English-speaking accents.

I prefer shorter tests.

I prefer a range of questions.

I find it difficult to concentrate for long periods of time.

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