TOEFL Vs IELTS – Which one is better for me?

Effective communication in English involves much more than understanding grammatical conventions. The education system in most western countries is highly collaborative and research oriented.  Therefore, students are required to understand the contextual and colloquial usage of English. This is why most acclaimed universities expect students to have a strong command over the communicative aspects of English.  Being able to express your ideas cogently in succinct language is a sought-after skill.  Moreover, the ability to read, comprehend and respond to huge volumes of library reference material ensures a student’s success in academic and research undertakings.  Hence higher education aspirants from countries where English is not the first language need to exhibit the required proficiency in English in order to become a part of an international classroom setting.

On this account, the two standardized English language testing systems, which are widely accepted in most of the foreign universities i.e. IELTS (International English Language Testing Service) and TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) are sought out by students and professionals alike. The IELTS and TOEFL are similar in many ways. Both IELTS and TOEFL gauge the student’s skills in the four linguistic competencies — Reading, Speaking, Listening and Writing.  Both are widely accepted all over the world. So the on-going debate of which test to take has become a moot point amongst aspirants.

Simplifying the matter, the choice between TOEFL and IELTS depends on the following criteria:

  1. a) Your destination
  2. b) Your purpose
  3. c) Your specific strengths and weaknesses

Firstly, if you are going to the US or Canada for higher education, then TOEFL should emerge as your first choice.  The reason for this is pretty simple. TOEFL is administered by ETS (English testing service) and lays special emphasis on testing a student’s understanding of US English, specifically in an academic context. For instance, the audio recordings in the TOEFL listening section are mostly in the North American accent. The TOEFL integrated writing and integrated speaking sections test how well a student can grasp and work within the usage of English in an academic setting. So performing well in TOEFL would not only clear your pathway to a top school in US or Canada, it would also boost your confidence in your ability to communicate well in US English and to be able to flourish specifically in the US or Canadian Academic environment.

However, if you are headed for UK or Australia for higher education, you might want to consider taking IELTS instead of TOEFL. Again, the reason is closely related to the test content. IELTS is jointly conducted by the University of Cambridge ESOL Examinations, British Council, and IDP Education Australia.  It predominantly focuses on testing a student’s understanding of UK English. The listening section consists of audio clips that are in Australian, UK or other European accents.

Furthermore, The IELTS proves to be the correct choice for those who wish to immigrate permanently to Canada, Australia, and any European country via the direct work permit route. The IELTS- General Training is designed especially for such candidates. The questions in the IELTS General training test are more relevant to everyday social interactions. They focus on ‘Social Survival’, ‘Workplace Survival’ and ‘General Reading’. Thus, such students, whose prime focus is immigration may find IELTS more suitable for developing ‘social’ linguistic skills as opposed to TOEFL which might be more useful for developing skills required to adapt to an ‘academic’ setting.

Apart from these major factors, the following minor considerations in terms of format may also help you make the right choice.

  • The primary difference between IELTS and TOEFL lies in the way speaking capabilities are tested. IELTS requires you to speak to a human voice, and there is a real-time communication happening between the examiner and the examinee. TOEFL necessitates your answer into a microphone and the conversation is recorded and subsequently reviewed by a panel of examiners. So if you prefer actual conversation instead of speaking to a computer then you should choose IELTS. Moreover, students who face speaking challenges such as stammering or stuttering may choose IELTS.  Since the IELTS speaking test is a face to face conversation, the speaking disability would most probably be noticed and accounted for. In the TOEFL test, however, the student’s speaking challenge may go unnoticed and be considered as a skill related problem.
  • TOEFL questions are all multiple choice questions, whereas IELTS has various types of questions like sentence completion, true or false, match the following etc. While some may find the TOEFL monotonous, others may like it specifically because they don’t have to worry about different question types.
  • Time taken for the TOEFL exam is close to four hours, and IELTS takes two hours 45 minutes. While the duration of the test is in no way indicative of its level of toughness, students with weaknesses in a particular skill- sets may benefit from choosing a particular test over the other.  For example, if a student has problems reading huge passages in quick succession and cannot sustain interest for a long time, the IELTS test might be a good choice for him/her.  The TOEFL reading section may require him to read the 4th passage while the IELTS academic reading test contains only 3 passages.

To conclude, whether you should take TOEFL or IELTS is mostly a matter of opinion and individual preference. While TOEFL is more popular in North American countries, IELTS has wider acceptance globally especially in Europe, New Zealand and Australia.  You must do a thorough research on the testing requirements of the universities you intend to attend. While some may accept both, others may give preference to one over the other. It is always a good idea to get a clear picture before you seal your decision.