IELTS or TOEFL? Which should I do?

This is a common question which many English language learners ask when they are considering studying abroad at university in an English speaking country. So which one to choose, IELTS or TOEFL?

Aren’t IELTS and TOEFL basically the same?

Both TOEFL and IELTS are tests of your English language proficiency and if your English is good then you can get a high score in both of the tests with the correct exam preparation. Both tests have four sections, as you would expect: Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking.

IELTS Academic and TOEFL require more or less the same level of Academic English vocabulary and grammar. For the reading section, you should be able to understand university style academic texts, read using scanning and skimming techniques, and be able to read quickly. For the writing section, you need to be able to write in a formal style in both tests and demonstrate a good range of grammar and vocabulary.

So what’s different about IELTS and TOEFL?

TOEFL is based on academic material throughout. All listening, reading, writing and speaking questions and tasks are related to academic contexts. On the other hand, IELTS has two versions: IELTS Academic and IELTS General Training.

IELTS General Training is designed for people who are migrating to live and work in an English speaking country or visit to receive training.

Academic IELTS is more demanding and more similar to TOEFL than the IELTS General version. However, IELTS Academic listening has some none academic type contexts and the speaking section questions are not all based on academic situations. In fact, the only sections in the Academic IELTS test which are different from the General IELTS test are the reading and the writing sections.

Which is easier to do: TOEFL or IELTS?

If your English is good then both TOEFL and Academic IELTS should be about the same level of difficulty for you. The IELTS General Training test would probably be the easiest; however, if you want to study at university it would not be appropriate for your university entrance application.

Other factors to consider are the fact that the TOEFL iBT test is computerized and the IELTS test is not in most countries (at the moment). The TOEFL test has integrated questions where you are required to listen, read and speak in certain tasks. This is more challenging than the IELTS speaking test which is basically a conversation.

The other main difference between the TOEFL and IELTS speaking tests is that in the TOEFL iBT you record your answers, in other words, you speak them and the computer records them. In the IELTS speaking test you sit opposite an examiner and speak directly to him/her.

The TOEFL is a longer test than both versions of the IELTS. To complete the four sections of the TOEFL test takes about four and 4.5 hours as opposed to IELTS which only takes 2.5 hours for the written sections and 15 minutes for the speaking evaluation. So TOEFL is more mentally demanding and you need to concentrate for longer.

So which is best: IELTS or TOEFL?

The simple answer is – it depends. It depends on your level of English, the country which you would like to study in and how good you are at doing tests. Traditionally IELTS was more common in Europe, Australia and some other parts of the world while TOEFL was dominant for students wishing to study in North America.

Nowadays, IELTS is also accepted by many of the best educational institutions in North America and TOEFL likewise in Europe and elsewhere. However, you should check with the university you wish to study at to see if they accept IELTS or TOEFL or both.

If you’re not very confident about your English level, then doing the Academic IELTS test will probably be easier for you than tackling the TOEFL. Before doing either of the tests, it is highly recommended that you take part in a good TOEFL preparation course or IELTS preparation course to learn all about the format of the test and the different exam strategies you need to use to score well.

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