Comparison of the TOEFL and IELTS

TOEFL and IELTS Acceptance and Availability

The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) and the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) both exist in multiple formats, each with varying degrees of acceptance. The TOEFL, developed in the United States, can be taken either in its internet version (iBT) or as a paper test (PBT). The iBT is almost universally accepted for undergraduate or graduate admission to universities in English speaking countries, and it is administered over 50 times per year at test centers around the world. The acceptance and availability of the TOEFL PBT is much more limited. Though many degree programs permit their applicants to submit scores for the PBT, some will only consider the iBT. The PBT is offered much less frequently and only in places where the iBT is unavailable. The IELTS, a British creation, exists in two versions: academic and general. International students can meet English-language requirements at most universities with the IELTS academic test (the general test is more oriented toward immigration for employment purposes). The IELTS is offered up to 48 times per year at test centers worldwide, and the number of annual test-takers is approximately 2.5 million. Reliable statistics on the annual number of TOEFL administrations are not readily available, but over 27 million students have reportedly taken the exam since its inception in 1964. The TOEFL iBT and the IELTS evaluate the same four skill areas (reading, listening, speaking, and writing), but in distinct ways.

Reading Assessment

The TOEFL reading section includes three or four reading passages of varying lengths, and the questions are all multiple choice (although some questions can have more answer options and correct answers than others). IELTS reading includes three sections, but there are more question types (including multiple choice, short answer, labelling diagrams, and matching information). The IELTS reading section on the academic test is different from the general test, with the former emphasizing books, journals, and newspapers and the latter devoted to more general resources.

Listening Assessment

The listening section of the TOEFL consists of 4-6 academic lectures (6 questions each) and 2-3 conversations (5 questions each). Question types include multiple choice with one or more than one possible correct answer, ordering of events, and matching objects to categories in a chart. IELTS listening has four sections of 10 questions each. The first two are based on social situations, while the latter two are dedicated to academic and professional life, with one exercise on each with a single speaker and a conversation. Test-takers write down their responses chronologically and then transfer them to an answer sheet (the last 10 minutes of this section is set aside for the latter purpose). The IELTS listening assessment is the same on both the academic and general test.

Speaking Assessment

Students taking the TOEFL must complete two tasks on the speaking section: independent and integrated. The first requires test-takers to express their own opinions in spoken form, while the second asks students to synthesize reading, listening, and speaking. Spoken responses are preserved by audio recording. The IELTS speaking assessment, on the other hand, is an in-person interview with an official proctor (this portion of the IELTS need not be taken on the same day as the rest of the exam). IELTS proctors ask students questions about their lives, interests, and other general topics, and the student then has a conversation with the examiner about a provided topic. There is no distinction between the academic and general test in terms of IELTS speaking.

Writing Assessment

TOEFL writing features two essays that require students to demonstrate competence in independent writing and integrated writing. The former requires test-takers to express and support their own opinions, while the latter is primarily devoted to written analysis of a given reading passage. The IELTS academic writing assessment, which is distinct from the general test, also has two tasks. In the first, students must write an essay describing a graph or chart. The second is devoted to common academic writing tasks, such as offering a solution to a problem, comparing and contrasting evidence, or evaluating ideas.

Timing and Scoring Comparison

At two hours and 55 minutes, the IELTS can be a significantly shorter assessment than the TOEFL iBT, which ranges from three hours and 20 minutes to four hours and 10 minutes. TOEFL sectional scores are reported from 0 to 30 each, and test-takers are also given a total score of 0 to 120 (the sum of all four sectional scores). For the IELTS, students receive "band" scores of 1-9 and a total score that is the average of the sectional scores (9 is the highest for both). The following concordances have been established for IELTS and TOEFL total scores: 9=118-120, 8.5=115-117, 8=110-114, 7.5=102-109, 7=94-101, 6.5=79-93, 6=60-78, 5.5=42-59, 5=35-41, 4.5=32-34, and 0-4=0-31.