The IELTS and the TOEFL

Availability and Acceptance of the IELTS and the TOEFL

The IELTS and TOEFL are both tests that are widely available. The IELTS is offered as many as four times per month and 48 times per year, although individual test centers may have fewer open test dates due to decreased demand. The TOEFL may be taken on at least 50 dates throughout the year. Both exams are administered at test centers around the world, usually in or near major cities. The majority of universities in English-speaking countries will accept either test, but students should check the requirements of their specific degree programs. Some departments at American universities, for example, will only consider TOEFL scores. This is probably because the TOEFL is an assessment of American English, while the IELTS is a British test. Acceptance for immigration purposes may also be specific to either the IELTS or the TOEFL.

Versions of the IELTS and TOEFL

Most students who take the IELTS do so with paper and pencil. However, an online version of the academic test (for UK visa applicants only) was introduced in 2016, and it is now available in 14 countries (such as the UK, China, India, Russia, and Saudi Arabia). The online IELTS is identical to the paper exam. The TOEFL, on the other hand, is taken almost entirely in its internet-based version. The paper-based TOEFL is still in existence, but it may be taken only in locations where internet testing is impractical or prohibited, and the paper TOEFL is being phased out. The internet and paper versions of the TOEFL differ substantially in content and scoring. For students who have the option of taking either TOEFL, we recommend the internet version of the test due to its greater availability and superiority as an assessment.

IELTS and TOEFL Reading Assessments

Both exams feature reading passages of several types and in several academic and/or general subjects. The primary difference between the two tests is in the types of questions. All TOEFL reading exercises are multiple choice, although the number of answer choices and correct answers varies. The IELTS academic and general training reading modules include a much greater variety of question types, such as multiple choice, matching information, chart and sentence completion, and true/false.

IELTS and TOEFL Writing Assessments

Essays are the basis of the writing sections of the IELTS and the TOEFL, and each exam features two writing tasks. Because it is important for students to be able to synthesize abilities, one of these tasks involves using another language skill area (a written summary of a graph or chart on the academic IELTS and a written analysis of a reading and lecture excerpt on the TOEFL). The second writing task on the IELTS academic and general training tests is a "discursive essay," in which test-takers must "provide a solution," "compare and contrast" ideas, or "challenge arguments" related to opinions, problems, or issues given in the essay prompt. Students who take the IELTS general training test will "write a letter in response to a given situation" instead of summarizing visual information. The second TOEFL essay is similar to the IELTS "discursive" exercise in that it involves expressing and supporting student opinions and arguments.

IELTS and TOEFL Listening Assessments

The IELTS and TOEFL listening sections both feature exercises on academic and general situations. The TOEFL has a greater number of exercises (between six and nine) than the IELTS (four), and the TOEFL listening section takes longer to complete (60-90 minutes versus 30 minutes plus ten minutes for filling out the answer sheet). Both tests include a number of different question types, but the IELTS has a greater variety of distinct exercises (seven types as opposed to the TOEFL's four). All answers on both listening assessments are, however, objectively either correct or incorrect (subjective evaluations are not involved).

IELTS and TOEFL Speaking Assessments

The speaking section constitutes the most significant difference between these two exams. On the IELTS speaking module, test-takers must undergo an in-person interview with a trained IELTS examiner. Interview exercises include answering questions on familiar topics, talking about a given topic, and providing answers to more detailed questions on that topic. The TOEFL speaking section preserves student responses via audio-recording and does not involve a live examiner at the time of the test. TOEFL speaking includes two exercises: spoken expression of personal opinions, and spoken synthesis of materials from reading and listening passages. The IELTS speaking paper may be taken on a different day than the other modules, while the TOEFL speaking section is taken during the same period as the rest of the exam.

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