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IELTS v TOEFL – which language course is better?
Karam Filfilan

englishIf you are thinking of applying to an English speaking university but come from a country where English isn’t the first language, you are going to have to prove your language skills.


There are two main English tests accepted as proof – IELTS (International English Language Testing Service) and TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language). But which one is right for you?


IELTS v TOEFL – How are they similar?


Both the IELTS and the TOEFL tests are used by universities as a way of measuring your English language skills. Both will test your writing, listening and reading skills and both will cost you a fee to book – normally around $200-$300 for each.


IELTS v TOEFL – The differences


The main difference between the two tests is the way in which they test your speaking skills. In the IELTS exam, students sit a face-to-face interview with an examiner on a selection of topics, which can be quite daunting. TOEFL tests your communication skills in a different way. You get a series of six questions on different topics which you answer into a microphone and are then sent to an external examiner for marking.


The other main difference between the two programmes is the scoring system. IELTS give a rating between 0 and 9, with halfway points in between. TOEFL gives a more numerical SAT-type grade, totalling your scores from all the areas.


Another key difference, and one that often helps students to decide on which test to take, is the type of English each course tests. The TOEFL test bases its English on US English, so all spellings, pronunciations and phrases are scored accordingly. However, if you’re more used to UK English, then the IELTS test will suit you more as it is administered by the British Council and the University of Cambridge.

IELTS v TOEFL – Which is better?


The very first thing you should check is which qualification is favoured by the university you want to study at. Although both tests are accepted by more than 6,000 institutions worldwide, you will find that certain universities favour one over the other. Contact your chosen department to find out more.


Certain parts of each test might influence your decision. If you’re uncomfortable with the pressure of a face-to-face interview, then you will probably prefer the more relaxed TOEFL examination. TOEFL also has both a written and computer tests, whereas IELTS can only be done as a written test. However, if you have a stronger English speaking background, IELTS will suit you as it is more about conversation and reacting to situations.


The one thing most international students want to know is “which test is easier?” The answer is actually irrelevant. The difficulty of the test is determined from your own skill levels and the difficulty of the test taken (both tests are changed each time they are given to stop cheating). The consensus among the teaching community is that the IELTS test is slightly more difficult, as the question types it uses are more difficult for non-English speakers to get to grips with.