IELTS vs. TOEFL – What’s the difference? Which is easier? Which should I take?

Of all the questions I receive from students preparing for an international English exam the three most common are : What’s the difference between the IELTS and the TOEFL iBT?  Which is easier?  Which should I take?

Let’s take a look at those questions…toefl vs ielts

  1. What’s the difference between the IELTS and the TOEFL iBT? 

First, let’s be clear on what the letters represent…

  • IELTS – International English Language Testing System.  This test uses international English and is administered by the British Council, the University of Cambridge and IDP Education Australia.
  • TOEFL iBT – Test of English as Foreign Language Internet-Based Test.  This test uses American English and is administered by the Educational Testing Service.

Both tests are international exams testing your listening, reading, writing and speaking skills.  The TOEFL iBT gives you a score of 0-120 and the IELTS gives you a score of 0-9.

One principle difference between the IELTS and the TOEFL iBT is the method of delivery: the TOEFL is taken on a computer, while the IELTS is a paper-based test.

Another principle difference between the two tests is the speaking section. The TOEFL iBT speaking section is about 20 minutes long and includes six tasks. For each task, you must speak into a microphone at your test computer for 30-60 seconds.

The IELTS speaking exam is a three-part interview that lasts between 11 to 14 minutes.  Rather than responding to questions at a computer and speaking into a microphone, you are interviewed with an IELTS examiner.

Let’s take a closer look at the differences between the two exams’ speaking sections…


ETS_TOEFL_iBT

The TOEFL iBT Speaking Exam has six questions total.  Questions are categorized as independent tasks or integrated speaking tasks.

  • Independent Tasks (Two questions) – You are asked a question about a personal experience or about yourself. You have 30 seconds to prepare and 45 seconds to speak. Example question: What event in your life made you very happy?  or Describe your city to a visitor.
  • Integrated Speaking Tasks (Four questions, Two types) — There are two types of integrated speaking tasks (questions 3, 4, 5 and 6).
    • Question 3 – Integrated – Read a short campus announcement about a change at their university. Listen to two students discuss their views about the change. Respond to a question (30 seconds to prepare, 60 seconds to speak). The speaking question appears after the conversation has completed. E.g., The man expresses his opinion of the announcement about the student-fee increase. State his opinion and explain the reasons he gives for holding that opinion.
    • Question 4 – Integrated – Read a short academic text. Listen to a professor’s lecture on the same topic. Respond to a question (30 seconds to prepare, 60 seconds to speak). The speaking question appears after the conversation has completed. E.g., The article and professor both discuss Maslow’s theory. Combine points from both to explain the mass-appeal of Maslow’s theory.
    • Question 5 – Integrated – Listen to a conversation on campus (e.g., a student speaking with a professor about a class project). Respond to a question (20 seconds to prepare, 60 seconds to speak). The speaking question appears after the conversation has completed. E.g., The woman tries to persuade the man to do something. Say what she tries to persuade him to do. Then state which of the solutions you prefer and why.
    • Question 6 – Integrated – Listen to an academic lecture. Respond to a question (20 seconds to prepare, 60 seconds to speak). The speaking question appears after the conversation has completed. E.g., The professor discusses cultural identity in the American South. Why was the South able to keep its culture and identity for so long and why is it slowly disappearing now? Use examples from the lecture.

 

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Part 1 – Familiar Topics (4-5 minutes) – First, the examiner will introduce himself/herself, ask you to do the same.  You will then be asked general questions on familiar topics (e.g., home, family, work, studies, interests).

Part 2 – Speaking at Length (3-4 minutes) – In the second part, you will prepare a 1-2 minute response to a topic chosen by the examiner.  The examiner will give you a card with a question and points you should address when speaking.  You have one minute to prepare, and then will speak for a maximum of two minutes.  Once you complete your response, the examiner will ask you one or two follow-up questions on the topic.

Example: Describe your favorite photograph

  • Where was the photo taken?
  • Who took the photo?
  • What can be seen from the photo?
  • Explain why it is your favorite photograph.

Follow-up questions:

  • How can you take a good photograph?
  • When do people take photographs?
  • How does technology impact the way we take photographs?

Part 3 – Two Way Discussion (4-5 minutes) – In this part, the examiner will ask you questions that are related to the part two topic, but more abstract in nature.

Example: Photography and Image

  • Is it easy to take good photographs?
  • What are the pros and cons of digital photography?
  • Should people share their photographs online?
  • People say ‘a picture is worth a thousand words.’  Do you agree?  Why/Why not?
  • Is a photograph a reliable form of identification?

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Are you interested in taking the IELTS exam?  If so, I’m offering a 40-hour IELTS Preparation Course in Bogotá starting on in September of 2015.  Three schedules are offered: Saturday afternoons (2:30 – 6:30 pm), Tuesday/Thursday mornings (7 – 9 am) and Tuesday/Thursday evenings (6 – 8 pm).  For more information: Bogotá IELTS Preparation Course

2.) Is the TOEFL iBT or the IELTS easier? 

The TOEFL and the IELTS are both highly regarded, international exams. They are both effective at determining your level of English, which is why so many institutions in English-speaking countries require international students to submit their IELTS or TOEFL results for admission.  Neither test is easier or harder than the other.

3.) Which should I take – the IELTS or the TEOFL iBT?

Deciding whether to take the IELTS or the TOEFL iBT is a relatively decision.  You can decide based on these factors:whiteboard-849811_1280

COST (prices listed are specific for Colombia)

The IELTS costs $498.000 COP to take at the British Council (more information).  Tests are offered three times per month.

The TOEFL costs $220 USD (approximately $700.000 COP at the time of writing this post) and is offered generally every weekend (more information)

MEDIUM 

Would you prefer to take your test on a computer, or on paper?  If you prefer using a computer, I recommend the TOEFL iBT.  If you prefer taking your test using pen and paper, I recommend the IELTS.

SPEED

Your official IELTS results are mailed from the test center 13 calendar days after you take the exam.  Some centers offer an unofficial report sooner (either available online or sent to you via text message).  Max wait time for official results: 13 days

TOEFL results are mailed from the United States approximately 13 days after you take the exam.  Since these results are mailed from the United States, they might require 7 to 14 additional business days to arrive, depending on your location.  Max wait time for official results: 27+ days

SPEAKING EXAM FORMAT

Do you feel more comfortable taking your exam on a computer, or with another person?  Do you feel more comfortable being recorded in short segments or having a conversation?  If you prefer taking the exam on a computer and speaking in short segments, I recommend the TOEFL iBT.  If you prefer taking the exam with another person in an interview format, I recommend the IELTS.

For any other questions about the differences between these two tests, feel free to shoot me an email!

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