IELTS Vs TOEFL: What is the Difference?

By | August 7, 2020

More than often, students all over the world ask themselves the question: Should I take TOEFL or IELTS? The same people also ask themselves the question which is more difficult? Of course, both have their difficulties so it all depends on what you want to get out of your learning. This is how you know which one to choose.

Difference between IELTS and TOEFL

TOEFL or IELTS: Facts about both

TOEFL has almost five thousand test centers around the world. Online testing is usually the way to complete this exam.
IELTS has almost a thousand test sites worldwide. Due to elements that require direct English conversations with interviewers, this exam is not offered online.

However, there is material online to practice English before the exam.

The time to take a TOEFL is four hours. Of course, students can complete the exam before four hours have come to an end, but four hours is the maximum time for a TOEFL test Sweden.
IELTS is limited to two hours and forty-five minutes. This exam is shorter than the TOEFL test except for the writing segment, which takes a full hour.

Find out why in the section below.

TOEFL is generally aimed at students with knowledge of North American accent and spelling; IELTS covers a range of regional accents, including American.
As both tests test your international English, it is acceptable to use either American or British spelling in IELTS, in your short answers and compositions.

So be sure to practice English in general.

But when choosing an English, you have to pass the whole test. It is not acceptable to mix between American and Oxford English. Even if all your answers are technically correct, all words written on the English options will be considered incorrect. Learn how to expand your vocabulary and learn more English words.

If you write your first answers with British English, all American English used thereafter would be considered a mistake. It is not as important to maintain consistency in one or the other style of English for TOEFL. There is a focus more on syntax and grammar.

Let us now take an in-depth look at both exams.

Test of English as a Foreign Language, TOEFL


During the 1960’s, as global travel became easier, colleges in the United States faced the growing problem of international students migrating for education but lacking real English skills. A national council of leaders of the government and the private sector was convened to ensure that all foreign students arriving in the United States to continue their education came on the condition that they could understand their teachers and participate in the class. The first versions of the test were administered at Stanford University. Later, the board was assigned to oversee tests and updates of the exam.


Initially, the test was taken via paper which was then administered in an academic environment and monitored.
For the speech comprehension part, candidates were called into a room, one by one, to answer a series of questions designed to measure critical and rhetorical thinking and speaking skills.
Because demand was so high, students enrolling in American universities had to wait, sometimes up to two years, for the opportunity to prove their English language skills with TOEFL.
This led to the development of CBT (literally: computer-based testing) which formed the basis of the online exam that students today from all over the world are familiar with.

TOEFL today

TOEFL is administered strictly online except in areas where internet connection is unreliable or inaccessible.

In those areas of the world that do not rely heavily on computers, the tests are still done with pen and paper and with an oral examiner.

Non-native students must take a TOEFL test before they can enroll in a university in an English-speaking country. Something that has been so since the start of standardized English exams for international students in 1962. Today you can take TOEFL in Stockholm, but if you do not live in the capital, you can also take a TOEFL test in other parts of Sweden.

IELTS formulated a comparable, but more detailed exam in 1980, which saw global launch nine years later.

International English Language Testing System, IELTS

IELTS offers two exams: General English, a test that immigrants looking for work can do to show their knowledge of the language. Our focus is on the Academic Exam, specially designed for prospective students hoping to study at universities in the UK, Canada, Australia or New Zealand.


The English Language Testing Service, or IELTS as it was then known, was the cornerstone of the Cambridge English Language Assessment, a department of the University of Cambridge and the British Council.

The exams were designed to facilitate the use of everyday English; phrases that an English-speaking person can say. Graduation included various regional accents and dialects, including American (but excluding Scottish).


Due to the ongoing difficulties for teachers to administer the test, it was redesigned to a more international content. Australian universities and colleges also joined for this purpose.
A later version has a distinction between the reading and writing parts of the test. The previous thematic link was considered to prevent a correct assessment of the test takers’ ability.

If, for example, the subject was Finding Work in Australia, the written part would require the graduate to write about How to Find Work in Australia.

The latest review of the reading and writing modules brought them more in line with general academic standards: same time, response time and reporting of points.

IELTS today

  • All over the world, this degree is still administered in a traditional way: pen and paper. Where the oral part is done live, in a face-to-face interview. The results of the oral examination are announced immediately.
  • The written part of the exam is assigned one hour because it is to be written by hand rather than written on a computer.
  • IELTS has rapidly grown to become the exam choice for people in Asia and the Middle East, with more than two million people taking the test worldwide.

Difference between IELTS and TOEFL

English reading section:

The TOEFL test requires that four to six academic sections be read with approximately the same level of difficulty, which will help you to strengthen English.
For IELTS, there are three sections, taken from academic textbooks, magazines or journals – all with varying degrees of difficulty.

English writing section:

TOEFL requires the candidate to read and listen to two tricky segments, which may not contradict each other. The English student must then show understanding by writing a paragraph concerning the material.
IELTS gives you an hour to print by hand:

  • the meaning of a chart or graph,
  • your opinion on a particular topic.

English listening section:

The TOEFL instructions are strictly based on academics, even the “casual conversation” between a librarian and a student. All questions have several possible answers.
IELTS’s four sections include a social transaction, as well as conversations with an academic theme. Question types vary and may also include filling in the gaps in a table.

English number section:

TOEFL requires students to be comfortable speaking English with a computer. Fluent and correct use of English phrases is recorded and evaluated later by an examiner.
IELTS provides examiners who in the first segment ask comfort questions about the candidates’ hometowns and hobbies or how you can strengthen your English. The next two segments are more demanding.

Other comparisons

Neither TOEFL nor IELTS has an approved / failed system. It is the institutions themselves that set their own minimum requirements for the adoption of English speakers from other countries.
TOEFL awards points for proven competence in the four areas tested; IELTS ranks test takers in groups that loosely correspond to a set of points.
TOEFL was developed and continues to be maintained in America only; IELTS was originally developed in the UK but soon requested international grants to make its exams more globally relevant.
Both are international, which means that a TOEFL result would be accepted in the UK, just as IELTS would be enough to enroll in a US university.However, US institutions prefer the US exam and IELTS is better regarded in the UK and surrounding countries.

How to study for all international English exams

It is a good advice to choose the degree that suits you. Your ultimate goal is to study abroad, you must choose which school you hope to enroll in, or at least which country you prefer.
Knowing that IELTS is preferred in the UK, if it is your destination, you should choose English lessons that will improve you for Oxford English.
To focus your English learning on British English, you should:

  • Read a variety of materials, not just textbooks.
      • This degree is intended to test your ability to understand the language in all its aspects, including social situations and how to talk to government officials.
  • Listen to English.
    • IELTS is truly international, so your listening comprehension should have the ability to understand English through the range of accents and dialects spoken during the exam.
  • Choose which English you want to learn!
    • Most schools that teach English as a second language use a mixture of British and American English in their curriculum. To avoid losing points on the exam due to differences in spelling, make British English your focus.
  • Practice writing English
    • IELTS contains a handwritten part. Make sure your handwriting is legible and that your spelling is correct.

English resources online

Anyone looking for materials to learn English can find all types of test preparation websites on the Internet.
Here we describe some pages you can turn to that are not specifically related to degree preparation. The British Council is a website with podcasts, quizzes and literature that reflects everyday English. Our advice is to find a site that is specifically designed for IELTS studies!
The BBC has a page where you can learn English – take a look and practice English with it!

To practice before your exam, you can take IELTS tests for free.

Striving for knowledge is more valuable than possessing it – Albert Einstein

It may sound contradictory, but learning a language is more of a responsibility than an academic project.
Just as you would a gardener, a child or an elderly person in need of care, language studies need passion and commitment.

Traditional methods for exam preparation are not suitable when taking an IELTS test – it is designed to measure fluency in the language rather than knowledge in some aspect.
Thus, it is best that you change your overall goal to involve reinforcing English, rather than mastering aspects of English simply to achieve a good grade.