IELTS vs TOEFL. Which one to choose? | Student Reviews & University Rankings EDUopinions

IELTS vs TOEFL. Which one to choose?


Aren’t you a native English speaker? Then it is likely that universities will ask you for proof of English proficiency in order to accept you. Several tests exist (read more about them in this article). Nevertheless, the two most commonly accepted English-proficiency tests are IELTS and TOEFL… So which one should you choose?

In this article, we outline their differences and provide the main indications regarding target scores. Ultimately, this information should help you to choose the test that is most adapted to your situation.

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What are IELTS and TOEFL

The International English Language Test (IELTS) is a widely used test for people who want to go study or work in English-speaking countries. It assesses your reading, writing, speaking and listening skills on a scale (called Band Score) from 1 (non-user) to 9 (expert user). More than 10,000 education institutions currently use the IELTS.

The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) is a test that is more specific to education. Indeed, only universities use it to evaluate the level of English of non-native speakers. About 2.3 million people take the test each year. Prospective students can take it online or on paper and it costs between 150 and 250 euros depending on the country. It assesses your reading, listening, speaking and writing competencies.

What is the difference between IELTS and Toefl?

The IELTS offers two different, yet similar tests:

  • IELTS General Training for people who want to work, immigrate, or study at a school or college in an English-speaking country
  • IELTS Academics for individuals who want to follow an English-speaking degree.

The IELTS is a paper-based test, hence you use pen and paper instead of a keyboard. The British Council endorses both versions of the test. Additionally, numerous types of resources are available to help you prepare for the tests. For example, you will find official practice material, practice tests, as well as a progress tracker. Taking the actual test costs 243 euros. And even though it is endorsed by the British council, the test has been designed by people from all over the world in order to prevent scorer bias towards a specific type of English.

Tips to rock your TOEFL exam / Consejos para arrasar en el TOEFL

As explained earlier, the TOEFL offers a paper-based version and an internet-based version (iBT). However, it has recently been decided that the paper-based version will soon be discontinued. Hence, we will only focus on the TOEFL iBT.

Unlike the IELTS, the TOEFL iBT is solely used by educational institutions. It costs between 150 and 250 euros and is valid for a period of two years. Don’t worry, once you have been accepted to an English-taught study programme, your degree will be enough to demonstrate that your level of English is optimal. Therefore, it is not a problem if your TOEFL is not valid anymore, as long as you have started your degree. The TOEFL iBT does not work with an overall score. Instead, a score between 0 and 30 is attributed to each competency.

What is considered a good score for the IELTS and the Toefl?

The IELTS and the TOEFL cannot be failed. These tests are tools to evaluate your level of English. However, some schools or companies require you to have above a certain score in order to ensure that your level is sufficient to follow the classes or engage in activities of the company that is hiring you. This is why, rather than good and bad scores, we will refer to high and low scores or skill levels.

IELTS performance indicator:

  • Expert user (band score = 9): You show a complete understanding of the English language, you are fluent and have an excellent command of the language
  • Very good user (band score = 8): You are fluent but still make a few mistakes such as using words in inaccurate ways. However, you are able to use English for all matters
  • Good user (band score = 7): You are usually able to understand complex material and can express yourself well, though not without misunderstandings or inaccuracies
  • Competent user (band score = 6): You are usually able to interact in fairly complex settings, though not without misunderstandings or inaccuracies
  • Modest user (band score = 5): You have a basic command of the language. You make mistakes but are most often able to understand and be understood
  • Limited user (band score = 4): You are able to use basic language in familiar contexts but often struggle to express yourself and understand others
  • Extremely limited user (band score = 3): You understand the main message in familiar interactions, but miss the details; your spoken English is broken down
  • Intermittent user (band score = 2): You struggle to understand English (written and spoken forms)
  • Non-user (band score = 1): You know a few words but are not able to use the language

English-taught programmes usually ask for a minimum band score of 6.5 or 7. For example, the University of Oxford in the UK requires students to have an average score of 7 with a minimum of 6.5 in each section (check out what it’s like to study in the UK).

Toefl performance indicator

  • Reading section
    • Low/limited: 0-14
    • Intermediate: 15-21
    • High: 22-30
  • Listening section
    • Low/limited: 0-13
    • Intermediate: 14-21
    • High: 22-30
  • Writing section
    • Low/limited: 1-16
    • Intermediate: 17-23
    • High: 24-30
  • Speaking section
    • Low/limited: 0-17
    • Intermediate: 18-25
    • High: 26-30

The majority of schools that require you to have taken the TOEFL will ask for scores above 90 or 100. For example, Brown University in the USA recommends applying with a minimum TOEFL score of 100.

Which one is harder IELTS or Toefl?


Both tests will enable you and others to have a good idea of your capabilities using the English language. Therefore, the IELTS material is not harder than TOEFL material and vice versa. However, the setting in which the tests are taken can impact your focus and how easy the test seems. The IELTS is paper-based, therefore you can more easily switch between different sections of the test. Additionally, you can have several days between the reading/writing/listening assessment and the speaking assessment. Some people enjoy having those extra days to prepare. On the other hand, the TOEFL iBT is not as easy to manipulate because it is online. It also requires the ability to focus for up to 4 hours. However, once these four hours are done, the test is fully behind you!

Conclusions about IELTS vs TOEFL

Generally speaking, business schools and universities all over the world highly recommend students to take the IELTS or the TOEFL. They are widely used and therefore offer a good estimation of your English proficiency. The tests differ in several ways, so unless only one of the two is accepted by your institution, we recommend that you take the time to identify the one that best suits your needs. However, if you are confident that your English level is good enough to study and that you do not need TOEFL or IELTS scores, then check out where to study in Europe without a test. Several schools offer internal free language tests.

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Zohar Fiszman is a senior student at University College Utrecht, where he studies politics, psychology and crime. Born and raised in Belgium, his international education paths has fostered the desire to empower high-quality educational opportunities.

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