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If you are thinking about studying overseas in an English speaking country or an European University, then you will probably need to take an English proficiency test. But which one should you choose?
The two most common English tests for university admission are the IELTS and TOEFL tests. This article will compare both so students can choose the one that suits them.
Basic Information about the exams
The IELTS exam, or International English Language Testing System, is developed by UCLES, University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate (UCLES and delivered by the British Council and IDP Education Australia. The test is available in an Academic and General Training Module (only the writing and reading are different). Here, we are talking about the Academic module.
The TOEFL Test, or Test of English as a Foreign Language, is developed and delivered by ETS, the Educational Testing Service, a non-profit American company that has a virtual monopoly. The test is available in a paper-based version (PBT), a computer-based version (CBT) and an Internet-Based Version (IBT). Here, we only look at the Internet-Based Test.
All are non-profit organizations – but do occasionally make money.
The cost of the IELTS test can vary depending on whether the provider is IDP or The British Council, but currently it is NT$5,100 in Taiwan (around US$160) while the TOEFL is US$160.
How many times I can take the tests?
IELTS test is available on 48 fixed dates a year – for specifically available dates you need to contact your local center while the TOEFL is available in any 7-day period. There is no limit to the number of times you can take the test
It used to be the case that IELTS tests were only accepted by British, Australian, New Zealand and Canadian schools while TOEFL dominated in the US. How things have changed! Now, the two tests are literally competing with each other and nearly any school you wish to go to will accept both.
Here is a list of Universities in the States that accept IELTS
Here is a list of all the places that accept TOEFL scores.
Students often ask which is more difficult. Unfortunately, the answer really depends on your individual situation and your learning experience. It can also depend on your learning style and how you think. In many cases, difficulty depends on the type of tasks in each test. Take a look at the summary below:
How are IELTS and TOEFL different?
In the IELTS exam, the speaking test is divided into three parts: (1) general topics, (2) the individual Long turn, and (3) discussion. Part one involves answering common English type questions on up to three or four topics such as flowers, the Internet, and your hometown. In part two, you are given a topic to talk about for two minutes and one minute to prepare for it. In part three, the examiner will discuss with you a variety of issues and ideas with you related to the topic. So, if you had to talk about a famous person you admired in part two, you may end up discussing the idea of fame, and whether or not famous people should consider how they influence society.
In the TOEFL iBT things are quite different. To begin with, you are facing a computer, not an examiner. You begin with 2 questions where you have to report and comment on what you hear. You then have integrated questions that require you to read some information and then listen to something. For example, you may read about library opening times, and then listen to someone talking about what they have to do that day. There is also a task that requires you to listen to someone talking about a problem and the test-taker has to summarize the situation, the problem and what they think the speaker ought to do.
Overall, many English learners prefer the Face-to-Face Interview in IELTS. You are able to ask the interviewer to clarify, explain words or repeat the question, which makes it easier to make sure that you answer the question properly. In the IELTS test, asking questions does NOT reduce your score. On the other hand the TOEFL test environment can be noisy and uncomfortable since you listen to pre-recorded questions and speak into a microphone in a room filled with other people. You also have a fixed time limit while the IELTS is more flexible.
The other thing to consider is the type of questions themselves. The biggest problem with the TOEFL speaking for some people is that it may be difficult to catch the ideas in the integrated speaking questions. That said, the TOEFL speaking questions are not as complex. IELTS questions can become quite sophisticated in part 3.
IELTS and the TOEFL iBT differ in question types, format, content, length and accent. First, in the iBT all questions are multi-choice format, checking or matching. IELTS, on the other hand, has a wider range of question types and it often asks you to write exactly the words you hear. Spelling is critical.
In the iBT test, apart from the first part, all are lectures or mini-lectures. While IELTS has a conversation in Part 1, a monologue on a topic of general interest in Part 2, a 2-4 person discussion in an academic context in Part 3 and a simplified lecture in Part 4.
As for accents, IELTS prides itself on the fact that it has a real range including British, Australian, and North American, while in the iBT students will hear British, American, and Canadian. Length also differs with the IELTS being considerably shorter at 30-40 minutes + 10 minutes transfer time while the iBT will be between 60-90 minutes since ETS (the test developer) may try out a new test on the tester.
Regarding content, TOEFL listenings tend to be more academically specialized. They are more likely to ask questions about cells, and molecular biology. Although IELTS listenings are also academic, they tend to be more general. The main reason why people find IELTS listenings difficult is that they require you to write down words and phrases, which is difficult because usually the keywords are synonyms or paraphrased AND you have to spell correctly! Finally, if you are used to American English, you will find the IELTS test to be a little more challenging just because of the wider range of accents.