IELTS vs. TOEFL: Which Should You Take?

To IELTS or not to IELTS? To TOEFL or not to TOEFL? For many applicants to English language universities (and certain immigration programs), these are the eternal questions. But there are some additional questions you should be asking yourself if you are trying to decide between these two tests.

IELTS vs. TOEFL: Where Are You Going?

A good score in IELTS or TOEFL can be your passport to work or study abroad. But where are you going when you go abroad?

Both exams showcase a few different types of native English writing and accents. However, the TOEFL is geared much more toward North American English, as used in the U.S., in Canada, and at some American and Canadian international universities. If you’re headed somewhere where American-style English is the main language, TOEFL prep can help you get there and help you communicate well once you arrive at your destination.

IELTS, on the other hand, is a much better first step toward understanding English as it’s used in the United Kingdom. But not just the United Kingdom. The IELTS also offers better prep for other native English accents that have British-like features. This includes the accents heard in Ireland, Australian, and New Zealand. So IELTS may be best if you’re going to a place where people use a variation of “the Queen’s English.” For a look at the kinds of materials and activities that can help you with language at an Irish, UK, or “down under” destination, browse  this one-month “prepare for the IELTS” primer.

IELTS vs. TOEFL: Why Are You Taking an English Test?

Where you’re going is important, but so is the reason you’re going there. What do you plan to do when you arrive at your destination?

If you are taking an English exam for work, you may want to take the IELTS rather than the TOEFL. The General Training IELTS, required for some jobs and work visas, is very oriented towards practical workplace English. And even IELTS Academic, which is required for most kinds of healthcare work and visas, has a lot more “practical” English than the TOEFL.

The TOEFL, on the other hand, is far more focused on academic language. This exam deals not only with lectures and textbook passages. It also features conversations that typically take place on a campus, such as discussions between classmates, meetings between students and university staff, and so on. The IELTS covers these academic and “school live” topics too, but covers them in much less depth.

To see what kind of academic and work-oriented testing the IELTS provides, check out these guides to IELTS Listening, IELTS Reading, IELTS Writing Task 1, IELTS Writing Task 2, and IELTS Speaking. Then compare all of that to the academic-focused offerings of the TOEFL, as described on the official TOEFL website. Depending on whether you need the test for work or school, this can help you make a decision.

IELTS vs. TOEFL: Which One are You the Most Comfortable With?

Let’s set aside practical considerations about destination and purpose. If your school, employer, or immigration office has given you a choice between IELTS or TOEFL, there is even more practical consideration: Which test can you do the best on?

There is no clear answer to which of the two exams is truly easier; this seems to be different depending on the student. But there is a clear way to decide which test is easiest for you personally: practice both exams! You can start with this free IELTS practice test, and then perhaps take an additional free IELTS from the British Council website. From there, you can explore the official TOEFL practice tests and sections found on the TOEFL Quick Prep website. This should allow you to see which test you can do the best at.

Written by: David Recine

I want to get certified in English!
I want to get certified in English!

One comment

  1. This is particularly educative. I wrote a post on the use of ‘program’ and ‘programme’ ( and I tried distinguishing between the spelling conventions of America and Britain especially when it comes to exams like IELTS, GRE and TOEFL where candidates have to adhere to the spelling conventions of the organisers of the exams. This post would certainly help lots of people in preparing for these exams. Good work!

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