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TOEFL or IELTS? What’s the Difference

Planning on taking an English proficiency test to study or work abroad? TOEFL or IELTS? Which test should you take? It can be confusing to pick between the two when both tests assess your English proficiency, there are key differences between them.

What is TOEFL?

TOEFL, or the Test of English as a Foreign Language, is a standardised test used to assess non-native speakers’ English proficiency for academic purposes. It is primarily used for university admissions around the world, most notably in the United States. The computer-based test emphasises American English and measures reading comprehension, listening skills, written communication, and spoken English. The most common format is TOEFL iBT, which requires test takers to read academic passages, listen to lectures and conversations, and respond to prompts and questions by typing or speaking into a microphone.

What is IELTS?

IELTS, or International English Language Testing System, is another standardised test that assesses English proficiency, but with a broader scope. It provides two test formats: academic and general training. The Academic module is designed for students looking to enrol in universities around the world, whereas the General Training module is ideal for those looking for work, immigration, or vocational training opportunities. IELTS evaluates reading, listening, writing, and speaking abilities using a variety of question formats as well as a one-of-a-kind speaking test administered in person by an examiner. This test accepts both British and American English, making it an adaptable option for a variety of destinations.

Key Differences Between TOEFL and IELTS:

Purpose and focus:
TOEFL: primarily targets academic settings, particularly universities in the United States. It emphasizes American English and tests the skills required for academic success.
IELTS: Provides greater versatility. The Academic module is designed for universities all over the world, whereas the General Training module is for immigration and employment. It supports both British and American English.

Test Format:
TOEFL: Most questions are multiple-choice and delivered via computer. The speaking test entails responding to prompts and recordings.
IELTS: Uses a variety of question formats (multiple choice, short answer, essays). It is shorter and allows for both paper-based and computer-based testing. The speaking test is unique in that it involves a face-to-face conversation with an examiner.

Delivery and English Style:
TOEFL: A less interactive speaking test that focuses on American English.
IELTS: A more natural speaking test with a human examiner, which accepts both British and American English.

Other Points to Consider:
TOEFL: A longer test (around 4 hours) than IELTS (2 hours and 45 minutes).

Your goals determine which test is best. TOEFL is ideal for US universities, whereas IELTS is more adaptable and may be preferred for immigration in some countries. Consider your preferred testing style, your level of comfort with English variations, and your university or immigration program’s specific requirements.

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