Comparing IELTS and TOEFL

The two main examinations of second-language-learners’ English-language skills are IELTS (created by the International English Language Testing Service) and TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language). The two are similar but by no means identical, and candidates for both tests regularly ask which is the better – and often which is the easier – of the two.
The similarities between the two are that both test writing, listening, and reading skills, in addition to one other skill area. In the case of IELTS, the additional area is speaking; for TOEFL, it is what the test-makers call “Structure”, which tests written expression from the standpoints of sentence completion and error recognition. One factor that makes many test-takers consider IELTS the more difficult of the two tests is its speaking module, which requires the candidate to participate in a formal interview with an examiner face to face.
IELTS rates candidates’ submissions with “band” scores (0 to 9, including half-bands between), given first to each of the four skill modules and then averaged for one IELTS band score, which is the one university admissions programmes use as their determinant for accepting students. TOEFL, by contrasts, assigns numerical scores much like those of the SAT test to each of the skill areas and then totals them. The totals are the ones used to determine a candidate’s English skill level.
 TOEFL has both a “pencil” and a “computer” version of its test, the computer version available to candidates in most but not all test sites. IELTS is developing a computerised version of its test, but it is not in use as yet – and could not be used for its speaking module without a high degree of technological development.
 The pressing question for most candidates – which test is easier – is largely irrelevant. The level of difficulty is determined from everything from the candidate’s actual skill levels and the difficulty of the particular test taken. (Both tests are changed every time they are given.) Students who must take IELTS sometimes think the speaking task alone makes it the more difficult of the two. While both examinations are rigorous, the “word on the line” is that IELTS is marginally the more difficult of the two, primarily because the standards by which it judges the self-expression tasks of writing and speaking are not spelled out clearly in advance and because the question types it uses in the reading and listening modules tend to be used in a way many candidates and IELTS-Preparation teachers deem “tricky.”
The main reason the question is irrelevant is that few candidates can choose which test to take. Typically, universities decide which test candidates for admission must take.  The answer to this question is simple: in almost every way, and for almost every person, IELTS is the best choice. There are several reasons for this:

IELTS tests English knowledge, TOEFL tests TOEFL knowledge
 In order to get a good result in IELTS, it is necessary to have good English skills as well as to have a good knowledge of the test. To get a good result in TOEFL, you must have an expert knowledge of the test, but not great English.
To give an example, one former Higher Score at LSC Language Studies Canada student used to study at university in the UK, which means her English skill was very high. When she arrived in Canada she was told she must take TOEFL or IELTS. Because she did not know which test was easier, she chose TOEFL. Her score was just 53 points, which is a very low score. Next she took IELTS and easily achieved band 7, which is a very good score. This example shows that IELTS is better for most people.

IELTS writing and speaking are easier than TOEFL writing and speaking
For IELTS, students must write two assignments. TOEFL is the same. However, IELTS is different from, and easier than, TOEFL for two reasons. First, IELTS assignments can be written by hand, but TOEFL tasks must by typed using a computer. For most students, it is easier, faster and more comfortable to write by hand. Second, for IELTS you have60 minutes to complete two tasks, and you can use this time in any way you like. For TOEFL you have just 50 minutes to complete two tasks, 20 minutes for one assignment and 30 minutes for the other. This means that IELTS writing is more relaxed and comfortable than TOEFL writing.

In terms of speaking, the IELTS speaking test is a face-to-face interview with another person in a private room. The interviewer will ask you some questions and you will have some time to think about your answers. There is a time limit for IELTS speaking, but you do not have to worry about a few seconds. For TOEFL the situation is very different. The speaking test involves speaking into a computer microphone in a public room with many other students also talking. Each task has a strict time limit and if you cannot finish in the time, your score will go down. This means that IELTS writing and speaking are more relaxed and comfortable than TOEFL writing.

IELTS results are consistent, TOEFL results are inconsistent 
With IELTS, students who score band 6.5 one month will usually score close to 6.5 the next month. In other words, IELTS scores are generally consistent. In contrast, it is common for students who take TOEFL to have very different scores each month. For example, one former Higher Score at LSC Language Studies Canada student, whose level was very high, sco
red 24 one month for reading but only 14 the next month. Obviously this student’s reading ability did not decrease in one month, so the only reason for this decline is that TOEFL is not a well-designed or fair test. Therefore, most students will need to take IELTS less often than TOEFL. Taking a test regularly is expensive and stressful, so IELTS is a better choice for most people.

Overall, if you need to study academic English, IELTS is probably a better choice than TOEFL.

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