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Difference Between TOEFL vs. IELTS


Which Is Easier Or Better?

Chasing knowledge across boundaries is simply a matter of passing the standard TOEFL and IELTS English proficiency tests. In this guide, you’ll find all the basic information you need about the two most globally accepted tests to help you decide which better suits your requirements.

Which English Exam Is Easier?

Many students and parents alike wonder and inquire about which exam among TOEFL/IELTS is easier to score on an ace. There are subtle differences between the two that gives you a decent window to satisfy your desired university requirements. 

Let’s understand how each exam works and compare them so you can get a better idea about their scoring system, formats, ease of preparation, and which among them is better suited to your needs.

TOEFL Breakdown

If you’ve heard of GRE, the main test required for admission to graduate studies abroad, TOEFL is another such variant born from the founders of GRE. TOEFL meaning Test Of English as a Foreign language is aimed at assessing your English proficiency and can be either paper-based or internet-based for today’s convenience.


Another common query among test takers regarding TOEFL is which TOEFL is easier, the paper-based or internet-based version? There isn’t much difference between the two except for how you choose to attempt them.

The TOEFL iBT version is more widely accepted globally by international universities making it easier for students to prepare for and attempt the same.

Universities that make TOEFL a must for admissions usually opt for the iBT version of TOEFL and ask that you meet a set score on each section to pass the test. A few other universities may simply tally the total and allow admission accordingly.

TOEFL Format

The TOEFL format tests your language capabilities in various areas like speaking, reading, writing, and listening, measuring your comprehensive responses, and allotting marks. Here is a quick look at the sections to expect in the TOEFL iBT version. 

  1. You have a total of 3.5 hours to attempt the TOEFL exam.
  2. There are 4 sections, each with a window of 0-30 to score marks. So, in all, the exam is graded out of 120 marks.
  3. The skill sections are: Reading, Listening, Speaking, and Writing.
  4. There is a mandatory 10-minute break between the Listening and Speaking sections as a halfway mark.
  5. The Reading and Listening sections of the paper may vary in length for different candidates, owing to the number of questions allotted, since there exist numerous versions of the TOEFL exam.
  6. Reading section: 36-56 questions over a 60–80-minute period
  7. Listening section: 34-51 questions over a 60-90-minute period
  8. Speaking section: 6 tasks over a 20-minute period
  9. Writing section: 2 tasks over a 50-minute period

TOEFL Section Breakdown


In this section, you will be presented with 36-56 tasks from three to four passages based on academic texts that will test your comprehensiveness. The level of difficulty equals university-grade textbook questions that could either outline a topic or introduce some discipline.

The types of questions differ from being multiple-choice, fill-in-the-blanks, or sorting information into summaries and tables. The scores are computer assessed and generated.


This section tests your English understanding through pre-recorded lectures and conversations based on academic discussions. They could be 3 or 4 questions with a total of 34-51 tasks. Again, the questions could be multiple choice, arranging in the right order, or matching and summarizing the specified lectures. Here too, the scores are computer assessed and generated.


Monitored by people, this section consists of 6 questions in total that assess your ideas and how you construct and respond to them. The test goes on for 20 minutes where the first two questions require you to think from your experiences and speak your perspective.

The rest of the four questions require you to listen to the academic-based questions and then answer accordingly.


Just like with the Speaking section, the writing section has questions that require you to give your own opinion and answer according to the given recorded audio passage. There are two tasks to complete within a stipulated 50 minutes, 20 for the first task and 30 for the second. The word limit for each response is also stated.

IELTS Breakdown

The IELTS or International English Language Testing System is another means of testing your English proficiency through graded tests that focus on your basic English understanding skills. You get two versions of IELTS: the Academic and General versions.

The general version concerns people and students traveling abroad for further studies or work experience. Although the General and Academic versions of IELTS have very little in terms of difference, we will focus more on the Academic version since that is our main concern.

IELTS Academic

The focus of IELTS Academic is primarily higher education and professional purposes. The majority of  US, Canada, and UK colleges accept IELTS scores although the required score level differs from college to institution. 

IELTS Format

IELTS comes with a time limit of 2.45 hours. The format is similar to that of TOEFL with the difference lying in the order of the sections you must attempt. Each section gets graded with a score range of 0-9. The average of your total marks also is a grade lying between 0 and 9. 

The convenience of the IELTS test format is that you can schedule the Speaking section either a week before or a week after taking the rest of the exam. A few other instructions are as follows.

  • Listening section: You are expected to complete 40 questions within 30 minutes.
  • Reading section: You have to attempt 40 questions within 60 minutes.
  • Writing section: You have to finish 2 tasks within 60 minutes.
  • Speaking section: You need to complete 3 tasks in 11-14 minutes.

IELTS Section Breakdown


In this section, you’ll hear four recorded conversations or monologues: two conversational, one academic, and one, a university lecture. Then, you’ll have about 10 questions each to answer concerning each recording that could be multiple-choice, short answer, sorting, or filling the blanks type.


Here, you’ll have three passages with the following 10-15 questions to tackle. These questions are sourced from almost anywhere with different addressing styles and illustrations. The one thing you can be sure about is encountering a question that presents a detailed logical argument for you to answer.


In this section, you’ll find 2 tasks: one that requires you to form your own opinion of a given visual illustration or diagram. The other task is a topic with its perspective and discussion. You will have to tackle this academically by rephrasing the argument in your understanding.

The grading of this section depends on your response, vocabulary, and grammar control.


As mentioned earlier, the IELTS Speaking section can be taken up according to your convenience within a week before or after the exam. However, this test is an oral interview type, where you will be sitting with an examiner and answering each question vocally.

The first question is always familiar and practical about your life, studies, and plans with some follow-up queries. The second question requires a bit more in-depth discussion that will test your ability to form coherent sentences and how well you express your thoughts in words spontaneously.  


Outlining The Difference Between TOEFL and IELTS

Now that we’ve gone through the basics of TOEFL and IELTS, we come to the main topic of understanding whether the TOEFL or IELTS test is more suited to your university admission needs.

First, we highlight the main differences and then move on to understand them in detail.

  • The IELTS exam has a shorter time limit when compared to TOEFL and can be taken in two sessions.
  • The Speaking section in IELTS generally takes place a week before or after the other sections while also taking place face-to-face with an examiner.
  • You will find more variations in the questions in the IELTS exam with how they’re presented and require responding. Alternately, in the TOEFL exam, you’ll find more multiple-choice type questions than the IELTS. 
  • IELTS exam has more flexibility in US/UK language usage than the restrictions you’ll find in the TOEFL exam.

Although both the tests assess your capacity for English proficiency, there’s always a doubt on which exam will bring your potential to the fore. There are a few general and situation-specific questions to ask yourself before you finally decide which exam to take.

1. Which desired University or School accepts which test?

Oftentimes, students take up their desired English proficiency test but end up in a dilemma since the college or university they desire to get into doesn’t accept the test results.

Knowing beforehand which test is accepted by the college you want to get into is the foremost priority when deciding on the exam. Although both the tests are globally accepted by foreign institutions, some colleges have a test preference that you can use to play to your advantage.   

Simply visit the official pages of TOEFL or IELTS websites and you can access the colleges and universities supporting the exam formats and acceptance.

2. Which test better displays your potential?

Although both the tests assess your English proficiency in the same 4 areas, the way they require your response differs. If you’re not worried about the details and prefer seeing which test is easier simply by experience, take up a practice test for free and see which one you’re more comfortable answering. 

This mock testing also helps you realize which is easier and which is better, TOEFL or IELTS.

3. How confident are you in your English fluency?

For non-native English speakers, forming coherent sentences can be difficult even though they understand the concept properly. It may take some time to accomplish but in an exam, you won’t have such liberty.

The IELTS exam mostly requires you to come up with your answers despite being of a shorter duration. On the other hand, the TOEFL has more multiple-choice questions and others where the answers are already present and you merely have to put them in the right order.

So, if you’re confident of your English tackling skills, the IELTS can be your choice and if you prefer taking it easy, the TOEFL exam better suits your requirement.

4. Do you prefer a Paper-based or Internet-based test?

Paper tests have always been the norm, but for globally accepted tests like the IELTS and TOEFL, students living abroad may find it challenging. iBT test versions of IELTS vs. TOEFL make taking the tests more convenient by submitting the answers online.

Again, you need to be comfortable using the English keyboard if you’re taking up the online test. If you prefer handwritten testing then you can opt for it too.

5. Which should you go for – TOEFL vs. IELTS Academic?

Another deciding factor to choose between the two tests is considering the questions of the Reading section. The passages used in IELTS Academic are academic in nature and also taken from magazines and newspapers. So, in addition to variety, there is also the ease of understanding to consider.

In TOEFL, the passages are all academic meaning your comprehension level and vocabulary usage should be superior. If you prefer not to encounter this difficulty, the IELTS exam is a better option.

6. Are you comfortable with face-to-face interactions in the Speaking exam?

A major difference between TOEFL vs. IELTS is the interview type, with TOEFL being completely computer-based and the IELTS Speaking section being a face-to-face interview. If you’re not comfortable speaking English with a stranger, it might show in the test and stress you out more as time passes.

You can take the test at your convenience in the IELTS exam by preparing dedicatedly for the face-to-face interview or simply opting for the non-contact in the TOEFL exam.

7. Are you fluent enough to write a comprehensive Written response?

There is a time limit to the Writing section of both the tests in which it is recommended to meet the word count to show your comprehensive understanding. It is still acceptable if you can’t meet the word count, however, using all tactics to your advantage will help in getting a better score.

In IELTS, you get 60 minutes to manage 400 words and TOEFL gives 50 minutes to write 500 words. Keep this factor in mind when choosing the particular test format.

8. How far is the examination center from your residence?

Oftentimes, you have to book your admission center depending on the test availability. It is best to note in advance how far the examination center is from your place instead of making hurried decisions on the exam day. You can always access the test locations and dates from the official website to help you decide better.


TOEFL vs. IELTS – Which is more accepted in the USA?

According to recent and dedicated surveys, the majority of the colleges and universities in the USA largely prefer TOEFL results. You can always visit the official websites of the tests and confirm the universities allowing TOEFL or IELTS scores as part of their admission criteria.

Final Thoughts

Students wanting to study abroad and those who are non-native English speakers will find it challenging to prepare for TOEFL or IELTS. However, there are numerous resources, both online and offline, from which to learn, plan, and prepare for the exams.

Once you are clear on which exam you want to move ahead with, the next step is finding the right resources. University HUB is one such platform offering you the latest in the academic circle, from TOEFL and IELTS study resources to practice tests and informative blogs on related topics. Always stay a step ahead in preparations and be aware of all the academic events and bulletins when deciding between either TOEFL or IELTS test.


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