IELTS or TOEFL: a Battle in the Mind of a Future International Student

Conclusions and tips for those who think of taking the English test.

«IELTS for the USA?!»

Yes, exactly. IELTS for the USA, and TOEFL for Australia and Canada. The stereotype that IELTS is for England only, and TOEFL is only for the United States, has long been broken. (Yet to enter universities in England, one should take special IELTS UKVI.)

Now the other two fundamental questions have appeared – which one is better? Which one is easier to pass? Each has to find an answer to them on its own. We will try to help you in this.

Some history

Today, TOEFL and IELTS are the most demanded standardized English language tests to study in English-speaking countries.

IELTS (International English Language Testing System) in its first modification appeared in 1980 and replaced English Proficiency Test Battery (EPTB) applied from mid-1960s. In 1987, cardinal changes were made in the content and structure of the test. Then there was a division in the IELTS for academic and general purposes. Currently, the IELTS is being constantly evolved and improved. In Uzbekistan, the centers for passing IELTS exams are available in Tashkent and Namangan.

In 1962, the National Council for testing English as a foreign language was formed in the United States. It recommended the development of TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) and its introduction in 1963-1964. Today, there are three options for passing the test: paper-based (TOEFL pBT test), computer-based (cBT) and Internet-based (TOEFL iBT).

IELTS structure

IELTS checks the knowledge of English in terms of 4 skills: Reading, Listening, Speaking and the ability to express one’s thoughts in writing. Pay attention, that, when passing the IELTS in Uzbekistan the speaking test is not held on the same day with other parts of the testing, but on the other day.


How well do you understand what you read? IELTS checks as follows. You are given 3 small texts, taken from a book, newspaper or magazine. After reading them, you need to perform one of the tasks: to pick up a title to a paragraph, to finish a sentence with words from the text, to fill in a table or chart, to answer the test. And the highlight of the performance, the so-called True/False/Not Given questions, which are considered the most insidious according to the opinion of both test drafters and those who pass the test.


You listen to 4 texts on different subjects: (1) an everyday dialogue (e.g., submission of an application, clarification of any information, etc.); (2) an informative lecture (e.g., a Dean explains rules of a university). (3) a dialogue in an educational institution; (4) a lecture in an educational institution. Tasks can be as follows: to fill in the table, to write a brief summary of the conversation, to answer the test, to classify the information, etc.


How well can you express your thoughts verbally in English? It is very easy to check :) Direct communication with a native speaker, a professional interviewer. This part of the IELTS is conditionally divided into 3 stages: (1) a dialogue about you, your hobbies, favorite sports, hometown, etc.; (2) you will get a card with a theme and 3 questions that must be answered briefly (for example, to describe something to do in everyday life, to tell about the last visit to the cinema, theater, etc.); (3) a reflection monologue on the same card, but in a more abstract form (Why do people love to go to the movies? How does travelling affect people's lives? etc.)


Can you clearly and plainly explain anything in writing in English? Your knowledge should be shown in two small essays. The objective of the first one is to describe a graph or chart (the ability to identify the necessary information and to compare it). The objective of the second one is to express one’s views on a specific topic (e.g., "Women should look after children at home rather than work").

TOEFL structure

TOEFL iBT has almost completely replaced the paper and computer tests. Therefore, we will tell about its structure.


One should read 4-6 small university level texts and answer the test questions: a common understanding of the meaning, attention to details and understanding of the text style, etc.


You are offered to listen to 2-3 long dialogues and 4-6 lectures, all of them are devoted to university and close to university topics. Native speakers are speaking, there is slang and natural disturbances, such as street noise, the sound of passing cars, slamming doors, etc.


When passing TOEFL iBT your answers to questions are recorded using a microphone and checked later. Almost always all the topics of this part are associated with a university. Tasks include: (1) a story or description on a topic related to you (about your city, your favorite teacher, etc.); (2) a brief summary or your opinion or on the topic of the text or dialogue; (3) a brief summary of the dialogue.


The ability to correctly and consistently provide information in writing is checked by the TOEFL by means of 2 essays: (1) an expression of your opinion on the general topic (for example, for or against euthanasia); (2) to write a brief summary of the text or lecture, often there is a dispute, and in the written assignment, you need to compare the views of participants in the conversation.

How to choose a more suitable for you?

So how do you determine which one is right for you? Analyzing the test structure, it can be seen that the TOEFL and IELTS have 5 key differences. Try to answer the following questions for yourself.

1. British or American English?

Although British and American English are not so different from each other, as many people say, there is a fundamental difference in spelling, choice of words and accents. Having accustomed, for example, to the American accent in preparation for the test (TOEFL), to hear the Australian accent (IELTS) during the test will make your brain freeze.

2. Rewrite a phrase, or answer the test?

In the TOEFL to perform a task in Reading and Listening sections you need to answer the test questions. While in the IELTS test, you need to write in the answer some phrases from the text or the dialogue word for word. The apparent advantage of test questions is an ability to eliminate unsuitable options, and copying phrases is an opportunity to see a direct answer in the text or hear in the dialogue. Experience has shown that people with a particular mindset perform better in the IELTS, and abstract thinking ones - in the TOEFL.

3. Predictability, or a new type of question each time?  

There is no doubt, based on the structure, that TOEFL seems to be easier than IELTS: TOEFL - emphasis on test questions, IELTS -different types of questions in different tasks.

4. A conversation with a person or a computer?  

In TOEFL you write answers to questions using a microphone, and in IELTS you talk face to face with an interviewer, a native speaker. When dictating a speech with the microphone, you do not see the one who listens to you and you can not evaluate the current response to your answers. In conversation with the interviewer you can be diverted by the fact that he always makes some notes and obviously evaluates you (that’s his job).

5. Global or concrete thinking?

In oral and written parts when checking the answers in TOEFL the overall quality of essays is taken into account including the choice of words, the logic flow of information, writing style and grammar. In IELTS your essay is evaluated separately for each criterion: grammar, choice of words, logic, connection between sentences and paragraphs, and dozens of other criteria. In other words, if you are good at writing essays, but make a lot of small grammatical mistakes, most likely in the TOEFL, you will score higher than in the IELTS. On the other hand, if you think that you have a good knowledge of English grammar and a large vocabulary, but you do not like to write an essay, to get the best score in the IELTS will be easier.

"And what test is in trend?" Both tests, for sure :) Today, most of English-speaking educational institutions accept the results of both tests. But still you must first specify what test results are preferred at your chosen institution.

Deciding to study abroad is a big step in itself. We wish you luck in achieving your goals, so that no doubts like «IELTS or TOEFL» do not take away your valuable time :)