TOEFL x IELTS ? What are the differences?

Hello ExamSeekers,

This week a friend of mine asked me which exam she should take, if she should take the IELTS or if she should take the TOEFL. I thought I had posted about this before, but it seems that I had only written about some differences between the TOEFL IBT x TOEFL ITP, and an IELTS overview. If you haven’t read them yet, make sure you check them out!

So I decided to make today’s post about the differences between the IELTS and the TOEFL since it is a question many people ask.


First things first, we have to keep in mind that both TOEFL and IELTS are proficiency exams. What do you mean by proficiency exams? They are exams that assess your level of knowledge in a specific language. As I have already mentioned in this blog, there are several exams (specially provided by Cambridge), that assess your level of English like:

So what’s the difference between the exams above with the TOEFL and the IELTS? There are several differences between these two models, but basically, the exams above assess your specific level of expertise; meanwhile, TOEFL and IELTS, assess your overall knowledge.

There is another explanation, and this is relevant for us: If you want to enroll in a university in your country or abroad, the universities tend to ask for a TOEFL or an IELTS, mainly because the score is valid for 2 years. While the Cambridge Main Suite exams are valid forever.

Therefore the first question you need to ask yourself is the reason why you want this certificate. Is it to certify your level of English knowledge to an English school where you want to work for? Is it to show your boss and therefore get a promotion? Or is it for academic purposes? If your answer is for academy purposes, then you are on the right path!

The second question you have to ask is: Which exam does the institution I am interested in accept and which grade does it require? Both TOEFL and IELTS are recognized all over the globe, however, in some universities, they accept only one of them. That’s because TOEFL is more predominant in the USA, while the IELTS in Europe. Moreover, the grades are different, and the required score for one might be lower than the other.


TOEFL stands for Test of English as a Foreign Language. As I mentioned, it is predominant in the USA because it is offered by an American company called ETS. So, as you can expect, it uses American English. It is a computer-internet-based test, which you take into an application center. You can register for it on this website: The grades go from 0-120, and the average required to pass this test is 61. However, you have to check the grade needed for the university, which can be much higher.

There are several types of TOEFL exams, but you might check my last post on the topic:


There is also the TOEFL Junior Test, which is specific to build confidence among learners ages 11+, and TOEFL Primary Test, for learners ages 8+.


IELTS stands for International English Language Testing System. It is predominant in Europe because it is offered by Cambridge Assessment. So, as you can expect, it uses British English. It is also a computer-based test which you can take in an application center, and registration is made online at The grades go from 0-9, and the average required to pass this test is 6.

There are basically two types of IELTS, the Academic, which is specially made for candidates who want to enroll in university graduation, master, doctorate course, and the General Training, for candidates who wish to go over professional training courses, take the high school abroad or migrate to an English speaking country.

Both exams are very similar, and they both assess reading, listening, writing, and speaking skills, but there are some relevant differences. First, the grades:


Now, for you who were confused about which exam to take, I will describe the differences in each skill.


  • TOEFL: most texts are academic, and the vocabulary is contextualized. When studying, focus on prefix and suffix. Its texts are predictable, and it demands less than IELTS.
  • IELTS: it requires you to have a good degree of comprehension, a good understanding of grammar, and a good amount of vocabulary. Therefore, good baggage of prior readings is essential, especially because it focuses on the author’s intention.


  • TOEFL: listen and check the correct alternative (multiple-choice exercise). There are 4 alternatives to choose from, and the questions are in order of the listening. Standardized: all parts of the test follow the same structure. Some recordings are based on academic situations.
  • IELTS: it consists of 4 sections with fill-in-the-blank and multiple choice. It is not standardized; therefore, some parts require you to choose from 5 alternatives, others from 2 or 3.


  • TOEFL: computer-based interview: no interaction with a real person/examiner, only with a machine. Your interview is recorded and later listened to by an assessor. Use comparative, discourse markers, neutral/formal language, advanced grammar…
  • IELTS:  3 step assessment. First: an interviewer asks you general questions (what do you like doing in your free time, do you work/study, whats places do you usually go, reasons for….), which takes 4-5 min. Second: a talk (long turn) for 3-4 min with a guide. Third: a 4-5 min discussion.


  • TOEFL: 2 writing tasks. First: read a text and listen to a recording, then answer what each of them adds to the other. No opinion needed/required. Second: Give your opinion on a subject. Keep in mind that a clear text with proper grammar gives you lots of points.
  • IELTS: 2 writing tasks. First: 20 min to draw conclusions based on some data. The usage of comparative and data vocabulary is essential. Second: 40 min to express your point of view on a specific topic. Use convincing and relevant arguments.

Keep in mind what I mentioned before, they use different languages. Since IELTS is based on British English, the vocabulary used and the accent in the recording are based on what they use in England. The same goes for the TOEFL and the American English version.

These are some basic differences between TOEFL and IELTS. In my personal opinion, TOEFL is a more standardized test, which helps your preparation for it, differently than IELTS, which requires you a more robust knowledge of the skills. If your level of English is not so high, maybe sitting for the TOEFL is the best choice…

I hope I have helped, but now I want to know which one you prefer… use the comment section below, to ask questions and tell me your preferred exam. πŸ™‚


That’s it for today! Please like the post and follow the blog on:

You can also listen to this post at Anchor!!!

Have a great week,
Patricia Moura


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Reference: MAGGI, Lecticia. TOEFL ou IELTS? Entenda a diferença entre os exames, por seçáes. Estudar Fora.

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