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IELTS vs. TOEFL: Exam Structures

Our breakdown of the difference between the IELTS and TOEFL English language exams for international students. Find out the strengths of each one and decide which one suits you best.

What is IELTS?

The IELTS is an English language test that is used for educational, immigration and occupational purposes, and is accepted by over 9,000 institutions across 130 countries worldwide. Jointly administered by the British Council, University of Cambridge ESOL Examinations and IDP Education Australia, IELTS uses British English, and is more likely to be favoured by UK and institutions in Commonwealth nations such as New Zealand and Australia. Depending on the entry requirements of your study programme, you might need to take either the Academic or General Training IELTS exam.


 What is TOEFL?

The TOEFL test seeks to test your ability to communicate in English in specifically academic, university and classroom-based settings. It is accepted by over 8,500 institutions across 130 countries, including the UK, USA and Australia, as well as all of the world’s top 100 universities. TOEFL is administered by US-based organisation the Education Testing Service, and so is conducted in American English. This test is more likely to be favoured by American institutions.


General differences





Face to face with a single examiner

6 questions answered into a microphone and recorded, reviewed by 6 examiners

Approximately 11 – 14 minutes

20 minutes

May be on a different day to that of the written portion of the test

Same day as the rest of the test

Range of different accents

American accents







Typed using a keyboard

2 tasks; Summary or explanation of information presented in a
graph/chart/table/diagram and a 200-250 word response to a prompt offering a
specific point of view

2 tasks; One task involves a 5-paragraph essay of 300-350 words while the other
task involved taking notes from a section of text as well as a lecture excerpt
on the same topic






3 sections, academic content

3-5 reading sections; academic content

Range of question types (e.g. Gap-fills, short answers)

Multiple choice

20 minutes per section

20 minutes per section






30 minutes

60 – 90 minutes

Range of different question types

Multiple choice questions

4 recordings;
a conversation, a monologue, a conversation set in an educational or training
context; a monologue on an academic subject

2-3 conversational passage; 4-6 lectures and student takes notes while listening in
order to answer questions afterwards



 The speaking and writing sections of the TOEFL are graded based on how they appear as a whole, including your range of vocabulary, writing style and grammar. Those of the IELTS are considered based on separate grades of individual criteria such as your use of logic, cohesion, grammar and fluency. For example, an essay with a logical progression of ideas but poor grammar will score higher in a TOEFL exam, whereas an essay with strong grammar and vocabulary that is weaker in expressing an idea will do better by the IELTS criteria.


The IELTS is graded on a band system from 1-9, with your overall score being an average of your separate scores in all four tests. Your overall score will be rounded to the nearest half-band, i.e. if your overall average is 6.25, it will be rounded up to a final score of 6.5. TOEFL is a single test that is graded out of 120 points.