TOEFL vs. IELTS - IELTS University (Singapore)

Should I Take The TOEFL Exam Or The IELTS Exam?

(Many students who are considering taking the TOEFL exam often ask me if they can/should take the IELTS exam instead. I share my perspectives below...)

Last Updated: November 2022

Having taught both TOEFL and IELTS, let me share with you my perspective on the two exams. Of course I'm a bit biased as I teach mostly IELTS these days so take what I say with a pinch of salt. I decided a long time ago to specialize in preparing students for the IELTS exam because of some of the factors I list below. 

Before I talk about why I'd recommend that students take the IELTS exam instead of TOEFL, let me get this out of the way first. If you're considering IELTS, make sure that the university (or whatever organization) accepts IELTS also. Most universities around the world accept both IELTS and TOEFL.  Both these exams are the two most popular English exams in the world. Before, TOEFL was more popular than IELTS, but in recent years, IELTS, I believe, has overtaken TOEFL in its popularity. Whatever the case, both are widely accepted.

So let me get to why, as a teacher, I'd recommend IELTS over TOEFL. After reading the below, please do your own research and make your own decision.

  1. 1
    Anecdotal evidence by students that IELTS is easier to score: The most important consideration when deciding whether to take one exam over the other is if one is easier than the other. There's no scientific evidence to prove one is easier than the other and that's why I say this is "anecdotal" evidence. But from my experience, most students I know say IELTS is easier to score than TOEFL.  Again, this is "anecdotal" evidence, not "scientific", so take it for what it's worth.
  2. 2
    Test Availability: This is probably one of the biggest differences. On average, you can only take the TOEFL test about 3 times a month in Singapore. For IELTS, while the paper based version is available only about 4 times a month, the computer delivered version for IELTS is available up to 365 days a year (yes, almost every day) and around 3 different timings every day. Therefore, it's definitely more convenient to take the IELTS exam.
  3. 3
    General Test Format: The IELTS exam has two formats: a computer and paper based format. On the other hand, for TOEFL, you can only take the computer based format in most countries (including Singapore). So if you prefer writing, then you can only do that with IELTS.
  4. 4
    Speaking Test Format: The Speaking test for TOEFL is done by speaking into a microphone at a computer. For IELTS, you will actually be speaking to a human being. Most people find it more comfortable speaking with an actual person as opposed to a computer. Another thing about the IELTS Speaking test is that it is separate from the Listening, Reading and Writing test components. And you can choose whether to do the Speaking on the same day or on a different day. There's thus more flexibility here and you'd be able to prepare for the Speaking test separately.
  5. 5
    Listening Test Format: This is also another huge difference. For IELTS, the listening test is only 30 minutes whereas for TOEFL, it's 41 to 57 minutes. That means it could be almost twice as long for TOEFL. This is an important difference because Listening can be very difficult and tiring as one has to pay full attention to everything being said.
  6. 6
    Reading Test Format: The TOEFL Reading passages are all academic in nature, which means they are more challenging. The IELTS Reading passages, on the other hand, include both academic and more general (newspaper and magazine) passages and thus is slightly easier.
  7. 7
    Immigration: If you're also considering immigrating to a country like Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK, etc., you'd need to take IELTS. These countries do not accept TOEFL as part of their proof of English proficiency. 

The above are the main reasons why I think IELTS is a better and easier test than TOEFL. And also the reasons why I decided to stop teaching TOEFL and specialize in teaching IELTS. However, please do your due diligence and don't take what I say as gospel truth.

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