IELTS vs TOEFL: Which Test Should I Take?

IELTS VS TOEFL - Ielts or toefl, which one is better for me? Check out their differences in terms of exam format, application and usage, location, flexibility, and scoring system | Spring Training

Are you considering studying or working abroad? If so, you should consider choosing an English proficiency test to prepare for your venture abroad, having heard about common acronyms like IELTS and TOEFL. These tests are standard measures for assessing your ability to understand and communicate effectively in English. They are often prerequisites for university admissions, job applications, and migration processes in English-speaking countries or with international companies.

Choosing the right proficiency test, IELTS or TOEFL, requires careful consideration. Today, we will explore the differences between IELTS and TOEFL to help you decide which one is better suited for you.

Table of Contents

Overview of IELTS and TOEFL

What is IELTS?

IELTS stands for International English Language Testing System, a globally recognised English language proficiency test that evaluates candidates in four key areas: Reading, Listening, Writing, and Speaking. Established in 1989, IELTS is jointly administered by the British Council, IDP Education, and Cambridge Assessment English. It is accepted by over 10,000 organisations worldwide, including educational institutions, governments, and professional bodies. IELTS offers the option of paper-based or computer-delivered exams, catering to the diverse needs of test-takers.

What is TOEFL?

TOEFL stands for Test of English as a Foreign Language. It is a standardised test administered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS) to assess a candidate’s proficiency in English as a second language. Accepted in 190 countries, TOEFL is a common prerequisite for admission to many universities abroad where English is the primary medium of instruction. TOEFL offers flexibility with three assessment modalities: at a Test Centre, at home with the Home Edition test, and on Paper with the TOEFL iBT paper edition test.

Differences between IELTS and TOEFL

Application and Usage


  1. Broader Application of IELTS:
    • IELTS has a more extensive range of applications compared to TOEFL.
    • Accepted by universities in Singapore and globally, IELTS serves as evidence of English proficiency not only for academic pursuits but also for study-abroad endeavours, occupational pursuits, and immigration to English-native countries.
    • Particularly popular in the United Kingdom and Australia, IELTS is considered crucial for attending graduate school in these countries. However, it is also popular and commonly accepted by universities in the United States and other developed countries like Singapore.
  2. IELTS Variations:
    • IELTS offers two primary variations: Academic and General Training.
    • The IELTS Academic test is tailored for students preparing for education at various levels, including undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral programs. On the other hand, IELTS General Training is usually for professionals who are planning to migrate or work abroad to English-speaking countries.
    • The IELTS General Training is recognised in the United States, Ireland, Singapore, South Africa, and Canada in addition to the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada
  3. Application in Singapore:
    • For universities in Singapore, applicants from overseas universities may provide IELTS scores for their application. IELTS is more popular in Singapore.


  1. Predominantly Academic Focus of TOEFL:
    • TOEFL is primarily geared towards academic pursuits, especially for admission to universities and colleges.
    • Widely accepted by universities in the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, and numerous other countries, TOEFL is particularly favoured by American universities, which often require TOEFL scores exclusively.
    • While IELTS is commonly accepted by universities in the United Kingdom and Australia, TOEFL is extensively accepted in the United States.
  2. Application in Singapore:
    • For universities in Singapore, applicants from overseas universities can also provide TOEFL iBT scores for their application.

Location and Flexibility


  • The IELTS exam is available in over 140 countries, offering testing facilities at approximately 1,600 locations worldwide.
  • Candidates opting for IELTS have a weekly testing frequency, with test dates available on 48 days per year.
  • While IELTS provides accessibility across numerous countries and locations, the testing frequency offers candidates a balance between regular availability and flexibility.


  • TOEFL stands out in terms of extensive accessibility and flexibility.
  • The exam is available in more than 170 countries and over 6,000 locations globally, offering testing centres in almost any corner of the globe.
  • The TOEFL iBT exam provides flexibility with a schedule that spans over 60 sessions per year at authorized test centres worldwide, with testing available five days a week in numerous cities.
  • Moreover, the TOEFL iBT Home Edition allows testing four days a week, with the added advantage of scheduling at any time throughout the day, providing maximum flexibility for test-takers.


  • More than 10,000 colleges and schools globally accept both the IELTS and TOEFL exams, attracting millions of test-takers annually.
  • In 2018, IELTS saw over 3.5 million candidates, while TOEFL had over 2.3 million.
  • TOEFL’s popularity in the USA and Canada solidifies its preference for academic English proficiency assessment in these regions. Both exams are widely recognised in Singapore.

IELTS vs TOEFL - Differences in Exam Nature

Test Format and Mode of Exams

Both IELTS and TOEFL exams offer two modes of testing

Paper-based IELTS Exam: In contrast, the traditional paper-based test requires test-takers to write their responses on an answer sheet.Paper-based Test (PBT): Administered offline in areas lacking internet access, it includes reading, writing, and listening sections, with the speaking portion completed at home.
Computer-Delivered IELTS Exam: This version allows candidates to input answers directly onto the screen.Internet-based Test (iBT): This format comprises listening, speaking, and writing sections. It is a preferred choice for many candidates and can be taken at test centres or remotely from home.



The IELTS speaking test evaluates your spoken English proficiency through a conversation with an examiner, simulating real-life interaction. The assessment comprises three parts, lasting approximately 11 to 14 minutes.

  • Part 1: Introduction and Interview
  • Part 2: Individual long turn
  • Part 3: Discussion

Each part features distinct task types, providing a comprehensive evaluation of your spoken English skills.


The TOEFL speaking section assesses a student’s spoken English proficiency through four tasks, each evaluated by an examiner. In three integrated speaking tasks, students read, listen, or both before expressing their thoughts on the topic. Completion of this section usually takes about 15 minutes.

Approximate Duration14 Minutes16 Minutes
Total Tasks43
Exam FormatTest takers have the option of a confidential one-on-one oral interview with a certified IELTS examiner, or they may opt for video call tests in special circumstances.Test takers will listen to recorded conversations and respond using a microphone, without any human interaction.



The IELTS listening test assesses your ability to grasp main ideas, detailed facts, speaker opinions, stances, attitudes, and the progression of ideas and arguments. It has four recordings, each divided into four sections, totaling 40 questions (10 per recording). It lasts around 30 minutes, with an extra 10 minutes for answer transfer. Audio is played once, evaluating your attentive listening and detail extraction skills.


The TOEFL listening section assesses students’ comprehension of classroom lectures and conversations. It includes 3–4 lectures or 2–3 conversations, each followed by 5–6 questions. Completion of this section usually takes 30–40 minutes.

Approximate Duration30 Minutes with additional 10 minutes for answer transfer.30 to 40 Minutes
Total Questions4028
Exam FormatThe sections offer diverse tasks, including multiple-choice, sentence completion, plan/map/diagram labelling and others.Multiple-choice questions only



The IELTS reading test assesses your ability in various skills: understanding the main ideas and details, skimming, scanning, grasping logical arguments, and recognising the writer’s opinions and purposes. It includes three passages with 40 questions. Both paper-based and computer-delivery tests provide around 60 minutes for completion, with no extra time.


This segment evaluates your ability to comprehend academic materials. It consists of two reading passages, each around 700 words, with 10 questions per passage. The Reading section typically takes 35 minutes to finish. Passages are drawn from university-level textbooks and span various topics.

Approximate Duration60 Minutes35 Minutes
Total Questions4020
Exam FormatEntail tasks such as suggesting titles, completing sentences, labelling diagram, and filling in tables, encouraging students to offer their insights freely.Comprises 3 to 5 text extracts evaluated through multiple-choice questions.



The IELTS writing test assesses your ability to present viewpoints, use vocabulary and grammar effectively, and interpret data. It includes two tasks: writing two essays—one brief and one detailed. Academic tasks involve describing visuals and responding to arguments, while general training tasks require letter writing and responding to viewpoints.


This section aims to evaluate students’ ability to express ideas coherently. It includes two tasks: an integrated task, with reading (3 minutes), listening (2 minutes), and writing (15 minutes), and an independent essay. Students must complete this section in under 30 minutes to showcase effective idea expression within a constrained timeframe.

Approximate Duration60 Minutes30 Minutes
Total Tasks22
Exam FormatComplete two writing tasks with a minimum word limit of 150 and 250 words for tasks 1 and 2 respectively.Complete two writing tasks with a recommended length of 280 and 380 words for tasks 1 and 2 respectively.
For more information about IELTS Exam Structure, visit here.

Scoring System

0 to 40 to 31
4.532 to 34
535 to 45
5.545 to 59
660 to 78
6.579 to 93
794 to 101
7.5102 to 109
8110 to 114
8.5115 to 117
9118 to 120


IELTS vs TOEFL comparison - exam format, fees, overview | Ielts or toefl is better? - Know the difference | Spring Training

Which is Better: IELTS or TOEFL?

Deciding between IELTS and TOEFL depends on various factors, including your study, work, or immigration goals, as well as personal preferences and circumstances. Here’s a guideline to help you make an informed decision:

IELTS may be a better choice if you:
  1. Prefer Face-to-Face Interaction: If you prefer face-to-face interaction for the speaking test and are comfortable with in-person evaluations, IELTS might be the better option. It involves a direct conversation with an examiner, which some find more natural as compared to TOELF.
  2. Want Flexibility in Test Format: IELTS offers both paper-based and computer-based testing options, allowing you to choose the format that suits you best. This flexibility is advantageous if you have specific preferences.
  3. Prefer Global Recognition: Widely accepted by universities, professional bodies, and immigration departments in English-speaking countries worldwide, IELTS could be preferred if you plan to move to these countries.
  4. Plan to Migrate or Work in Other Countries: IELTS is widely recognised and accepted by immigration departments in English-speaking countries worldwide, including Singapore, Australia, Canada, the UK, and New Zealand etc. If you plan to migrate or work in these countries, having an IELTS score can facilitate visa applications and employment opportunities.

TOEFL may be a better choice if you:
  1. Love Convenience and Comfort with Technology: If you are comfortable with technology and prefer computer-based testing, TOEFL could be the preferred option. It’s primarily administered via computer.
  2. Prefer Same-Day Testing: TOEFL allows completing all sections, including speaking, on the same day, which might be more convenient for some test-takers.
  3. Are looking for Specific Institutions: Some institutions, especially in the United States, may prefer TOEFL scores over IELTS. If your desired institution requires TOEFL scores, it may be the better choice for you.

As a foreigner aiming for academic or career pursuits abroad, you’ll need to pass an English proficiency exam. While we have delved into both IELTS and TOEFL, the final decision depends on your personal aspirations and objectives. From an academic viewpoint, excelling in these tests not only edges you closer to your ideal university but also significantly impacts your visa application process. For those considering studies or employment in Singapore, IELTS stands out as the preferred English proficiency test, widely recognised by local institutions. If you’re ready to embark on this journey, consider exploring what Spring Training has to offer.

At Spring Training, preparing for the IELTS exam means access to industry experts for advice on selecting between TOEFL and IELTS, alongside profile assessments, assistance with shortlisting universities, help with application materials like resumes and Statements of Purpose (SOP), visa application advice, and much more. So what are you waiting for? Discover everything Spring Training has to provide today.

Author: Verlin You

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