TOEFL vs. IELTS: The Lowdown

Do you plan to take an exam so you can study abroad but cannot decide between IELTS (International English Language Testing System) or TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language)? You’ve probably heard one is more difficult than the other and vice versa, but nobody has ever explained either in much detail. This article will give you the lowdown on each exam, providing information which will help you make the right choice for you!

Reading Book - Simply Better English
Reading Book – Simply Better English

What is IELTS?

IELTS is an international standardised test of English language proficiency for non-native speakers. The exam assesses all four English skills – listening, reading, writing and speaking. The aim of this exam is to assess these skills to the standard you will use them in a work of student lifestyle.

What is TOEFL?

TOEFL is a standardized test to measure the English language ability of non-native speakers wishing to enroll in English-speaking universities. It checks your ability to use and understand English in the academic environment. It also measures your ability to synthesize what you read and listen.

Let’s take a deeper look at the difference between the two.

The Listening Exam

The listening section for IELTS lasts 30 minutes and has 4 subsections. It has elements of monologue and dialogue. In IELTS, you are given a chance to look at the questions before the listening starts. However, you have to answer the questions while listening to the speech. Some students complain about this as they feel it is extremely challenging to listen and mark or fill in the correct answers at the same time. However, if you use your time to look through the questions well and try to guess what the speech will be about, there is little chance to fail. Also, in the IELTS listening section, you will have a chance to listen to one long turn talk such as a lecture or a speech.

In contrast, TOEFL has a longer listening section; most often with three dialogues between a student and a professor, or a student and a student, or a professor and a professor. There are also three lectures from a range of classes such as architecture, engineering, health, biology, etc. The TOEFL listening section is the second part of the exam so, quite usually, the student feels tired. However, what makes the TOEFL listening element easier than IELTA is that it has more multiple choice questions.

The Reading Exam

Reading is the second element of the IELTS exam. The IELTS academic module has three reading texts, while the general module has between four and six shorter texts. What students find most difficult with the reading section of IELTS are the “true, false or not given” questions. The TOEFL reading part instead provides three reading passages and multiple choice questions. Another set of IELTS questions that applicants find hard is those asking to match headings with paragraphs. TOEFL students find the summary questions most difficult than.

Both IELTS and TOEFL reading elements take an hour, meaning students have to have high concentration and attention. In spite of the fact that IELTS does not have vocabulary questions in the reading element, the student needs advanced vocabulary to understand how the questions are paraphrased. The TOEFL reading element also has reference questions, which tests your skills in understanding what words the reference pronouns refer to in the sentences. This, in its turn, means you should have a very deep understanding of the structure of complex sentences.

The Writing Exam

The IELTS writing element has two tasks for each module. In the General Module, you have to write a letter and an essay. For the Academic Module, you should write a description of facts presented in a graph and an essay. TOEFL also has two tasks: an integrated essay and an independent essay. For the IELTS essay, you have 20 minutes to write more than 150 words. For task two, you have 40 minutes to write more than 250 words. In comparison, for TOEFL task one you are given 20 minutes to write more than 150 words, and for task two you have 30 minutes to write more than 300 words.

The TOEFL writing task assesses your ability to write academically. The integrated task requires you to read a text, listen to a lecture on the same topic, and then synthesize the information from the reading and the listening to compose an essay. The essay task requires you to use personal experience to explain a point of view or perspective. On the other hand, the IELTS essay does not need personal experience but quite often it requires you to argue from your point of view. You will be given an essay task and you need to justify your position with arguments, as well as giving possible solutions and presenting discussions. That is why it is recommended that you develop an approach to the various question types you can meet at the exam.

The Speaking Exam

The speaking component of both exams assesses your spoken English. While in IELTS, the student will interact face-to-face with a real person, the TOEFL student speaks to the computer. Some people find it really difficult to speak to the computer because there is no sense of communication. In IELTS, the examiner will ask general questions about familiar topics. There is plenty of time to reply, which is crucial because the examiner will have an estimated score. In part three, you are asked more questions about abstract ideas and issues. The speaking part of IELTS lasts between 12-15 minutes.

For TOEFL, there are six spoken questions, but you speak for no more than seven minutes in total. However, people find the speaking section in TOEFL sometimes really challenging. The is because you have to speak into a microphone, within a restricted time and in a room with other test takers. Even the preparation time given after each question does not change the situation or your emotions.

I hope this account of the different exams will help you find your own strength and be successful. Whichever one you choose – good luck!

Click here for more tips regarding the IELTS exam.

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