Standardized Testing


What is the IELTS

The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is the world’s most popular English language proficiency test for higher education and global migration, with over 3 million tests taken in the last year.

Below, the four sections of the IELTS are discussed in more depth.

IELTS Reading

For Reading, there are three passages, each followed by about 10-15 questions. The passages are taken from books, journals, magazines, and newspapers. They may have a variety of styles, such as narrative, descriptive, and/or argumentative. At least one will have a detailed logical argument. Like the Listening section, Reading questions will have a variety of formats including multiple choice, matching, diagram labeling, sentence completion, and short answer.

IELTS Listening

You’ll hear four recordings (two set in an everyday social context, one set in an educational context, and one that is a university lecture). After each recording there are 10 questions for you to answer. There are several types of questions including multiple choice, matching, diagram labeling, sentence completion, and short answer.

IELTS Speaking

For IELTS Speaking, you’ll have an oral interview with an examiner. Your responses will be recorded. This section consists of three parts.

Part 1: The interviewer will ask the student questions familiar questions about their work, family, studies, and interests.

Part 2: The interviewer will give the student a card with a topic the student must discuss. The student is given one minute to prepare, must then speak for two minutes, then must answer one or two follow-up questions from the interviewer.

Part 3: The student and interviewer will continue to discuss the topic presented in part 2 in more depth for four to five minutes.

IELTS Writing

There are two Writing tasks. For Task 1, students must describe a piece of visual information (such as a graph, table, chart, or diagram) in their own words. They will need to write at least 150 words. It’s recommended that students spend 20 minutes on this task. For Task 2, students are presented with a topic, often a point of view in an argument or discussion. They must write at least 250 words on this topic, in an academic-writing style. It’s recommended they spend 40 minutes on this question. For both tasks, students are tested on how well they respond to the question, the clarity of their writing, range of vocabulary, spelling, and grammar.

What is the TOEFL

The TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) is an English language proficiency exam produced by the ETS, the same organization that develops the GRE (an exam for grad school admissions) and several other tests.

It contains four sections which each test a different area of your English skills. Below is a brief overview of what to expect on each section.

TOEFL Reading

For Reading, there will be three or four passages from academic texts that students must read and answer questions about. The passages are from university-level textbooks that introduce a topic or discipline. There are three types of questions: standard multiple-choice, questions where students must insert a sentence into the proper spot in a paragraph, and questions where students must properly sort information into a chart or summary table.

TOEFL Listening

The Listening section has four to six recordings, each followed by a set of questions. The recordings are similar to conversations students encounter in daily academic life, such as a classroom lecture or a discussion between two students or a student and teacher. Questions will be multiple choice, require you to order steps in an event or process, or require you to match objects or text to categories in a chart.

TOEFL Speaking

The first two tasks are independent speaking tasks that draw on the student’s own ideas, opinions, and experiences when responding.

The remaining four tasks are integrated tasks. Students must use more than one skill when responding to these types of questions.

  • Two integrated tasks require students to read, listen, then speak.
  • The other two tasks require students to listen then speak.

TOEFL Writing

The Writing section has two tasks: Integrated Writing and Independent Writing. For Integrated Writing, students hear a short recording and read a short passage. They’ll then have 20 minutes to summarize and compare the information they got from these two sources. The suggested response length is 150-225 words.

For Independent Writing, students are given a topic and must give their opinion on that topic. The writing must be clear and supported by examples. Students are given 30 minutes and typically write a minimum of 300 words.

Should I Take the IELTS or TOEFL?

The TOEFL is more commonly accepted by American institutions, while the IELTS is more commonly accepted overseas, and especially in UK and Australian universities but many schools accept scores from either exam. However, a school may have a preference to which test you take, so that is also worth checking out the websites. Below are five of the most important differences between the TOEFL vs. IELTS.

Difference 1: Multiple-Choice vs. Short Answer. A key difference between the exams is that, for the Reading and Listening sections, you’ll have to write your own answers for many of the questions on the IELTS, while all the answer choices will be given to you on the TOEFL. The TOEFL questions on these sections are not all multiple-choice, but most of them are, and for the ones that aren’t, you won’t have to produce your own answers. On the IELTS, you’ll have to come up with your own answers for many questions. As an example, both exams have questions where you’ll have to create a properly ordered list of events or steps. On the TOEFL, the steps are already given to you, and you just have to put them in the proper order. For the IELTS, you’ll have to write the steps on your own and properly order them. If you prefer having more multiple-choice questions or questions where you only have to select an answer from a list of options, you may feel more comfortable with the TOEFL.

Difference 2: Computer-Based vs. Paper-Based. The question of TOEFL iBT vs. IELTS is also a question of computer vs. paper testing. Almost everyone who takes the TOEFL will do so on the computer. You are allowed to take notes on scratch paper, but all your official answers will be submitted on the computer. The IELTS, on the other hand, is offered either on the computer or with pencil and paper at many test locations. If you’re faster at typing than writing, have messy handwriting and/or prefer computers over paper tests, you may prefer the TOEFL. If you prefer writing out your answers, feel more uncomfortable with computer-based tests, and/or aren’t as familiar with English language keyboards, you may find the IELTS easier.

Difference 3: Texts Used for the Reading Section. The Reading sections for both the TOEFL and IELTS have several passages, each followed by series of questions. However, the two exams use different types of texts. The IELTS uses academic texts as well as passages from newspapers and magazines. The TOEFL only uses academic texts, which means its reading passages are often denser with more challenging vocabulary and concepts to understand. If you’re not confident with your English reading skills, you may find the IELTS Reading section to be easier.

Difference 4: Computer-Based Speaking vs. Oral Interview. On the TOEFL, the Speaking section, like all other sections of the test, is done over the computer. You’ll hear recorded questions and speak into a microphone to give your answer. With the IELTS, you’ll actually be having a conversation with a real human. This is one of the biggest differences in the IELTS vs. TOEFL discussion, and it’s an important one to consider. Some people find speaking to a real person more nerve-wracking and would prefer the TOEFL, while others find it easier and more natural to have an actual conversation with a person, rather than speaking into a void for several minutes. Also, the Speaking section on the TOEFL is always the third part of the exam, while, with the IELTS, you can take this section up to a week before or after the rest of the test. Some people prefer to get the exam over with all in one sitting, while others prefer to break the exam up into more manageable pieces.

Difference 5: Recommended Essay Lengths. Both exams require you to write two essays for the Writing section. However, IELTS gives you 60 minutes to write a recommended 400 words, while TOEFL only gives you 50 minutes but recommends about 500 words. For both exams, you’ll still be able to submit your essays even if they don’t meet those word counts, but you’ll likely lose points for not having a comprehensive response. If writing in English is a struggle and it takes you a long time, you may find the writing section of IELTS easier since fewer words are expected.

Difference 6: Sending scores to universities. The TOEFL is sent automatically if you include them when you register for the test; for the IELTS you have to ask your test provider for this service.

Is One Easier to Get To?    Logistics are also a factor to think about when deciding to take the TOEFL or IELTS. If the testing center for one of the exams is much closer to you and/or one of the exams has a better option of available test dates, that can help you make your decision. Check out the test dates and test locations for the TOEFL or IELTS to learn more.