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TOEFL vs IELTS – which one should you take?


TOEFL vs IELTS is one of the most common query for any study abroad applicant. These are two of the most renowned exams used to judge the test takers’ English fluency. Most of the applicants are non-native English speakers aspiring to study abroad in English-speaking nations or universities where the language of instruction is English. 

Even though these exams test the applicant’s English proficiency, their structure and method of scoring differ. 

This article will address the common “TOEFL Vs. IELTS” dilemma that troubles people who dream of studying in a foreign university. 

What is TOEFL

Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) is an exam used to judge the candidate’s English fluency. It measures proficiency using 4 sections- Reading, Listening, Speaking, and Writing. 

Over 11,000 universities accept the TOEFL scores in over 150 countries. Most American universities accept TOEFL scores as proof of English proficiency. 

Decided on TOEFL? Click here to read ALL about TOEFL.

What is IELTS

The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is used to measure the test-takers’ English proficiency level. Most of the IELTS exam applicants are students planning to study abroad and people planning to migrate to a foreign country for work. 

Types of IELTS 

IELTS exam is categorized into 2 types–IELTS Academic and IELTS General Training.

IELTS Academic 

IELTS Academic measures an applicant’s ability to converse in English- the way they need it in a university and academic environment. A good score on the test reflects your skill to study in English-speaking nations or enroll in a course taught in English in foreign countries.  

IELTS General Training

IELTS General Training is recommended for those who wish to study below degree level or people who want to migrate to Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the UK. The exam measures the general English proficiency that is needed for living abroad. 

Most of the candidates who wish to study abroad give the IELTS Academic exam. For the rest of the text, the term “IELTS” would imply the IELTS Academic test.

IELTS Format

IELTS is conducted as either Paper-based or Computer-delivered. 

The test measures your ability to communicate well in English and has 4 sections- Reading, Listening, Speaking, and Writing. Apart from the Speaking section, all the other sections are completed on the same day. The Speaking section can be conducted up to a week before or after the other sectional tests. 

Unlike TOEFL, the IELTS candidate communicates with a human rather than speaking to an automated computer system.


The score is categorized using a nine-band scale.

Band scoreSkill level
Band 9Expert user
Band 8Very good user
Band 7Good user
Band 6Competent user
Band 5Modest user
Band 4Limited user
Band 3Extremely limited user
Band 2Intermittent user
Band 1Non-user


Here are some common factors that will give you a glimpse of both the exams and may help you decide on the TOEFL Vs IELTS dilemma.

DurationAbout 3 hours long.Around 2 hours and 45 minutes long.
SectionsReading, Listening, Speaking, and Writing.Reading, Listening, Speaking, and Writing.
PriceCost is usually between 160 and 200 USD (USD 185 in India)The cost differs across countries (INR 14000 in India).
Question typeMost of the questions in TOEFL are of the MCQ category.Besides MCQ, many questions require you to frame/type your answers.
Category of text used for the Reading sectionPrimarily academic text is used, which is slightly difficult to read because of challenging vocabulary and concepts.Has academic texts and articles from newspapers and magazines.
Scoring scaleScore on a scale from 0 to 120Score on a scale from 0 to 9
Number of score reports that can be shared for free45
The average score needed by American universities 74.4 (source:
Exam frequency60 times in a year48 times in a year
English accents used North American, British, New Zealand, AustralianAustralian, Canadian, New Zealand, British, American  
Validity2 years2 years
TOEFL vs IELTS comparison

Which exam should you write?

You can use this 5-step process to solve the dilemma TOEFL Vs. IELTS-

  1. Decide the countries and schools you aspire to get admission to. 
  2. Research which exam is accepted by most of the universities and countries you aspire to go to. 
    Generally, most universities in the US accept the TOEFL score. In contrast, most  schools in countries like the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the UK prefer the IELTS score as proof of English proficiency (some universities in these countries accept both TOEFL & IELTS). 
  3. Prepare for the exam that is widely accepted in the area you aspire to study at.
  4. If both TOEFL & IELTS are accepted at your desired university, we suggest you give a sample exam of both the tests if you aren’t very confident about your English proficiency. This will help you understand your strengths and weaknesses. 
  5. Suppose you get your target score, good for you. If you don’t, focus on the test that is more aligned with your strengths. For example: 
    • In TOEFL, the Speaking section is conducted on a computer, while on IELTS, the Speaking section requires you to have a conversation with a human. If you are frightened of interviews, focus more on IELTS while improving your confidence on the side. 
    • If your reading skills and vocabulary aren’t that good, going for IELTS will be a better choice since TOEFL’s Reading section primarily has academic text, which is slightly hard to read.


TOEFL & IELTS are among the most popular English proficiency exams students give as part of their journey of getting admission into a top university abroad. 

While the sections in both the exams are the same, their structure and method differ. 

We have tried to cover critical points that may help you decide which exam you should give.

While making any crucial decision in life, being self-aware of our strengths and weaknesses is of utmost importance.

The same goes for deciding the exam you plan to give. After deciding on your target universities, focus more on your strengths while simultaneously working to decrease the intensity of your weaknesses. 

Ask yourself these questions while making the final decision-

  1. What are my target colleges?
  2. Which exam is accepted in most of my target colleges?
  3. Which are my strengths and weaknesses in English? 

If you would like to know more about these exams, there is no better resource than the exam’s official website- TOEFL and IELTS.

Are you already done with TOEFL or IELTS? Now is the time to focus on your application.

Book a call with Scholar Strategy if you aspire to study in universities like Harvard, MIT, and Columbia. 

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