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TOEFL vs IELTS: The Complete Breakdown

By Anne

THE IELTS and TOEFL are both tests that examine a student’s knowledge and understanding of the English language. The two tests are quite similar in some ways, but are very different in others. The TOEFL is administered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS), a US based examining board. The IELTS is administered by the British Council, the University of Cambridge ESOL examining board, IDP Education Australia and IELTS Australia.

Both test all four skills: reading, writing, speaking and listening. The TOEFL take a total of about four and a half hours to complete. The test you take may include extra questions in the Reading or Listening section that do not count toward your score. These are either questions that enable ETS to make test scores comparable across administrations or new questions that help ETS determine how such questions function under actual testing conditions.
There are 2 versions of the IELTS test: the Academic Module and the General Training Module. The Academic Module is usually for people wanting to follow an Academic Course in English and the General Training Module is usually for people wanting to follow a non-academic course or for immigration.

The IELTS speaking section lasts from 12 to 14 minutes and takes place with an examiner, rather than a computer as on the TOEFL. In each instance, the example is 15 seconds long, and you would have 45 seconds to respond.
SCORING for both tests also differs:

IELTS tests are rated by ‘band’ scores (from 0 to 9 and the half-bands between), which are given for every section of the test and then averaged to get the IELTS band score.
TOEFL tests have numeral scores which are assigned to different test parts and then totaled for the final TOEFL score.?The TOEFL has a computer based (IBT) and a paper based (PBT) version, while the IELTS is exclusively paper based.

From the official ETS site:

TOEFL® Score Scales
Skill Score Range Level
Reading 0–30 High (22–30)
Intermediate (15–21)
Low (0–14)
Listening 0–30 High (22–30)
Intermediate (15–21)
Low (0–14)
Speaking 0–30 score scale Good (26–30)
Fair (18–25)
Limited (10–17)
Weak (0–9)
Writing 0–30 score scale Good (24–30)
Fair (17–23)
Limited (1–16)
Total Score 0–120

IELTS scores are based on score bands, and half bands. Each band corresponds to a level of English competence. All parts of the test and the Overall Band Score can be reported in whole and half bands, eg 6.5, 7.0, 7.5, 8.0.?

Band 9: Expert user: has fully operational command of the language: appropriate, accurate and fluent with complete understanding.?

Band 8: Very good user: has fully operational command of the language with only occasional unsystematic inaccuracies and inappropriacies. Misunderstandings may occur in unfamiliar situations. Handles complex detailed argumentation well.??

Band 7: Good user: has operational command of the language, though with occasional inaccuracies, inappropriacies and misunderstandings in some situations. Generally handles complex language well and understands detailed reasoning.??

Band 6: Competent user: has generally effective command of the language despite some inaccuracies, inappropriacies and misunderstandings. Can use and understand fairly complex language, particularly in familiar situations.??

Band 5: Modest user: has partial command of the language, coping with overall meaning in most situations, though is likely to make many mistakes. Should be able to handle basic communication in own field.??

Band 4: Limited user: basic competence is limited to familiar situations. Has frequent problems in understanding and expression. Is not able to use complex language.

Band 3: Extremely limited user: conveys and understands only general meaning in very familiar situations. Frequent breakdowns in communication occur.??

and 2: Intermittent user: no real communication is possible except for the most basic information using isolated words or short formulae in familiar situations and to meet immediate needs. Has great difficulty understanding spoken and written English.??

Band 1: Non-user: essentially has no ability to use the language beyond possibly a few isolated words.??

Band 0: Did not attempt the test: No assessable information provided.


Both IELTS and TOEFL have been accepted as the standard international test system for English language proficiency by a whole range of institutions. These include the majority of all education establishments operating in English in Australia, Canada, the US, UK and New Zealand. Also, most boarding schools in the US specify minimum TOEFL or IELTS scores for admission.

Many international immigration services also use the IELTS as well as various professional organisations including the British and Australian Medical Councils and the UK Ministry of Defence.

Many people find the TOEFL easier because the speaking is to a computer and follows a formula of responses to questions. The speaking section on the IELTS is a face-to-face interview with a person, so it can be more subjective. Also, the TOEFL has specified grading criteria, whereas the IELTS does not, especially for the speaking section. According to our students who have taken both tests, the IELTS tends to have more “trick” questions.

If you know you many need to take an IELTS or TOEFL test in the future, it’s never to early to prepare.
Contact us today for a free mock test to evaluate your English level.
Tel: + 852 2116 3916
Email: [email protected]

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