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TOEFL & IELTS Tests: What You Need to Know

TOEFL & IELTS Tests: What You Need to Know
February 18th, 2022

Many of you have already heard of the TOEFL and IELTS tests that help prove someone's English proficiency.

However, understanding what they are, how they work and why they matter before starting the process is key to your success. This article will help you better understand the two most relevant English language proficiency tests. In addition, it will give you an overview of both tests and how to prepare for them. Note, the information you see here was originally posted the first week of February 2022 and may change after this date.

What are the TOEFL & IELTS tests about?

TOEFL stands for Test Of English as a Foreign Language. That means it is a confirmation of the level of ability of a non-native English speaker to communicate in that language.

The TOEFL is applied by the ETS (Educational Test Service), a non-profit organization. It is accepted as proficiency by more than 11,000 universities and institutions around the world. Students can choose between the TOEFL iBT® and TOEFL® Essentials™. For more information on the right test for you, go to: https://www.ets.org/toefl

Now IELTS stands for International English Language Testing System. It is applied by the British Council, an organization connected to the British government, who have representatives in several English-speaking countries. There are two types of IELTS: Academic and General Training. All test takers take the same Listening and Speaking tests but different Reading and Writing tests. Make sure that you prepare for the correct test type.

IELTS is also widely recognized in the academic world. In other words, it is accepted by virtually all universities and higher education institutions in Great Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. It is also considered valid by several institutions in other countries in Europe and the United States. For more information on the right test for you, go to: https://www.ielts.org/about-ielts/ielts-test-types

Why do I need an English proficiency test?

English language proficiency tests, such as the TOEFL or IELTS, are required by higher education institutions in English-speaking countries when accepting foreign students. In addition, many work opportunities require language tests like these from candidates.

Therefore, it is extremely important for those who intend to study and eventually work in English-speaking countries to have achieved a certain score in one of these tests. There are other alternatives, but these are the most widely recognized options.

Note, in some cases the university or potential employer may prefer a more specific test for the intended area of expertise. In this case, you should communicate with the institution to find out which test you should take.

How do the tests work?

Both TOEFL and IELTS divide their skills into the same four stages: listening, reading, writing and speaking. However, the way both of them test your knowledge is different. While the TOEFL is a more standardized and focused test in a constant format, the IELTS has a broader focus on language comprehension. Both tests offer online or in-person testing options at application centers.


The TOEFL listening section focuses on spoken English situations presented to test takers. The exam is a multiple choice test, where test takers select the most relevant answer to the given situations. It is divided into four sections: ‘Listen & Reply’, ‘Listen to a Conversation’, ‘Academic Announcements’, and ‘Academic Talks’.

In the IELTS listening section you will listen to four recordings of native English speakers and then write your answers to a series of questions. The first one is about a conversation between two people set in an everyday social context, the second is a monologue set in an everyday social context, the third is a conversation between up to four people set in an educational or training context, while the fourth and last one is a monologue on an academic subject.


The TOEFL Reading section measures your ability to understand both academic and non-academic texts. This allows for better interpretation and requires less training than for the IELTS. This section will take students 22 to 33 minutes to complete and topics will range from Daily Life situations to Academic situations.

Now, the IELTS Reading section is more demanding in terms of grammar knowledge and comprehension. This makes this test much less predictable than the TOEFL. Students will face a longer reading test of about 60 minutes. Texts are taken from books, journals, magazines and newspapers, and have been written for a non-specialist audience. All the topics are of general interest. They deal with issues which are interesting, recognizably appropriate and accessible to test takers entering undergraduate or postgraduate courses or seeking professional registration. The passages may be written in a variety of styles, for example narrative, descriptive or argumentative. At least one text contains a detailed logical argument. Texts may contain non-verbal materials such as diagrams, graphs or illustrations. If texts contain technical terms a simple glossary is provided.


The TOEFL requires two writing tasks. The first one is focused on combining listening and reading skills. Writing a text and an audio associated with a theme may be explored. The second task is focused on argumentation skills and coherent writing.

The IELTS is not that different from TOEFL for this part of the test. The main difference will be the time for you to execute the two tasks, which is 60 minutes while the TOEFL will take you between 24 to 30 minutes. The first task focuses on data interpretation and description without displaying your personal opinion. The second text to be written focuses on your argumentative skills.


The speaking part of the TOEFL is focused on a computer-based interview, having no straight contact with examiners. Answers are recorded and assessed later. That format can turn it into a more difficult and demanding test.

The IELTS speaking test consists of 3 stages. First, the examiner will ask you general questions about yourself and a range of familiar topics. Next, there is a stage in which you must speak about a particular subject given to you by the examiner. And finally, the third step is a brief discussion on a topic related to the second step.

Choosing between TOEFL & IELTS

The choice between TOEFL and IELTS will depend on the student's destination choice. Therefore, planning where you intend to go must come first, and then you can think about scheduling one of the tests. The TOEFL is usually recommended for those intending to study in the United States, although it is also widely accepted at universities in other countries. On the other hand, IELTS is highly respected and accepted in countries with a strong connection to the UK, such as Canada and Australia. Therefore, it is an excellent choice for those who want to go to these countries.

These days, in order to make it easy on international students, universities all over the world take both TOEFL and IELTS. While you should check with the specific university you want to apply to, in general any school in the US, the UK, Australia or New Zealand will take either test score.

Regardless of your test choice, it is very important that you dedicate time and prepare for it. There are English teachers specialized in helping you prepare for these tests. Look for a specialist, use your free time and prepare yourself to reach a high score.

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