TOEFL or IELTS? Which to take? (1)

As an international applicant to colleges abroad, you are asked to prove your English proficiency. There are two main options: the TOEFL and IELTS. The immediate question is which to take? Which is easier!?

There is no absolute answer that applies to all, as it depends on each person’s strength in each language skill. EduSmith would like to take you through this decision process. Before diving in, one must first understand the structure of each test.

Understand the test format

Both TOEFL and IELTS have four sections for each skill: reading, listening, speaking, writing. However, the number of questions, the scoring, and the approach is different.


The test is 3 hours long. The test will still be scored on a 0–30 scale for each section, and 0–120 for the total score. Even though there are four separate sections, the test will ask you to combine your skills in a question. For example, the question might ask you to read, listen, and then speak or read, listen, and then write in response.

It is important to note that the TOEFL iBT recently announced changes in the test. The shorter version will be in effect as of August 1, 2019.  You can compare the changes here. Below is the structure of the new version:

  1. Reading (54-72 minutes)
    1. 3-4 passages
    2. 10 questions each
  2. Listening (41–57 minutes)
    1. 3–4 lectures, 6 questions each
    2. 2–3 conversations, 5 questions each
  3. Speaking (17 minutes)
    1. 4 tasks
      1. 1 independent
      2. 3 integrated

Independent means you are only required to speak in response to the question, while integrated task requires you to also combine other skills such as reading and listening.

  1. Writing (50 minutes)
    1. 2 tasks
      1. Integrated
      2. Independent

For the first task (integrated), you are asked to read a small text for 3 minutes and listen to a lecture on the same topic for 2 minutes. After that, within 20 minutes, you should write about 200-220 words, as the word limit is 150-225 words.

The second task is to write an essay based on your own opinions. You should write at least 300 words within 30 minutes.


There are two types of IELTS: Academic and General Training. For those applying for colleges and universities, you will be taking the Academic one. While all sections of the TOEFL test are taken within those three hours, the speaking section of the IELTS is completed up to a week before or after the tests of other sections. The total test time is 2 hours and 45 minutes. Each section is scored in a band from 0-9, and the overall band score is the average of the four components, rounded to the nearest whole or half band.

  1. Listening (30 minutes)
    1. 4 recordings
      1. 2 monologues (academic and social), 2 conversations (academic and social)
      2. 40 questions
  2. Academic Reading (60 minutes)
    1. 3 reading passages
    2. 40 questions
  3. Academic Writing (60 minutes)
    1. Task 1 – you will be presented with a graph, table, chart or diagram and asked to describe, summarize or explain the information in your own words. You may be asked to describe and explain data, describe the stages of a process, how something works or describe an object or event.
    2. Task 2 – you will be asked to write an essay in response to a point of view, argument or problem.
  4. Speaking (11-14 minutes)
    1. Part 1 (4-5 min.) – the examiner will ask you general questions about yourself and a range of familiar topics, such as home, family, work, studies and interests.
    2. Part 2 (2 min.) – you will be given a card which asks you to talk about a particular topic. The examiner will then ask one or two questions on the same topic. 
    3. Part 3 (4-5 min.) – you will be asked further questions about the topic in Part 2. These will give you the opportunity to discuss more abstract ideas and issues.

The speaking section of the IELTS is in a form of an interview, scheduled up to a week before or after the tests of other sections

Knowing the format of the test is the first step to a good preparation. In our next blog, we will introduce the questions you should ask to decide which tests to take. To be continued!

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