IELTS vs. TOEFL: What Are the Differences?

Some U.S. colleges and universities require or recommend that international applicants submit proof of their English language skills, usually in the form of a standardized test score.

Two of the more popular English language proficiency tests out there are the IELTS and the TOEFL.

Some schools prefer one test over the other, while others accept scores from either test – plus a few others. Prospective international students should make sure they research the preference of the schools they want to apply to.

[Learn five ways to ease the stress of taking the SAT and TOEFL.]

If a school doesn’t have a preference, students should consider whether the TOEFL or the IELTS plays more to their strengths as they decide which to take.

TOEFL’s structure and language is more academically focused, test prep experts say, while the IELTS has a more real-world communication feel. However, this doesn’t mean the IELTS is easier, says Eliot Friesen, IELTS curriculum manager at test prep company Magoosh. “It’s still challenging, but it’s not that sort of in-depth academic material that you get on the TOEFL,” he says.

Another difference is that students take the IELTS on paper, while most test-takers face the TOEFL on a computer. According to the TOEFL website, 97 percent of people who take the TOEFL take the iBT, or internet-based test, as opposed to the paper version.

[Discover the 10 universities that attract the most international students.]

Students with strong typing skills may find the TOEFL to be a better fit, while those who prefer hand writing their responses might lean toward the IELTS.

Prospective international students can use the table below to compare and contrast the IELTS Academic test – the version of the IELTS meant for those applying to colleges and universities – and the TOEFL iBT test. The average minimum scores information comes from U.S. News Best Colleges data.

IELTS (Academic)


Owned by:

British Council, IDP: IELTS Australia and Cambridge English Language Assessment


Test delivery format:




– Varies by country
– In the U.S., the test costs $215-$245

Varies by country between $165-$300, with most countries under $200


2 hours and 45 minutes

4 hours

Test sections
(in order):

– Listening: 30 minutes
– Reading: 60 minutes
– Writing: 60 minutes
– Speaking: 11-14 minutes (section can also be taken before the other three sections)

– Reading: 60-80 minutes
– Listening: 60-90 minutes
– Speaking: 20 minutes
– Writing: 50 minutes

Speaking section format:

In-person with an examiner

Computer-based (students speak into a headset microphone)


No breaks during the listening, reading and writing sections, but the speaking portion can be taken up to a week before or after the rest of the test

10-minute break between listening and speaking sections

Accents test-takers might hear:

Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the U.K. and the U.S.

Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the U.K. and the U.S.

Where the test is offered:

More than 1,100 locations in some 140 countries worldwide

Offered around the world, though ETS couldn’t provide an exact count of test sites

How frequently the test is offered:

48 test dates per year

More than 50 test dates per year

Where scores are accepted:

Accepted by more than 9,000 organizations globally, including around 3,000 U.S. institutions (see test website for searchable list)

Accepted by more than 10,000 organizations globally, including more than 5,000 U.S. institutions (see test website for searchable list)

Results timeline:

Results are issued 13 days after the test

Results are issued approximately 10 days after the test

Scoring scale:

zero to 9

zero to 120

Average minimum score required by rankedNational Universities(fall 2015):



Average minimum score required by rankedNational Liberal Arts Colleges(fall 2015):




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