TOEFL vs. IELTS: Which is Preferred by Universities?

Written By: John T. Berg
Published On: Oct 02,2023

When it comes to pursuing higher education abroad, one of the biggest hurdles for international students is proving their proficiency in the English language. English proficiency tests are a common requirement for admission to universities in English-speaking countries. Two of the most widely recognized English language proficiency tests are the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) and IELTS (International English Language Testing System). In this informative essay, we will explore the key differences between TOEFL and IELTS and discuss which test is preferred by universities.


TOEFL: The Test of English as a Foreign Language

The TOEFL exam is designed to evaluate a student's ability to understand and use English in an academic setting. It is commonly accepted by universities in the United States and Canada. The test is divided into four sections: Reading, Listening, Speaking, and Writing. Each section assesses different language skills and is scored separately.

The Reading and Listening sections consist of multiple-choice questions and assess your ability to comprehend written and spoken English. The Speaking section requires test-takers to express their opinions on various topics, while the Writing section asks them to write essays on given topics.


IELTS: The International English Language Testing System

IELTS is another popular English proficiency test, recognized by universities in the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and many other countries. IELTS also consists of four sections: Listening, Reading, Writing, and Speaking. However, the format of the test differs from TOEFL.

The Listening and Speaking sections in IELTS are similar to those in TOEFL, assessing listening comprehension and spoken English. The Reading section in IELTS evaluates reading comprehension skills. In contrast, the Writing section in IELTS requires test-takers to complete two writing tasks: a short essay and a longer, more complex essay.


Key Differences Between TOEFL and IELTS

  1. Test Format: One of the primary differences between TOEFL and IELTS is the test format. TOEFL is entirely computer-based, while IELTS is a paper-based test. Some test-takers may have a preference for one format over the other.
  2. Accent and Pronunciation: TOEFL is often considered more American-centric, while IELTS has a more international approach. This means that TOEFL test-takers may need to adapt to American accents and pronunciation, whereas IELTS offers a variety of accents from different English-speaking countries.
  3. Speaking Section: In the TOEFL Speaking section, test-takers speak into a microphone, and their responses are recorded. In IELTS, the Speaking section is conducted face-to-face with an examiner. Some students may feel more comfortable with one format over the other.
  4. Writing Tasks: IELTS requires test-takers to complete two writing tasks, which include expressing an opinion and writing a formal essay. TOEFL, on the other hand, has a single essay task. The IELTS writing tasks may be more challenging for some individuals.
  5. Scoring: Both TOEFL and IELTS use scoring systems, but their scales are different. TOEFL scores range from 0 to 120, while IELTS scores range from 0 to 9. Some universities may have specific score requirements, so it's essential to check the score expectations of your chosen institution.


Which Test is Preferred by Universities?

The preference for TOEFL or IELTS varies from one university to another and can depend on the country and program of study. However, some general trends can be observed.

TOEFL: Universities in the United States and Canada often prefer TOEFL scores. This is because TOEFL is designed to evaluate a student's readiness for academic coursework in North American universities. The computer-based format is also convenient for these institutions.

IELTS: Universities in the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand tend to favor IELTS. IELTS is considered a more international test, and its face-to-face Speaking section aligns with the practical communication skills needed for university life in these countries.

It's important to note that many universities accept both TOEFL and IELTS scores. In such cases, applicants have the flexibility to choose the test that best suits their strengths and preferences. However, it's crucial to research the specific requirements of the universities and programs you are interested in to ensure you meet their criteria.


Tips for Success

Whether you choose TOEFL or IELTS, preparing for the test is essential. Here are some tips to help you succeed:

  1. Understand the Format: Familiarize yourself with the format of the test you choose. Knowing what to expect on test day can reduce anxiety and improve your performance.
  2. Practice Regularly: Practice is key to improving your language skills. Utilize practice materials, take mock exams, and consider enrolling in a preparation course if necessary.
  3. Improve Time Management: Both TOEFL and IELTS have strict time limits for each section. Practice managing your time effectively to complete all questions or tasks within the allotted time.
  4. Work on Pronunciation: If you choose TOEFL, practice understanding and speaking with various American accents. For IELTS, work on your pronunciation and fluency for the Speaking section.
  5. Review Grammar and Vocabulary: Brush up on your grammar and expand your vocabulary. Strong language skills are essential for success in both tests.
  6. Seek Feedback: If possible, get feedback on your speaking and writing from a qualified instructor or language tutor. Constructive feedback can help you identify areas for improvement.


In conclusion, the choice between TOEFL and IELTS depends on your destination country and the universities or programs you are interested in. While some institutions may have a preference for one test over the other, many accept both. Regardless of which test you take, thorough preparation and practice are key to achieving your desired score and gaining admission to your dream university.

In your journey to pursue higher education abroad, the English proficiency test you choose is just one aspect of the application process. Crafting a compelling application, including a well-written essay, is equally important. If you ever find yourself thinking, "I need someone to do my essay for me," you can consider hiring a custom essay writer or using an essay writing service to assist you. These services can help you create an informative essay, argumentative essay, or persuasive essay that showcases your unique qualities and aspirations.


In summary, while the choice between TOEFL and IELTS is crucial for international students, it's just one step in the journey to pursuing higher education abroad. With the right preparation and support, you can confidently take on the challenges of English proficiency testing and achieve your academic goals.

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