What is the IELTS?
The IELTS is an English test administered by UK and Australian organisations. It’s often used by immigration authorities and employers, particularly in the medical profession, to assess people’s English abilities.
You have a choice of paper-based or computer-based formats. Irrespective of the format you choose, the speaking component of the test is always done face-to-face with an examiner. The test consists of reading, listening, writing and speaking. The test is scored on a scale from 0-9 for all sections of the test, with half-points possible. The four scores are averaged to produce an overall score.
What is the TOEFL?
The TOEFL is a US test administered all over the world. It is principally used by educational institutes to assess the English level of candidates.
It is a computer-based test, consisting of reading, listening, writing and speaking. The test is done completely on a computer. You therefore type your written responses, rather than writing them by hand.
The speaking is also done completely on a computer. You wear headphones and hear a question in your headphones and see it appear on screen. You have a short time – 15, 20 or 30 seconds - to prepare, and then you give your spoken response into the microphone attached to your headphones. This is a very unusual testing environment, compounded by the fact that you have a strict time limit for your responses – 45 or 60 seconds.
The testing environment is additionally difficult, as people are doing different parts of the test at different times. You may be sitting close to someone who is speaking while you are trying to prepare your written response. This can be very distracting. However, the situation is the same for all candidates.
The four sections are scored out of 30 and your total score is therefore out of 120.
What are the differences between the IELTS and the TOEFL?
Different authorities require different tests. Some institutions require the TOEFL; some require the IELTS. In general, educational institutes prefer the TOEFL, and government agencies prefer the IELTS for immigration purposes or to assess whether potential workers have a high enough level of English to work successfully in their adopted country. The IELTS is more Commonwealth-focused and the TOEFL is more international, with a bias towards the US, as it is a US test. Some institutions allow you to choose which test you would prefer to take.
IELTS is either paper-based or computer-based; TOEFL is computer-based.
You speak to a person on the IELTS speaking section. The TOEFL speaking section is conducted on a computer with a microphone and headphones. You hear a recorded question, and then give your response, which is also recorded. Your response also has a strict time limit. Although there is a time schedule for IELTS speaking too, it is a much more natural speaking environment and candidates are not under such time pressure on the speaking section.