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TOEFL or IELTS - Which English test should you take?

This article examines the various English tests available in the world and helps you decide between IELTS and TOEFL

Ashwin Sriram

There is no universally accepted English language testing system for non-native speakers, who are aspiring to study abroad. Every University has its own specific requirement.

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It’s highly likely that you’ve spent the last decade of your life studying English in an English-medium school. You may even feel pretty confident about your English language skills. Chances are you’re pretty good at it too. And so you must be wondering why you’re being asked to take an English test.

You see, all non-native speakers of English are required to demonstrate their English language proficiency when applying for a course abroad. Very few Universities exempt an individual from this rule.  

The TOEFL, IELTS, PTE and CAE are some of the popular English tests that Universities use to measure an applicant’s English language skills. 

Here are some guidelines to help you figure out which English test you should take.

First things first

There is no universally accepted English language testing system for non-native speakers, who are aspiring to study overseas. Every University has its own specific requirement, which further varies based on the course you are planning to study. For example, if you are looking to study English literature or philosophy, you may be required to demonstrate a more advanced understanding of English. 

So before you decide to take any test, you need to find out the particular English exams your University recognizes. Many reputed Universities abroad are quite flexible when it comes to accepting either TOEFL or IELTS scores, but some of them are quite firm about which of the two you should take. So as soon as you shortlist Universities you want to apply to, find out the English tests they accept.

Here is a set of questions you should ask yourself before deciding on any English test. 

  • Which test is accepted by the majority of institutions you’ve shortlisted?
  • Which test is preferred by the institutions you’ve shortlisted?
  • What is the minimum score these Universities expect you to achieve?
  • Which test structure/format suits you better?
  • What is the cost difference between these tests?
  • How many years is your test score valid for?
  • Which test is more accessible in terms of availability and dates?

Your answers to these questions will help you decide on the big question — which test should you take?

Preferences

Certain English tests are preferred in certain study destinations. A lot of US Universities prefer the TOEFL, while a majority of UK universities acknowledge the IELTS. This is mostly because the IELTS is partly managed by the British Council, while the TOEFL is run by ETS, a trusted educational body headquartered in the US. But this doesn’t mean that you can’t apply to US Universities with an IELTS scorecard or UK Universities with a TOEFL scorecard.

IELTS

The IELTS is accepted by more than 9000 organisations around the world as a means of measuring one’s English language skills. The IELTS is jointly owned by IELTS Australia, the British Council and Cambridge English Language Assessment Test. The exam is conducted in more than 900 test centers across 130 nations. A lot of Universities based in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the UK, and the USA recognize IELTS as a valid measurement tool.

TOEFL

Nearly 8500 institutions in over 130 countries accept TOEFL scores. These scores are often used to satisfy visa requirements in the UK and Australia as well. The test is conducted in more than 4000 test centers across 165 countries in the world. Many institutions based in the US, Australia and UK accept TOEFL scores when evaluating applicants.

IELTS vs TOEFL

Both these tests are widely accepted by academic institutions around the world. The major difference between these two tests is the speaking component. For IELTS, you will have a face-to-face speaking session with an examiner. For TOEFL, you will speak on prescribed topics that will be recorded and sent to an examiner for evaluation.

PTE Academic

The Pearson Test of English is slowly gaining prominence around the world. The test is recognized by nearly 6,000 organisations worldwide. PTE scores are used to satisfy visa requirements in the UK and Australia. Some institutions in the UK, the US, Australia and Canada accept PTE scores.

Cambridge exams

The Cambridge English exams are accepted by some institutions in the UK. But unlike the TOEFL and the IELTS, the Cambridge tests are divided into four different exams. The four exams are designed to test the different levels of a student’s English skills. These levels can be broken down to these four categories: basic, intermediate, advanced and expert. 

But to apply to Universities, students need to only take the Cambridge English: Advanced (CAE) test. Although not as popular as the rest, the Cambridge exams are quite well received in the UK.

Conclusion

The vast majority of institutions around the world accept both the IELTS and the TOEFL, but it’s always better to first check the preference of your shortlisted Universities rather than dive into any test. The PTE Academic and Cambridge exams are not as popular as the IELTS or TOEFL, but depending on your institution and its score requirements, you could consider them both. If you’d like to add your own suggestions on the topic, please share your feedback in the comment section below.

Image source: http://education.kilroy.eu/

Have doubts regarding the TOEFL??

Nupur Verma Nupur Verma,
Study abroad expert.
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