TOEFL, IELTS, or TOEIC? Comparing the Tests
International students and workers must take a standardized test of
English to move into higher levels of education and employment. There
are three popular tests that universities or employers can use. They are
the Test of English as a Foreign Language, TOEFL, the Test of English
for International Communication, TOEIC, and the International English
Language Testing System, IELTS.
In most cases, the choice is clear. A student applying to a school
learns which test the program requires. However, some programs or
universities will accept scores from any of the international tests of
English. Then, a student may choose which test to take.
The TOEIC tests workplace communication
The Educational Testing Service, ETS, in Princeton, New Jersey, develops
and administers both the TOEFL and the TOEIC. It says the TOEIC measures
the everyday English skills of people working in an international
The TOEIC test started in the 1970s. The Japanese Ministry of
International Trade and Industry asked ETS to develop a test for
corporations to use. They wanted to know if non-native English speakers
could carry out business in English.
The TOEIC is based on English used in the workplace. But the test does
not require knowledge of special business words. The questions come from
real situations like attending a company meeting.
Organizations sometimes use the TOEIC to measure progress in English
training programs. They also use it to consider people for placement at
the right level in language programs. ETS says that 14,000 organizations
in 150 countries use the TOEIC.
The TOEFL tests English used in the classroom
There are several versions of the TOEFL.
Students take the Internet-based TOEFL, or TOEFL IBT, on a computer.
Many U.S. universities require the TOEFL IBT for international student
Another TOEFL is the paper-based TOEFL, or TOEFL ITP. It is part of
ETS’s institutional testing program. TOEFL ITP is used within
institutions for the purpose of placement or to evaluate progress of
students. It is not accepted for entrance to universities.
For young English learners, there are two new TOEFL tests. The TOEFL
Junior Test is for young people between 11 and 15 years old. And the
TOEFL Primary Test is for those over the age of eight.
IELTS tests academic and general language skills
The IELTS has two forms. The Listening and Speaking sections are the
same for both forms. In the Reading and Writing sections, however, there
are two different tests.
The Academic IELTS uses topics and materials covered in undergraduate,
graduate, or professional programs.
The General IELTS uses topics and material from everyday books,
newspapers and magazines.
A student's view of the tests
Triwik Kurniasari is a graduate student at an American university. She
has taken both the IBT and ITP forms of the TOEFL and the IELTS.
She says the paper-based, or institutional test, the TOEFL ITP, is
easier. The ITP is similar to the multiple-choice tests students usually
A major difference between the TOEFL IBT and the IELTS is in the
Speaking section. On the IELTS, you have a face-to-face interview with a
certified examiner. On the TOEFL IBT, you listen to a situation and
record your response using a computer.
Ms. Kurniasari explains why the computer-based Speaking section of the
TOEFL IBT was difficult for her.
"For the TOEFL IBT, it's more challenging because I have to speak with a
computer, basically, and I didn't get the meet the real person who
talked with me. I remember there were twenty or thirty people in the
room. The hardest part is the speaking test because when I was about to
speak, and the person next to me also started to speak, then somehow I
lost concentration because I could hear what she or he said during the
On the other hand, talking to a real person one-on-one during the IELTS
was easier for Ms. Kurniasari.
"For the IELTS test, it requires a speaking test, but I get to meet the
real person. It was just like a regular conversation so it's much more
comfortable and easier for me because I got to meet the person face to
face, so I think the TOEFL IBT is much more challenging."
Listening and responding to class discussions
Another difference between the TOEFL IBT and IELTS is the Listening
section. The IELTS Listening section has four recorded monologues or
conversations. The TOEFL IBT has classroom lectures by teachers and
class discussions by students.
Ms. Kurniasari finds the TOEFL IBT classroom lectures and discussions
harder to follow.
"Sometimes they use idioms too, to share their ideas or thoughts and we
really have to know the meaning of the idioms. I think the TOEFL IBT is
much more difficult than IELTS, especially the class discussion and when
the lecturer explains the lesson in a class.”
Her advice is to focus and take notes as much as possible.
"We have to really concentrate, focus, of course we can take notes, but
somehow it's just too fast, and somehow you cannot really memorize the
things that they've said."
Prepare well in advance of the test
Triwik Kurniasari’s strategy for success is to study, study and study.
“If you want to take any kind of test, make sure that you have enough
time to prepare for it. I usually try to prepare myself at least two
months prior to the test just to allow myself to get used to the test
and to study for the test.”
She also recommends using books rather than free online test materials.
After getting a low score the first time she took the TOEFL IBT, she
spent the money on study books for the tests.
“I decided to study harder and buy some books, even though they're
expensive but since I wanted to get good scores… For me, books are much
more effective than studying for instance, from samples on the Internet,
because with the books I can go back and forth and take some notes.”
To practice for the Listening sections of the tests, she says students
should listen to native speakers from more than one country.
"For listening try to listen to native speakers speaking on the radio,
TV, on VOA, of course. I think the hardest part about IELTS is the
accent because they use mostly British accent. I need to get used to the
British accent. Sometimes they use Australian accent. And I'm not really
familiar with the Australian accent."
Finally, our student's last word of advice is one that your mother would
probably give you – be rested and well fed.
"During the test you need to focus and concentrate. Before the test,
make sure you get a good sleep. Make sure that you have breakfast!"