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The difference between the TOEIC, IELTS, and TOEFL English proficiency exams

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Students and others who want to study or work in an English speaking country usually have to show their English proficiency levels. Taking such standardised tests that are widely accepted is the most popular route, with some places only accepting such test results. But, many get confused between the 3 most popular tests as they appear similar to the untrained eye.

The TOEIC, TOEFL, and IELTS all have different goals and assess different aspects of the English language. Here, we have a breakdown of what those tests assess and who they are targetted towards.

All about the TOEIC

The TOEIC acronym stands for the Test of English for International Communication. In short, it tests your ability to understand business and work-related instructions, documents, and conversations. The test covers both spoken and written English and is not a pass or fail exam. Instead, it tests English proficiency in an effort to help certify a test-taker’s English language skills that are required for work and business purposes. There are 2 test versions that include both a paper and computerised exam. The scores range from 10-990.

As TOEIC is the best exam to take for someone who is interested in working internationally or at an English-speaking workplace, having a score from this exam will put you above others who only have the IELTS or TOEFL. Over 1,400 organisations worldwide accept a TOEIC exam result, which makes it a highly-sought after certification by businesses. The test covers 4 sections: Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking. The sections are broken down into 2 exams as listed below.

Listening and Reading:

Total time length: 2 hours, 30 minutes

Listening Comprehension Section:
Time length: 45 minutes
100 questions

Reading Comprehension Section:
Time length: 75 minutes, plus additional 30 minutes at the beginning to answer biographical questions
100 questions

Speaking and Writing:

Total time length: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Speaking Test Section

Time length: 20 minutes
11 questions

Writing Test Section

Time length: 60 minutes, plus an additional 30 minutes are required to complete the administrative formalities.
8 questions

TOEIC test format

The test format is that of a pen and paper and computer based. the score of each of the 2 tests are scaled in the range of 10-990, with a higher score being better. A score above 790 is considered good.

Cost of the TOEIC test

The cost of each test is around $85 USD. The cost actually depends on the country or place in which you reside.

All about the IELTS

Unlike the TOEIC, the IELTS focuses on assessing a test taker’s academic and general English language skills. The IELTS is a top choice for those who want to study abroad in a country where English is the native language. It is designed to help test takers to migrate or study to an English-speaking country. The test is jointly owned by the British Council, IDP: IELTS Australia and Cambridge Assessment English. The IELTS is recognised by more than 10,000 education and training organisations worldwide. There are over 1,600 IELTS test locations in over 140 countries.

The test covers 4 sections: Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking. All test takers take the same Listening and Speaking tests but different Reading and Writing tests. The 2 major versions of the IELTS exam are listed below:

IELTS Academic

The IELTS Academic test for those who want to study in an English speaking environment or university. It is graded on a band score of 0-9. Students can send their IELTS Academic scores to up to 5 organisations free of cost. Additional organisations costs an additional fee. This IELTS test version can also be taken for professional registration purposes, but it is not as popular of a reason as the one for higher education.

IELTS General Training

The IELTS General Training is test needed for those who want to work or migrate as well as for those who want to study below degree level. The test assesses the daily English language skills needed in a workplace or social environment.

Format of IELTS exam

All of the 4 sections of the IELTS exam are taken on the same day with no breaks.

Listening test format:
Time length: 30 minutes

Test takers will listen to 4 recordings of native English speakers and then answer a series of questions by writing.

Reading test format:

Time length: 60 minutes

This test features 40 questions that are designed to test a wide range of reading skills. Such skills as reading for gist, main ideas, detail, understanding logical argument, skimming, recognising writers’ opinion, purpose, and attitudes are among those assessed in the reading exam.

The IELTS Academic reading section includes 3 long texts which range from the descriptive and factual to the discursive and analytical.

IELTS General Training reading section includes extracts from magazines, newspapers, books, notices, advertisements, company handbooks and guidelines. These are materials you are likely to encounter on a daily basis in an English-speaking environment.

Academic writing test format:

Time length: 60 minutes

The Academic writing test is divided into 2 tasks:

Task 1 – you will be presented with a graph, table, chart or diagramme and asked to describe, summarise or explain the information in your own words. You may be asked to explain how something works, or data, among other tasks.

Task 2 – you will be asked to write an essay in response to a point of view, problem, or argument.

General training writing format:

Time length: 60 minutes

The General training writing test is divided into 2 tasks:

Task 1 – you will be presented with a situation and asked to write a letter requesting information, or explaining the situation. The letter may written in any style.

Task 2 – you will be asked to write an essay that responds to a point of view, problem or argument. The essay can be informal in style.

Speaking test format:

Time length: 11–14 minutes

The recorded speaking section assesses your use of spoken English.

Part 1 – the examiner will ask you general questions about yourself and a range of familiar topics. This part lasts between 4 and 5 minutes.

Part 2 – you will be given a card which asks you to talk about a particular topic. You will have 1 minute to prepare before speaking for up to 2 minutes. The examiner will then ask 1 or 2 questions about the topic.

Part 3 – you will be asked further questions about the topic in Part 2. These will give you the opportunity to talk about more abstract ideas and issues. This part of the test lasts between 4 and 5 minutes.

Cost of the IELTS exam

The IELTS exam in the USA ranges between $245 to $255 USD.

All about the TOEFL

The TOEFL acronym stands for Test of English as a Foreign Language and tests classroom English. It is mainly for those who want to study abroad in institutions where English skills certifications are required, such as a university setting. It is a computer-based exam and is graded on a scale of 0-120. There are more than 11,000 institutions in over 150 countries that accept TOEFL scores.

TOEFL exam format

Time length: 4 hours

The exam is divided into 4 sections: Reading, Listening, Speaking, and Writing. The Speaking test has a time limit of 20 minutes and features 6 tasks, while the Writing test has a time limit of 50 minutes and features 2 tasks. The Reading and Listening sections have a time limit of between 60 to 80 minutes long and 60 to 90 minutes long respectively. The time lengths vary for the Reading and Listening tests because of unscored, experimental questions that can be given. The Reading test features anywhere from 36 to 56 questions, while the Listening test features anywhere from 34 to 51 questions.

The scoring range for each section is from 0-30.

TOEFL exam costs

The TOEFL iBT exam costs around $185 USD, while the TOEFL Paper-based test costs around $180 USD.

Ann Carter

Ann Carter is an award-winning journalist from the United States with over 12 years experience in print and broadcast news. Her work has been featured in America, China and Thailand as she has worked internationally at major news stations as a writer and producer. Carter graduated from the Walter Williams Missouri School of Journalism in the USA.