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How does IELTS compare with other English tests?

IELTS vs. TOEFL

TOEFL was traditionally an American English test for studying in the US and therefore using mainly North American accents. IELTS was introduced as a British English test mainly for people wanting to work or study in countries such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and the UK. It uses a range of international English accents.

Both tests have 4 sections (reading; listening; speaking; writing) but there are some key differences:

Reading – TOEFL only has multiple choice questions whereas IELTS has a range of 15 different question types divided into 3 sections with each section getting progressively harder. There are different reading tests for General IELTS and Academic IELTS.

Listening – the TOEFL test lasts between 40-60 minutes and is based around university life situations, while the IELTS test lasts 30 minutes and covers a variety of academic and general contexts.

Speaking – TOEFL is a computer-based test (20 mins) with questions relating to audio + visual content. The recorded test is assessed later by an examiner. The IELTS test (12-15 minutes) is divided into 3 parts and is conducted in real-time with an examiner who assesses your performance at the same time.

Writing – TOEFL is a 50-minute computer based test comprising of 2 essay questions (450 – 600 words). IELTS is paper-based and has two different writing tasks which have to be completed in one hour. Task 2 is an essay style question but Task 1 is different for Academic (a report) and General IELTS (a letter).

So, if you prefer a traditional paper-based test and a speaking test with a real person instead of a computer, then IELTS is for you!

IELTS vs. TOEIC

The TOEIC test has 2 versions. The most popular one is just a reading and listening test with multiple-choice questions. It is very popular in Korea and France and is used to test students’ knowledge of basic business English like working in an office. It is not easy to get a very high score as the test is quite long and there are many questions, but if you prepare well, you might. In comparison, the IELTS general test includes some work and job-related reading texts and a letter writing section. The full TOIEIC test, however, does include speaking and writing parts.

IELTS vs. FCE / CAE / CPE

Cambridge English have been running the FCE (first certificate) / CAE (advanced) / CPE (proficiency) exams since the 1930s. How they mainly differ from IELTS is that they test different levels. FCE is aimed at upper intermediate students while CPE is for proficient or native speaker level students. The problem is that you could fail if you are not at the right level. With the IELTS though, you are measured on a band of 0-9. Also, some students do the FCE and then the CAE but they have to learn about and prepare for both. With IELTS, if you get band 5 and want 6, you just need to study more and then do the same test again. Another problem with FCE/CAE/CPE tests is that they are not organised every month whereas some big cities run IELTS exams almost every week.

IELTS vs. BULATS

BULATS, like TOEIC, is for business English. It is used by business people to measure their English level for work purposes. Soon it will only be available online so you will need to find a local test centre, but there are not as many as there are for IELTS.

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If you have a question about which English test is best for you to take, post it here and we’ll do our best to answer!

By Jenny Bedwell on 2015 12 14

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Camille - France

Camille - France

I registered for the Speaking and Writing Plus course. I trained a lot and each time I received very quickly the corrections with all the details to help me improve. I also received many really helpful tips for the speaking part. My results were Listening 7.5 Reading 8.5 Writing 7 Speaking 7 Overall 7.5. I can finally move on and work in Australia or New Zealand.

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