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With 37 IELTS test centres now currently available in the USA - the latest located in Honolulu at the Hawaii Pacific University - and plans to increase this number to 50 by the end of 2009, the question is now being asked whether IELTS could not only rival but outstrip TOEFL as the leader in pre-university English proficiency testing.

Over 2,000 universities and colleges in the US now accept IELTS test scores, the latest additions being Dartmouth College undergraduate admissions and California State University graduate school system. Dartmouth College, in Hanover, New Hampshire joins a list of other prestigious Ivy League schools that already accept the test including Cornell, Harvard, Princeton and Yale.

Another important organization, which recognizes IELTS for Visascreen is The Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools in the USA, as do the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN), and many other Healthcare employers around the world, including the United Kingdom General Medical Council.

With this rising awareness and continuing growth in recognition – the total number of organizations recognizing the test has more than trebled in the last 3 years and now stands at over 6,000 institutions worldwide – IELTS looks set to become a first choice exam for the majority of overseas candidates seeking university entry in an English-speaking country.

The main reason for the increase in demand is undoubtedly due to global mobility in education, immigration and work, which all require a standard benchmark for English language ability. Since IELTS is available in two formats – Academic for education and General Training for work and immigration – it caters for a broad range of candidates with different needs. In fact, over a million people are now taking the test annually (compared with 700,000 in 2006), a figure that is likely to continue growing in the future in tangent with an even greater acceptance amongst employers, government agencies and university bodies across the world.

Since November 2005, when an IELTS score became the compulsory requirement for all international graduates seeking permanent residence in Australia, there has been a significant boost in demand for General Training. This may also prove to be the case in the UK since the government announced in December 2007 that all migrant workers from non-EU countries now have to demonstrate their English language capability. In fact, IELTS has recently received approval from the UK Home Office for use in the new points-based immigration system. An IELTS score is also obligatory for migration to New Zealand and Canada.

In other major countries around the world IELTS is also growing in popularity. For example, in Hong Kong there are now more people taking IELTS than TOEFL and due to recent recognition by both government and the business sector, it is being used not only to study overseas but also to support job applications in Hong Kong itself. The number of IELTS candidates in mainland China has also increased steadily in the past few years. In 2007, there were over 210,000 people who took the test and in response to this surge in demand, the British Council, one of the 3 partners of IELTS, and NEEA (National Education Examinations Authority) recently opened a new IELTS test centre in Suzhou Xijiao Liverpool University in East China. It is this kind of rapid response to increasing demand that is one of the key reasons for its success.

In South America, where the majority of young people wishing to study abroad look to the US and Canada, TOEFL is still the main test of interest. However, a recent surge in demand for study programmes and work visas to Australia has led to a considerable increase in IELTS test takers in Chile. Similarly, a growing demand for IELTS is also taking place in Columbia, where an increasing number of students are considering the UK and Australian markets.

In conclusion, as far as which exam provides the best alternative is concerned, there may be a number of things to consider. One deciding factor may depend on which exam is considered to be the most difficult among candidates. In the past it was largely felt that IELTS was more challenging than its US counterpart. However, since the new generation TOEFL iBT was launched in 2006, which includes an integrated Speaking component, as well as longer Reading and Listening passages and an extra Writing task, it is now more comparable to Academic IELTS in terms of content and level of difficulty and therefore equally suited to prepare students for the rigour of a university degree.

In reality, whether you decide IELTS or TOEFL as your exam of choice is most likely going to depend on the location of where you want to work or study. More often than not, those wishing to gain entrance to a university in the US will understandably opt for TOEFL, and those planning to study elsewhere are more inclined to take IELTS. However, since both exams are now officially recognized in more than 6,000 academic and professional institutions worldwide the geographical distinction may become less of an issue. Moreover, with the growing awareness and increased acceptance of IELTS in the United States this traditional divide could be bridged in the years to come.

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Comment On This Post


Its a shame that IELTS can only be taken using a pencil and paper (except in a few Centres) whereas TOEFL can be taken online or with a pencil and paper. I think IELTS would be much bigger exam if you could take it online as well.

By Crossply on 2009 01 29

Thanks for your comment.

It’s true that there are currently only 11 IELTS test centres worldwide offering the computer based test (CB IELTS) but according to the IELTS official website, “the availability of the computer-based test will gradually be increased to meet the developing needs of both candidates and test score users globally”.

For more information about this go to:


The iPass Team

By Jenny Bedwell on 2009 01 30

I want to study in an English speaking country but I’m not sure which country I want to go to. Ifind this IELTS v TOEFL option really confusing. I just hope that I choose the right one. Why can’t it be simple!!

By buzz1 on 2009 01 30

I think the best advice is to decide where you want to go first, in terms of country and place of study, and then find out what the entrance requirements are for that particular university or college.

Individual institutes will be able to tell you which exam they accept (they may accept both!) and also what score they require, which often depends on the type of course you choose.

Universities in the UK, Ireland, Canada, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand are more likely to recognise IELTS whereas in the US, TOEFL is still more widely accepted. However, this is changing as more and more universities in the US are starting to acknowledge and accept IELTS as an international test of English.

By Jenny Bedwell on 2009 01 31

It seems that new UK visa rules will require overseas footballers from outside the EU to pass a language assessment worker visa to prove that they have basic English skills before they will be allowed to play professionally in Britain:
Poor little rich footballers, they will have to show their linguistic aptitude is at level A1 of The Council of Europe’s Common European Framework of Reference or a “breakthrough level for basic users”.
Hopefully their football talents are better than this!
Step forward IELTS (or TOEFL?) you are now part of the transfer process. I wonder what level Ronaldo is?

By sockaball2u on 2009 01 31

Seems like events have overtaken you sockaball2u as footballers will now have a special exemption and will not be required to pass an English language test.
Why? Well the government believes they make an important cultural contribution and wants to ensure the UK stays open and attractive to them.
IELTS loss – who gains?

By reait on 2009 02 03

What I can’t work out is which is better to take when there is a choice. Is one more useful in the long term?

By quase on 2009 02 04

yeah - and which is easier?

By fiaona on 2009 02 07

Whats all this talk about footballers speaking English?! Why even David Beckham finds it difficult:
Nice joke here:
When Beckham was asked by an interviewer ‘Would it be fair to describe you as a volatile player?’ he replied with perfect nonchalance, ‘Well, I can play in the centre, on the right and occasionally on the left side.’
Of course, don’t know if its true!

By shortone2U on 2009 02 07

On the question of which exam to choose IELTS or TOEFL, it sometimes depends what you want it for. For example, every US university accepts TOEFL, but not all accept IELTS and some accept both.
IELTS is being accepted more and more in the US but for some situations only IELTS will do, for example the Australian Government require IELTS as visa requirement.

By biro11 on 2009 02 07

In response to the questions, which is easier and which is more useful in the long-term, I don’t think there is a general answer that will apply to everyone.

Both exams are valid for 2 years, although some institutions may accept results which are older than 2 years.

If the rapid growth and expansion of IELTS, that we have seen in the last few years, continues at the same rate, we could speculate that IELTS could overtake TOEFL and become the most widely recognised exam worldwide and therefore have more validity.

As to which is easier, in the past I heard students comment that TOEFL was easier because it did not have a speaking component. Now this is no longer the case and in fact due to the nature of the TOEFL speaking test, which is an integrated listening and speaking test, it could be said that it is ore difficult than the IELTS speaking test which is a face-to-face interview.

I think that whichever exam you choose the vital thing is that you have prepared well for it, either by taking an exam preparation course or enlisting the help of an experienced tutor who can advise you on the best self-study materials.

I hope you will find the practice material on this site of great benefit wink

Look out for our new listening section coming VERY SOON!


By Jenny Bedwell on 2009 02 09

Here are a couple of sites with some useful FAQs:

By Nigel Haines on 2009 02 21

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Lilia - Ukraine

Lilia - Ukraine

As a result of taking an iPass course, I was very prepared for the exam and got the IELTS scores that I needed: L7.5, R8, W7.5, S7.

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