IELTS v TOEFL
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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