Test modality and time
The TOEFL iBT test is a computer-delivered exam, so you will not have any interaction with an examiner and you will be wearing headphones for a big part of the exam. It has 4 sections: Reading, Listening, Speaking, and Writing. The total test takes about 3 hours to complete, but you should plan for 3½ hours, allowing 30 minutes for check-in.
The Reading and Listening Tasks have 2 versions, the regular (reading 54’ and listening 41’) and the longest version that comes with 1 extra exercise (reading 72’ and listening 57’). TOEFL picks random students to test them further in the listening and reading tasks. You can either get the longest version of the reading test or the listening test, not the two of them. However, most students get the regular version of both.
The IELTS exam has 2 different tests (General -for visa purposes- and Academic -for scholarships and studying abroad-) and 2 modalities: the computer-delivered test and the paper-based test. The only difference between the computer-delivered and paper-based IELTS test is your test day experience. The test format, question types, time allocated to each test part and content is the same for both computer-delivered test and the paper-based test. The test takes 2 hours and 45 minutes, it doesn’t matter the modality you choose.
If you choose to complete your IELTS test on a computer, you will do the Reading, Listening, and Writing parts of the test using a computer. All answers will be typed on the screen. You will also be able to write notes on a notes sheet during the Listening test. If you take IELTS on paper, you will complete the Reading, Listening, and Writing parts on paper. You will have to write your Listening and Reading answers on the answer sheet. In both the paper-based and computer-delivered IELTS test, the Speaking test is completed in a face-to-face interview with an IELTS examiner.
If you take IELTS on the computer, you will receive your results 3 to 5 days after sitting your test. However, if you take IELTS on paper, you will receive your results 13 days after sitting your test.
TOEFL Speaking test vs IELTS Speaking test
The TOEFL Speaking task consists of 4 questions that you have to answer. The questions are different and require different skills to answer them. The Speaking section includes native-speaker English accents from North America, the U.K., New Zealand, or Australia to better reflect the variety of accents you might encounter while studying abroad. Only the first of the 4 items may have accented speech.
Question 1 is called an “independent speaking task” because it requires you to draw entirely on your own ideas, opinions and experiences when you respond. You will get a question like “Which do you prefer, online classes or face-to-face classes?”. You will listen to the questions, then you will have 15 seconds to prepare and 30 seconds to record your answer.
Questions 2–4 are called “integrated speaking tasks” because they require you to combine your English-language skills — listening and speaking, or listening, reading and speaking — just as you would in or out of a classroom. In questions 2 and 3 you will read a short text on a topic and listen to people talking about that topic. You have to combine the info of what you read and what you listen to give an answer. No opinion is required here. You will have 30 seconds to prepare and 1 minute to record your answer. In question 4, you will only have to listen to a lecture on any particular topic, e.g. how a fax machine works. Then, you have to summarize the info given. You will have 20 seconds to prepare and 1 minute to record your answer.
In the IELTS Speaking test, you will have a discussion with a certified examiner. It will be interactive and as close to a real-life situation as a test can get. The Speaking test is 11-14 minutes long and is in three parts.
Part 1: You will answer questions about yourself and your family.
Part 2: You will speak about a particular topic. You will receive a card with a question and instructions on what you are supposed to include in your answer. The examiner will give you 1 minute to prepare your answer, you can take down notes and think about your answer during that time. Then, you will have to speak for 2 minutes (or close to 2 minutes) about that topic.
Part 3: You will have a longer discussion about the topic introduced in Part 2.
TOEFL Writing Tasks vs IELTS Writing Tasks
The TOEFL Writing section consists of 2 writing tasks.
- Integrated writing task (20 minutes – between 150 and 225 words) — read a short passage and listen to a short lecture, then write in response to what you read and listened to. When you are writing, the reading passage that you read at the beginning will reappear again. Be careful! You can’t copy information, you have to explain the relationship between the reading and the listening passage in your own words.
- Independent writing task (30 minutes – 300 words) — write an essay based on personal experience or opinion in response to a writing topic. The main type of essay question is Agree or Disagree, but you can also get the Advantages and Disadvantages type.
In total, you will have 50 minutes to write the 2 tasks.
The IELTS Writing test also consists of 2 tasks: task 1 and task 2.
General IELTS – writing task 1 (WT1): a letter (20 minutes – 150 words). There are 3 types of letters: formal, semi-formal, and informal. The first are letters of complaint and application, the second are letters of request, and the third are letters to friends or family members. You will know which type of letter you get in the exam.
Academic IELTS – writing task 1 (WT1): a report (20 minutes – 150 words). You will write a report on data that will be presented in different ways, as a line graph, table chart, map. You don’t have to write your opinion here since this is purely objective. (see example at the end)
General and Academic IELTS – writing task 2 (WT2): an essay (40 minutes – 250 words). This is the same for both types, it’s an essay that expresses your opinions or views on a topic. There are 4 types: agree and disagree, discuss two views and give you opinion, advantages and disadvantages, and answer 2 questions (problems and solution essay).
You will have 60 minutes to complete this task and in the paper-delivered test you can choose the order, e.g. you can start by completing the WT2 and then do the WT1 or vice versa. TOEFL doesn’t give you that option.
TOEFL Reading Task vs IELTS Reading Task
The TOEFL Reading section includes 3 (regular) or 4 (long version) reading passages, each approximately 700 words long, with 10 questions per passage. You have 54 to 72 minutes to answer all the questions in the section.
Reading passages are excerpts from university-level textbooks that would be used in introductions to a discipline or topic. The passages cover a variety of different subjects. Don’t worry if you’re not familiar with the topic of a passage. All the information you need to answer the questions will be included in the passage. There is a glossary feature available to define words not commonly used if you need it.
In the IELTS Reading task, you will find three long texts (600+ words) which range from descriptive and factual to discursive and analytical. These are taken from books, journals, magazines, and newspapers. They have been selected for a non-specialist audience but are appropriate for people entering university courses or seeking professional registration.
You will answer 40 questions and you will have 60 minutes to complete this task. In the paper-delivered test, you will have to transfer the answers onto an answer sheet, and you must do so within those 60 minutes.
TOEFL Listening Task vs IELTS Listening Task
The TOEFL Listening section includes listening for:
- basic comprehension
- pragmatic understanding (speaker’s attitude and degree of certainty) and connecting and synthesizing information
There are 2 types of listening items: lectures and conversations. Both use campus-based language.
- 3 (regular) or 4 (long) lectures, each 3–5 minutes long, with 6 questions per lecture
- 2 (regular) or 3 (long) conversations with 2 speakers, each 3 minutes long, with 5 questions per conversation
You can take notes on any audio item throughout the test to help you answer questions. You have 41 to 57 minutes to complete the section.
The IELTS Listening test takes approximately 30 minutes, and you are allowed an extra 10 minutes to transfer your answers onto your answer sheet in the paper-delivered exam. You will listen to four recordings of native English speakers and then write your answers to a series of questions. You will answer 40 questions in total.
- Recording 1: a conversation between two people set in an everyday social context.
- Recording 2: a monologue set in an everyday social context, e.g. a speech about local facilities
- Recording 3: a conversation between up to four people set in an educational or training context, e.g. a university tutor and a student discussing an assignment.
- Recording 4: a monologue on an academic subject, e.g. a university lecture