TOEFL and IELTS : Which is Easier

While both TOEFL and IELTS, are aimed at checking your proficiency in English, there are a ton of differences between these two tests. The differences are  both subtle and obvious. Both the standardized tests use reading, writing, listening and speaking as the yardstick for measuring your fluency in the said language. More often than not students are confused about which of the aforementioned exam to take and more importantly which one is easier. This article tries to be a myth buster of sorts and answer some of the most frequently asked questions about TOEFL and IELTS.

Before we go into the feasibility, ease and further details about the exam, you must check out which exam score is accepted by the university of your choice. and you must stick to that. 

Also learn what exactly is a good GRE score and the GRE scores that different universities accept.

Getting down to the brass tacks, the differences in the reading, writing, listening and speaking sections of TOEFL/IELTS are explained below:


i) TOEFL offers interaction with a computer i) IELTS requires you to talk to a real person.
ii) 6 questions to answer spanning a period of 20 minutes. ii) 3 sections lasting for about 15 minutes.
iii) 2 questions: Asked from topics that you’re aware of. iii) 1st Section: Familiar topics viz. hometown, job, studies etc.
iv) Other questions: might ask you to state your opinion based on a particular conversation iv) 2nd Section: Prepare a speech of 1-2 minutes on a chosen topic
v) Other questions: might ask you to summarize information from a short conversation. v) 3rd section: Questions based on your speech.

Speaking - Online GRE Preparation, TOEFL VS IELTS

Speaking – Online GRE Preparation, TOEFL VS IELTS

Quite possibly the biggest difference between the two tests is  the Speaking section. While IELTS requires you to talk to a real person, TOEFL on the other hand gives you the chance to interact with man’s trusted personal digital assistant i.e. a computer! Some prefer the good old human interaction, others prefer talking to a computer.

In TOEFL you’ll be given 6 questions to answer spanning a period of 20 minutes.
IELTS speaking test comprises of 3 sections lasting for about 15 minutes. 

Some students prefer talking one on one to a real person and hence find TOEFL to be a tad bit more challenging compared to IELTS.
While the shy ones prefer speaking to a computer.


i) Keyboard only. i) Pen and paper.
ii) Answer questions based on text reading and short lecture or ii) 2 writing sections
iii) Essay writing iii) Academic and General training

Writing - Online GRE Preparation, TOEFL VS IELTS

Writing – Online GRE Preparation, TOEFL VS IELTS

Pen and paper vs Keyboard, is the differentiating factor in this particular section. IELTS requires you to use pen and paper while TOEFL needs you to use all your might at typing, a sigh of relief for all those with bad handwriting!

Both TOEFL and IELTS have two questions you need to answer, but the format varies.

In TOEFL writing section you’ll be given a text to read followed by which there will be a 2 minute lecture on the same topic. You will have to write a short answer to a question based on the same topic being discussed. Most students prefer this as they need not necessarily know much about the topic.

The second question in the writing section is a discursive essay which is similar to an academic essay.

When it comes to IELTS there are two different writing sections

  1. Academic: for potential grad students hoping to pursue Master’s.
  2. General Training: This is for immigration purposes only.

Academic Writing: The academic Writing test which is 60 minutes long is broken up into two sections Task 1 and Task 2. 

In Task 1 you will have to present your description of a visual information say a graph, chart, process etc. in your own words. The word limit is 150 words and the time allotted to you for task 1 is 20 minutes.

Task 2 comprises of an essay question wherein you’re provided with a an argument/problem, you will have to write a response providing ample reasons and examples in support of your answer. You have to write an essay of 250 words in 40 minutes time.

General Training : The general training test again has two sections Task 1 and Task 2.

In Task 1 you will be given 20 minutes to write a letter explaining or asking more information about a particular situation that is presented to you. The word limit here is 150 words. the writing style of the letter may be personal, semi-formal or formal.

Task 2 of general training is similar to the task 2 of the academic writing section. You are required to write an essay on a given point of view, argument or problem providing reasons and examples to substantiate your stand. However, this essay can be written in a slightly more personal fashion as compared to the academic writing style.


i) 60 minutes long i) 30 minutes long
ii) Context is fully academic ii) Context is both academic and social standpoint.
iii) Multiple choice question format iii) Questions from matching headings, diagram labeling and true/false arguments.
iv) Test is in standard american English iv) Test is in a lot of accents.
Listening - Online GRE Preparation, TOEFL VS IELTS

Listening – Online GRE Preparation, TOEFL VS IELTS

The major differentiating factor between TOEFL/IELTS in terms of the listening section is the length. While the TOEFL listening test is 60 minutes long, the IELTS test lasts for 30 minutes. Other than the duration of the tests, accents, question type and context of the questions also differ. The context of the TOEFL listening section is fully academic whereas the IELTS listening section can be from both academic and social standpoints.

The TOEFL listening test follows a multiple choice question format, if you’re a fan of the MCQs good for you!
In the IELTS test questions vary from sentence completion to matching headings to diagram labeling all the way to true/false arguments.

Coming to the accent part of the test, generally TOEFL listening test is in standard american English whereas there are a ton of accent variations in the IELTS exam from across all of the English speaking countries. While many students prefer american accents but IELTS provides you with a lot of different accents when it comes to Listening section.


i) MCQs only i) Wider range of question types.
ii) 60 mins long. ii) 60 mins long.
iii) 39 questions to answer. iii) 40 questions to answer.

Reading - Online GRE Preparation, TOEFL VS IELTS

Reading – Online GRE Preparation, TOEFL VS IELTS

Just like the listening section, the reading section of TOEFL is also Multiple Choice Questions only. IELTS has a wider range of question types. Both TOEFL/IELTS have the same duration of 60 minutes for the reading section.The reading section for TOEFL/IELTS vary both in terms of question and context.

IELTS consists of three or sometimes four reading passages of increasing difficulty, and there is a total of 40 questions to answer. Similar to the writing section this section also has academic and general writing, wherein you’ll have to attempt more questions correctly as they’re less challenging compared to the academic reading section.  

The  TOEFL reading test consists of three passages and contains 39 questions.  There will be 13 questions on each passage.

Now, that you have a brief idea about both the English proficiency tests, let’s talk about the grading system and the entire duration of the exam.

TOEFL lasts approximately 4 hours.It is graded between 0-120.You can expect to get your result after 10 days of the test date.

IELTS lasts about 2 hours 45 minutes. It is graded between 0-9. Speaking tests may be held a few days before or after the Test Date. You may expect to get your result 13 calendar days after the test date.

Some feel TOEFL to be too long and strenuous while others feel comfortable with Multiple choice questions; some find it  strange speaking to a computer while the shy one’s feel perfectly fine interacting with a computer. Some feel IELTS is easier than TOEFL and visa versa. The difficulty level depends upon the test takers perception.

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2 Responses

  1. Md Asif Ansari says:

    HI, my name is Md Asif Ansari, I am a graduate student(Mechanical Engineering) and preparing for GRE. The problem is I am not from English medium that is why my English is not very good. So I am confused between TOEFL and IELTS. Can you please suggest me which one is good for me?

  2. chaitra says:

    Hi! am Chaitra . I have attempted TOEFL twice and the score was 77 and 78 . In my first attempt my reading and listing scores were good and in my second attempt my speaking and writting score were good.Am confused on this . I am planning my masters in Ireland . Please suggest me is IELTS is easy or TOEFL would be the better option?

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