Introduction to IELTS

IELTS Vs TOEFL: What Are the Differences?

IELTS and TOEFL are both accepted by universities around the world* as evidence of English language ability. The two tests appear very similar: they both test four skills, cost around the same, and take around the same amount of time to complete. So you may be wondering: which test, IELTS or TOEFL, is best for me?

While they appear similar, there are in fact several important differences between IELTS and TOEFL. One major difference is the scoring systems. Note how the four skills are weighted differently in this IELTS vs TOEFL score conversion table:

IELTS Vs TOEFL Score Converter

IELTS Score (All Sections) TOEFL Score (Overall) TOEFL Reading TOEFL Listening TOEFL Speaking TOEFL Writing
9.0 118-120 30 30 30 30
8.5 115-117 29 29 28-29 30
8.0 110-114 29 28 26-27 30
7.5 102-109 27-28 27 24-25 29
7.0 94-101 24-26 24-26 23 27-28
6.5 79-93 19-23 20-23 20-22 24-26
6.0 60-78 13-18 12-19 18-19 21-23
5.5 46-59 8-12 7-11 16-17 18-20
5.0 35-45 4-7 4-6 14-15 14-17
4.5 32-34 3 3 12-13 12-13
0-4 0-31 0-2 0-2 0-11 0-11

Source: ETS

The differences don’t stop there. Here are five more important distinctions between IELTS and TOEFL. As you read on, you may start to get a better idea of which test is better suited to you.

IELTS includes a variety of Englishes; TOEFL is a test of Standard American English

In the Listening section of IELTS, you will hear British regional accents and other varieties such as American and Australian English. Not only accents but idioms and colloquial expressions will be more diverse. TOEFL, meanwhile, tends to feature only American English. Your past experiences with English will guide you here. But remember, this only applies to Listening tasks. In the Speaking and Writing sections of both TOEFL and IELTS, you can use British English or American English spelling and pronunciation.

IELTS is a human test; TOEFL is a computer-based test

This is the single most important distinction when comparing IELTS vs TOEFL. The Speaking section of IELTS is a face-to-face interview so you can ask the interviewer for help. In TOEFL, you must follow the instructions of a computer and you cannot receive help. Do you prefer interacting with another person? If so, choose IELTS. Do you perform well in solitary, computer-based tasks? If so, you may prefer TOEFL. Also, while IELTS Writing requires you to write your answers by hand, in the TOEFL test you type your answers into a computer.

IELTS separates the four skills; TOEFL integrates the four skills

TOEFL features integrated tasks which require you to read, listen, take notes, and then write or say your answer. IELTS does not include such tasks. In IELTS, the writing section is clearly a test of writing, the speaking test is clearly a test of speaking, and so on. If multitasking is not your biggest strength, you may find IELTS easier.

IELTS includes a variety of questions; TOEFL is multiple-choice

The questions in TOEFL Listening and Reading tend to be multiple-choice and quite straightforward. By contrast, the questions in IELTS Listening and Reading consist of a variety of tasks such as completing sentences, tables, and summaries. On balance, it might be said that TOEFL is easier in Listening and Reading, but IELTS is easier in Writing and Speaking. Unfortunately, we don’t know of any schools that allow you to submit a combined IELTS/TOEFL score!

IELTS is a test of English; TOEFL is not just a test of English

Your IELTS score is an excellent indicator of your English ability: to get a good IELTS score requires strong vocabulary, grammar, spelling, and pronunciation skills. However, your TOEFL score also measures skills that are not technically linguistic. These include making notes during a lecture, guessing a speaker’s intent, synthesising information from different sources, and producing a logical argument. For that reason, most people find TOEFL to be slightly more difficult than IELTS.

IELTS Vs TOEFL: Which test would a native speaker take?

IELTS TeacherFrom a native speaker’s point of view, TOEFL is more difficult because it tests a wider variety of skills including synthesising information from different sources. IELTS is a truer test of English and has distinct advantages, such as a real person to interact with in the Speaking section. As an IELTS teacher, of course I am biased, but I recommend IELTS to my students who have previously taken TOEFL and almost all are happy they have made the switch.

*As of 2014, the UK Government was no longer accepting TOEFL for student visa applications.

IELTS Speaking Introduction to IELTS

IELTS Speaking: Introduction

The IELTS Speaking module is a face-to-face interview divided into three parts. The speaking module is the same in both the academic and general training versions of IELTS. 

Total time varies from 11-14 minutes depending on the length of your answers. The IELTS Speaking test is often held on a different day to the IELTS paper test.

IELTS Speaking Part 1: Interview

Time: 4-5 mins.

The examiner will ask you a series of questions about everyday topics such as work, study, hobbies, home, family or lifestyle.

To answer the questions, you only need to provide the information asked for and perhaps add a supporting detail or two. You do NOT need to give lengthy answers and you do NOT need to use difficult academic words.


Q: Where do you like to go in your free time?

A: Well, I often go to the library because I like to read English books but I can’t afford to buy many of my own.

IELTS Speaking Part 2:  Individual long-turn

Time: 3-4 minutes.

In this part of the IELTS speaking module, you will be shown some written instructions for an individual speaking task. You will have one minute to think about your answer, making notes if you prefer to do so. You will then be asked to speak for one to two minutes.

The question usually concerns a past or regular event in your life, or a goal for the future. You should pay careful attention to the verb tenses used in the question and use matching tenses in your answer.


Describe a person who has had an important influence on your life.

You should say:

Who the person is

How you first met this person

What you think of this person

And explain in what way they have influenced your life.

The examiner will not speak during this time so you must concentrate on speaking by yourself. The examiner will stop you if you continue speaking for more than two minutes.

At the end of IELTS Speaking Part 2, the examiner will ask you one or two brief questions before continuing on to Part 3. It’s not necessary to give a long or detailed answer to these questions.

IELTS Speaking Part 3: Discussion

Time: 5-6 mins

In this part, the examiner will ask for your opinion on a range of issues related to the topic in part 2. This time, however, there is no preparation time so you must begin speaking immediately. You should aim to say as much as possible. Give more than one reason, or compare and contrast different views. The longer your answers, the fewer questions you will need to answer.


Q: Do you think celebrities have too much influence on young people?

A: Definitely, yes. I think it’s because the media has become such a major part of our lives. When my parents where growing up, for example, there were only three TV channels and no internet, but nowadays young people are almost constantly exposed to news and entertainment. It’s not surprising that they tend to pay more attention to who’s on TV rather than their own families.

IELTS candidates often feel that Part 3 places them under enormous pressure. However, it is not a test of your knowledge or intellect – you only need to be able to present an opinion in a style of language appropriate to academic discussion. It doesn’t matter if your opinion is unoriginal or flawed, as long as you attempt to support it!

How IELTS Speaking answers are scored

To get a good score in IELTS Speaking, it certainly helps to understand the scoring criteria. The examiner uses four criteria in IELTS Speaking, and each is worth 25% of your score:

Fluency and Coherence: Are you able to keep talking without too much hesitation or repetition?

Lexical Resource: Are you able to use a wide range of vocabulary and show some awareness of collocation?

Grammatical Range and Accuracy: Are you able to use a variety of grammatical forms, including a mix of simple and complex sentences?

Pronunciation: Are you able to pronounce words correctly and use speaking techniques such as intonation and contractions?

When you practice IELTS Speaking with a teacher or partner, it helps if they can give feedback based on these scoring criteria. If you don’t know an IELTS teacher, I tell you below how you can find one on Skype.

Five exam techniques for IELTS Speaking

1. Memorise some checking questions. Be ready to use these when you don’t understand the examiner’s question. Examples include: I didn’t catch that, sorry; Are you asking… ; I’m not sure what you mean exactly.

2. Avoid ‘parroting’ (repeating back) the words in the question. Always attempt to rephrase in your answer or use a substitution such as ‘Yes, I do.’

3. Avoid silence or hesitation. Being silent is worse than making mistakes! Memorise some ‘filler expressions’ for use when you can’t come up with any ideas. Examples: That’s an interesting question; Let me think; What I want to say is…

4. In Part 2, try to keep talking for two minutes. This is more important than answering all parts of the question. The question prompts on the card are only there to help you, not direct you.

5. In Part 3, try comparing different ideas and opinions. This should help you to keep talking even when you don’t have any strong views of your own.

Now practice IELTS Speaking

You can find plenty of IELTS speaking practice questions and sample answers on this site.


IELTS Writing Introduction to IELTS

IELTS Writing (Academic): Introduction

The Academic Writing module of IELTS consists of two writing tasks of 150 and 250 words each. Task 1 requires you to describe some data or a diagram. Task 2 requires you to write a short discursive essay, usually presenting your opinion on a particular issue.

Both writing tasks must be completed in 60 minutes. It is up to you how much time you spend on each task. You must write in pencil on paper – there are no computers involved.

IELTS Writing Task 1: Describe a diagram

Time: 20 mins (recommended). Words: 150 minimum

In this task, you are shown a diagram or set of data and you have to write a short report identifying the main features and making comparisons where relevant.


The chart below shows Internet use at Redwood Secondary School, by sex, from 1995 to 2002.

Write a report for a university professor on the main features of the chart and make comparisons where relevant.

Other examples of IELTS Writing Task 1: A table showing accident statistics; A line graph comparing sales at four companies; Two maps showing a town’s development over 30 years; Several diagrams showing different models of bicycle.

IELTS Writing Task 2: Discursive essay

Time: 40 mins (recommended). Words: 250 minimum

In this task, you have to write about your opinion on a particular issue, or about both sides of an argument. The question will make it clear which approach you should take.


It is widely believed that people’s ability to learn new things decreases with age and that companies should actively recruit younger employees who have greater potential to learn.

To what extent do you agree or disagree with this opinion?

Other topics covered in IELTS Writing Task 2 may include: education, health, technology, work, or the media. Sensitive topics such as politics or religion are avoided.

You do NOT need any special knowledge of these issues, only the ability to present ideas in a logical format with clear links and an appropriate style of language for academic discourse.

Typically, you will write a four- or five-paragraph essay beginning with an introduction and ending with a conclusion.

In IELTS Writing, Task 2 is more important than Task 1, so you should spend more time on Task 2.

How IELTS Writing answers are scored

Understanding the IELTS Writing scoring criteria for both Task 1 and Task 2 is critical to performing well in the IELTS Writing module. The examiner awards a score of 0 to 9 based on four criteria:

Task Achievement or Response: Do you answer the question fully: do you write enough words, cover the main points, and have a clear position?

Coherence and Cohesion: Do you organise your ideas into paragraphs and connect them with linking words?

Lexical Resource: Do you make good use of vocabulary: is it relevant to the topic and appropriate to academic writing?

Grammatical Range and Accuracy: Do you make good use of grammar and punctuation: do you attempt complex sentences and avoid too many mistakes?

Each of these four criteria is worth 25% of your IELTS Writing score.

Five exam techniques for IELTS Writing

1. Always make a paragraph plan before writing. In Task 1, each paragraph should deal with one aspect of the data. In Task 2, each paragraph should contain one main idea.

2. Avoid repeating the same words too many times. Paraphrase the questions and vary vocabulary as much as possible in both IELTS writing tasks.

3. In Task 1, do not attempt to explain or present reasons for the data. You should only describe what it shows.

4. In Task 2, remember that you can write about other people’s ideas as well. Practice using reporting verbs and passive structures to give your writing a more academic style.

5. Mistakes are much more obvious in writing than in speaking. You should be continuously working to improve your English grammar while preparing for IELTS.

Now Practice IELTS Writing

On this site, you can find many IELTS Writing practice questions with sample answers. Study them carefully and note how each answer is scored.


IELTS Reading Introduction to IELTS

IELTS Reading (Academic): Introduction

The IELTS Reading Academic module consists of three passages totalling approximately 2,500 words. The passages are similar to the kind of articles you might read in a general interest magazine covering serious topics like Nature or The Economist.

You have 60 minutes in which to read the three passages and answer 40 questions. The passages are not the same length and the number of questions after each passage varies, so careful time management is all-important in IELTS Reading.

IELTS Reading overview

The three passages in the IELTS Reading module deal with a range of academic subjects: one may be about ancient history, another about astronomy, another about advertising techniques, and so on.

Each passage in IELTS Reading is followed by 11 to 15 questions. You can read and answer questions at the same time. The questions are multiple choice, matching, true/false/not given, sentence completion or summary completion tasks. Write your answers in pencil on the separate answer sheet provided. You can also make notes on the question sheet.

The IELTS Reading module lasts 60 minutes. You should be able to skim-read approximately 170 words per minute and spend no more than 15 minutes in total reading the three passages. That will leave you around one minute to attempt each question plus a little extra time for checking.

How IELTS Reading answers are scored

A human examiner marks your answers. You get one point for each correct answer, giving you a ‘raw score’ out of 40. This is converted into a ‘band score’ from 0 to 9. For example, you need 30 correct answers to get a band score of 7.0.

Five exam techniques for IELTS Reading

1. Skim-read quickly. Try to find the main idea of each passage and of each paragraph. Don’t read all the supporting details. Ignore any unfamiliar words at this stage.

2. Identify key words. Scan the passage and the questions for words you know will be in the passage such as names of people, names of places, and dates.

3. Identify paraphrase. Look for similar meaning between what the passage says and what the question asks.

4. Manage time. Some questions will be extremely difficult so you should concentrate first on the questions that are easiest for you to answer. Take no more than 60 seconds to consider your answer before moving on to the next question.

5. Expand your vocabulary. You will find the academic module of IELTS Reading much easier if you expand your academic vocabulary. The academic word list is a great place to start.

Now practice IELTS Reading

There are some IELTS Academic Reading samples on the official IELTS website. You can also search this website for further IELTS Reading techniques and practice opportunities.


IELTS Listening Introduction to IELTS

IELTS Listening: Introduction

The IELTS Listening module consists of four sections. In each section you will hear a recording of a monologue or conversation. Each recording lasts around five minutes. See below for information on all four sections.

While listening, you have to answer ten questions, which can be multiple choice, short answer, or filling in the gaps in a sentence, diagram, or data table. There is additional time at the end of the test to write your final answers on the answer sheet.

The Listening module is the same in both the academic and general training versions of IELTS. The Listening module lasts around 35 minutes and is the first part of the test.

IELTS Listening Section 1: General conversation

Time: 5 mins approx. Questions: 10

Examples: An interview about student wellbeing; A telephone conversation about buying travel tickets; A student asking about accommodation.

IELTS Listening Section 2: General talk

Time: 5 mins approx. Questions: 10

Examples: A radio programme about local history; A short talk about healthy eating; A presentation about student services.

IELTS Listening Section 3: Academic conversation

Time: 5 mins approx. Questions: 10

Examples: A discussion between a student and a tutor about an assignment; A seminar discussion about a research project; Two students discussing homework.

IELTS Listening Section 4: Academic lecture

Time: 5 mins approx. Questions: 10

Examples: A lecture on the history of photography; A lecture on volcanoes; A lecture on animal behaviour. (You do not need any knowledge of these topics to answer the questions.)

After listening

You then have 10 minutes to transfer your 40 answers from the question paper to the answer sheet. You must use a pencil and any spelling errors will be penalised.

How IELTS Listening answers are scored

A human examiner marks your answers. You get one point for each correct answer, giving you a ‘raw score’ out of 40. This is converted into a ‘band score’ from 0 to 9. For example, you need 30 correct answers to get a band score of 7.0.

Five key exam techniques for IELTS Listening

1. Predict answers before you listen. This helps you to identify the type of information required and leads to ‘targeted listening’.

2. Identify parallel meaning. Be ready to make the connection between what the speaker says and what the question asks.

3. Check grammar carefully. In sentence completion tasks, you may need to change the speaker’s words to make them fit the question grammatically.

4. Practice using different skills at the same time. You will need to use reading, listening and writing skills at the same time during the listening section of IELTS.

5. Improve your spelling. Your answer may be marked incorrect if not spelt correctly.

Now practice IELTS Listening

There are many real IELTS Listening samples available for download on the official IELTS website. On this site you can find many useful IELTS Listening practice opportunities. Use them!


Introduction to IELTS Teacher Tips Vocabulary

The Language of IELTS: A Glossary

cropped-IELTS-Academic-Logo.jpgThis article is part of the Teach IELTS series at IELTS Academic, which provides skills training for IELTS and English as a foreign language.

Confused by the language of IELTS? Try this glossary of key terms and their meanings.

Academic – The version of the IELTS test used for college and university entry. (See also: General Training)

Band descriptors – In the Writing and Speaking modules of IELTS, your scores are calculated according to which of the descriptions they match closest in the band descriptors. Public versions of these can be downloaded freely from the main IELTS website.

Band score – IELTS scores are divided into ten bands from 0 (non-user) to 9 (expert user). Half band scores are also awarded.

Candidate – A person taking an exam such as IELTS.

Coherence – How well you stick to the question in the Writing module of IELTS. This means each paragraph should include one main idea and you should not go off topic by introducing details unrelated to that idea. Your argument or opinion should also be coherent, i.e, clearly and consistently presented.

Cohesion – How well you link ideas within a sentence, paragraph or essay. This includes articles (the), pronouns (this), determiners (such) and logical links (on the other hand).

Criteria – The band descriptors each consider four criteria. These are important things the examiner is reading or listening for in order to determine your score.

Examiner – The person marking the IELTS test or asking the questions in the Speaking module.

Fluency – In IELTS speaking, how well you can string your ideas together and use filler expressions to avoid silence.

General Training – The version of the IELTS test used for immigration and employment purposes. (See also: Academic)

Lexical resource – Basically, the range of vocabulary you use, including accuracy in spelling, word form, and appropriateness for academic usage.

Module – IELTS is divided into four modules: Listening, Reading, Writing, Speaking.

Paraphrasing – Saying the same thing but using different words or sentence structure. More than other tests, IELTS rewards candidates who can vary vocabulary and grammatical form.

Part – The Speaking module of IELTS consists of three parts.

Passage – Another word for article, as in the Reading module of IELTS.

Predicting – Trying to guess an answer before listening or reading for it. This helps you to focus on the type and form of information required to answer the question.

Scanning – Looking through a text quickly to find specific information. An important skill for answering questions in the Reading module of IELTS.

Section – The Listening module of IELTS consists of four sections; the Reading module of IELTS consists of three.

Skimming – Reading a text quickly to identify the main ideas and how they are organised. An important speed-reading skill for IELTS.

Task – The Writing module of IELTS consists of two tasks.

Task achievement – In IELTS Writing Task 1, how well you answer the question overall. In Task 1, this includes identifying all major features of the data and providing supporting details.

Task response – In IELTS Writing Task 2, how well you answer the question overall. This includes, answering all parts of the question and providing support for your opinions.

cropped-IELTS-Academic-Logo.jpgThis article is part of the Teach IELTS series at IELTS Academic, which provides skills training for IELTS and English as a foreign language.