IELTS vs TOEFL: Which Test is Easier?

The IELTS and TOEFL exams are standardized tests used to measure a person’s English speaking, writing, reading, and listening skills. International students hoping to achieve academic or professional goals in English-speaking countries may find themselves in a situation where they need to choose between taking the IELTS or TOEFL.

Academic institutions and employers test English proficiency using these two standardized tests, but what’s the difference between the two, and which test is easier?

This guide gives you everything related to the IELTS vs. TOEFL, including their contents, some of their main differences, and which test is easier.

What is IELTS?

The IELTS stands for International English Language Testing System and is a proficiency exam co-owned by the British Council and the IDP: IELTS Australia and Cambridge English Language Assessment.

There are two versions of the IELTS.

The IELTS Academic is for anyone applying for higher education (undergraduate and postgraduate institutions) or a profession in an English-speaking country. This test assesses whether a person is ready to use English in intense academic settings and upper-level employment situations. The content is complex and often research-based.

The IELTS General Training is for people acquiring secondary education or work experience in an English-speaking country. This exam assesses how ready a person is for daily life in an English-speaking country. The content takes a general approach and uses text a person may encounter in different educational and job situations.

The two versions contain the same sections and are structurally similar, but the content varies between the two.

The IELTS exam lasts 2 hours and 45 minutes. The Speaking section is often completed separately, but must still be finished within the allotted time. There are no breaks between the first three sections. The test’s timing breaks down as such:


Time allotted – 30 minutes

Exam – listen to four audio recordings and answer ten questions about each recording (a total of 40 questions)


Time allotted – 60 minutes

Exam – read various texts and answer 40 questions about the text


Time allotted – 60 minutes

Exam – write one essay of 150 words in 20 minutes, and another essay of 200-250 words in 40 minutes


Time allotted – 10-15 minutes

Exam – have one casual conversation and one conversation about a provided topic

What is TOEFL?

The TOEFL stands for Test of English as a Foreign Language and is a proficiency exam created by the ETS organization. ETS also produces the well-known GRE (graduate school admission exam) and other tests.

There are paper-based and computer-based versions of the TOEFL. The TOEFL iBT (internet-based test) is administered over the internet and is the most commonly taken version of the exam.

Like the IELTS, the TOEFL contains four sections: reading, writing, listening, and speaking. The contents for each section tests different areas of a person’s English skills. For example, the reading section pulls passages from university textbooks that present a topic, and the listening section presents conversations a test taker may encounter in daily academic life.

The TOEFL lasts between three and four hours, and there is a 10-minute break between the listening and speaking sections. The test’s timing breaks down as such:


Time allotted – 60-90 minutes

Exam – listen to 4-6 audio recordings and answer up to 39 questions about each recording


Time allotted – 60-80 minutes

Exam – read various texts and answer 40 questions about the text


Time allotted – 50 minutes

Exam – write one short essay in 20 minutes based on a piece of text and a lecture recording, and another essay of 300-350 words in 30 minutes based on a prompt


Time allotted – 20 minutes

Exam – give four speaking samples based on prompts

Which is Easier: IELTS or TOEFL?

People have different learning and testing styles, which means a test that’s easy for one person may be more difficult for another. Choosing which test is right for you comes down to your strengths and weaknesses, which format you prefer, and which test best suits your English-speaking goals.

Before you can choose a test based on ease, you must first determine if both tests are accepted by the academic or professional institution in the country you want to enter. You can find out which places accept the TOEFL here and where the IELTS is accepted here.

If your desired destination accepts both tests, then you can decide whether the IELTS or TOEFL is the better choice for your particular situation.

For those applying to high-level academic or professional positions in America, U.S. universities and workplaces will most likely want to see a TOEFL score.

If you’re planning on traveling to an English-speaking country anywhere in the world for professional purposes, the IELTS General may be a better bet. Most people find this exam to contain more practical questions relating to daily life.

Both tests are similar in structure and content, but it’s worth noting that the overall consensus is that the IELTS is easier than the TOEFL. A few factors that lend to this:

  • The IELTS is shorter. You’ll only need to spare 2 hours 45 minutes compared to the 3.5 hour TOEFL test time.
  • The IELTS gives you two test days. Generally, the IELTS is broken into two test days. You’ll take the Reading, Writing, and Listening sections one day and the Speaking section on another. This gives you a little extra IELTS prep time in between. The four sections you need to prepare for on the TOEFL are taken on the same day.
  • The IELTS Listening section is easier to digest. During the Listening portion of the test, you’ll answer questions as you listen to the audio. The TOEFL requires test takers to listen to the full audio recording before answering the questions from memory.
  • The IELTS Speaking section is more relaxed and conversational. If you’d rather talk to a real person than speak into a microphone, then the IELTS is for you. You’ll have a real conversation with a human during the IELTS Speaking portion, while the TOEFL requires test takers to record their responses into a computer microphone.

Conclusion: IELTS is Easier

The IELTS may be easier in general, but you can’t forget that what suits one person may not be the right fit for you. Consider your situation, where you plan on traveling, and what your aspirations are for living in an English-speaking country. Knowing these things and adequately preparing will help you ace whatever exam comes your way.

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Michelle Tsou

Contributor at ExamCave. Michelle graduated with a BA in English from Portland State University. She hopes to one day run her own test-prep organization.