Navigating the world of English proficiency tests can be both challenging and confusing, particularly when you’re faced with multiple options like the International English Language Testing System (IELTS), the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), and the Pearson Test of English Academic (PTE). Each of these tests is designed to certify your English language skills, playing a crucial role in university admissions and job applications in English-speaking countries. But which test is the best fit for you?
Well to answer that question, we’ve put together this page where we’ll delve into the intricacies of each test, exploring their formats, structures, and content, as well as their acceptance by various institutions and regions. We will also discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each test, along with their costs, availability, and scoring systems. Finally, we will provide some guidance on how to prepare for these tests and factors to consider when choosing the right test for your unique needs and goals. With this comprehensive guide, you’ll be well-equipped to make an informed decision on which English test is the perfect match for you.
The 3 Different Tests
Before we get into just what each of these different tests have in common, what makes them different and what the advantages and disadvantages of each are – let’s first just go over each test briefly.
IELTS: The IELTS exam is the most widely recognised English proficiency test, and it evaluates a test-taker’s skills and knowledge across four different areas; Listening, Reading, Writing, and Speaking. There are both General and Academic versions of the test, with the General being more suited for general immigration purposes, whilst those wishing to study abroad or work in higher skilled professions will more than likely be expected to take the Academic IELTS exam.
IELTS Life Skills: There are also IELTS Life Skills tests that test two candidates at a time. This version of the test is mainly used by candidates who are already living in the UK permanently with a spouse or partner. It is far less academic in focus and only tests Speaking and Listening skills. There is no Writing or Reading component.
TOEFL: This is again a well-known and widely accepted test for assessing English proficiency. Similar to the IELTS, it examines the four core language skills: Listening, Reading, Writing, and Speaking, though unlike the IELTS there is only one version of the test that people will take, regardless of their aims.
PTE: The PTE Academic is a relatively newer English proficiency test, growing in popularity across various regions and becoming more and more accepted by different countries, universities and institutions. Again, the PTE focuses on the four components of Listening, Reading, Writing, and Speaking, however the PTE combines the Speaking and Writing components into one unlike IELTS and TOEFL.
All 3 of these tests play a pivotal role in university admissions and job applications in English-speaking countries. They serve as a standardised measure of an individual’s ability to communicate effectively in English, which is essential for both academic and professional success.
In the case of English-speaking university admissions specifically, The IELTS, TOEFL and PTE tests are often a mandatory requirement for international students whose first language is not English. Admission to a university relies on the test scores to gauge a candidate’s English language skills, ensuring that they can comprehend course materials, participate in class discussions, and complete assignments with ease. In some cases, a high score on an English proficiency test may even contribute to securing scholarships or financial aid.
Similarly, in the job market, employers in English-speaking countries often require applicants to provide proof of their English proficiency. This helps them ascertain that potential employees can effectively communicate with colleagues, clients, and stakeholders. English proficiency tests also serve as a valuable tool for skilled immigrants and professionals seeking work visas. As, even if they are already going to be given a position of employment from the company they currently work for, they will still likely need to demonstrate their understanding of English before authorities will grant them a visa for residence and to work.
IELTS vs TOEFL vs PTE: Formats & Structures
Whilst all 3 of the different tests are aimed at assessing English for a specific purpose, and all focus on the same fundamentals – there are differences in their formats and structures. These differences in format are largely what make people decide if they feel one is easier or harder based on their own way of learning and being assessed.
IELTS: The IELTS test is available in both paper-based and computer-based formats, giving candidates the option to choose the format they are most comfortable with. This flexibility is especially beneficial for those who may struggle with typing or prefer traditional pen-and-paper exams. The speaking component of IELTS is conducted as a face-to-face interview with an examiner, allowing for a more personal and natural assessment of speaking skills.
TOEFL: The TOEFL test is exclusively computer-based, which is bad news for those who prefer to use pen and paper. The speaking section of TOEFL is conducted online, where test-takers record their responses using a computer. This approach provides a more objective assessment of speaking skills, as responses are evaluated by multiple examiners. However, it may not be the best choice for candidates who excel in conversational settings or feel more at ease with a human examiner.
PTE: The PTE test is also computer-based, with the added feature of being entirely automated. The speaking and writing components of PTE are combined into a single section, streamlining the testing process. This integration may be advantageous for candidates who can efficiently transition between spoken and written responses. The test is assessed by an advanced scoring algorithm, which analyses responses for linguistic features and content. While this ensures a high degree of objectivity, some candidates might feel uneasy about their responses being evaluated solely by a computer algorithm without human intervention.
Speaking Section: IELTS vs TOEFL vs PTE
The most significant difference between the IELTS, TOEFL and PTE exams is without doubt in the way their respective English-speaking sections are assessed. Each has different approaches and assessment methods, which can greatly impact how comfortable a candidate will be – and consequently how they will perform.
Firstly, the IELTS exam conducts speaking assessments through face-to-face interviews with an examiner. The format is designed in a way that essentially mimics some form of everyday conversation that could take place in either a personal or professional setting. Being a face-to-face conversation between candidate and examiner has the advantage of making the examination seem a little less formal than the other tests it can also help candidates to relax.
TOEFL, on the other hand, conducts the speaking element of the test online using an audio recording that is captured from the candidate via a computer. Multiple examiners evaluate the responses independently. However, the online format of TOEFL may not be the best choice for candidates who excel in conversational settings, as it may not accurately capture their true speaking abilities in the same way that the IELTS exam would do.
Finally, the PTE test actually integrates the speaking section with that of writing. Depending on how a candidate approaches their test this can either be a great benefit or somewhat of a hindrance. Combining the sections can help candidates build a more cohesive and integrated understanding of their language skills, which allows them to demonstrate their ability to switch between spoken and written responses effectively, a skill that is often required in real-life academic and professional situations. However, it may pose a challenge for candidates who struggle to switch between spoken and written responses quickly and this can make it potentially harder than IELTS or TOEFL. PTE’s AI also seems especially bad at understanding higher-pitch voices, and the quality of the microphone at a test centre may have a negative effect on your score.
IELTS vs TOEFL vs PTE: Which Is More Accepted?
As we spoke about briefly in our introduction, the IELTS, TOEFL & PTE exams have the common purpose of being used to work and study in English-speaking countries or universities. However, each test has its own set of geographical preferences and levels of acceptance. This happens for a range of reasons, for example, certain countries’ immigration policies will prefer different methods of assessment as well as different universities having certain entry requirements. So, which of the 3 tests is more accepted and where are there preferences with certain tests?
IELTS Acceptance In UK & Commonwealth Countries
With its roots firmly nested with The British Council, it’s no real surprise that for countries such as the UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, the IELTS exam is widely the preferred option for students and professionals alike. The universities, employers and immigration authorities in all of these countries will almost certainly give preference to applications which include desired scores on the IELTS exam over either TOEFL or PTE due to its connections with The British Council and its origins within the UK.
TOEFL Acceptance In The United States
TOEFL is widely recognised as the preferred test for assessing English proficiency in the US and is also accepted in many IELTS nations, though not as widely. Its origin in the US and its use of American English make it the preferred test for many universities and institutions in the USA. Most American universities, including highly-ranked institutions, accept TOEFL scores as part of their admission requirements for international students.
In other English-speaking countries, such as Canada, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand, TOEFL is also accepted by many universities and colleges. However, IELTS is often given more preference in these countries due to its ties with the British Council.
Ironically, even though TOEFL is an American exam, a US Embassy employee has told us that they are more likely to grant a visa to an IELTS certificate holder since they are more confident in the validity of the certificate due to higher levels of security in the IELTS test.
PTE Acceptance In Europe
Although it is the youngest of the 3 tests, PTE Academic has been gaining ground in terms of acceptance across Europe. Many European universities and institutions now accept PTE scores as proof of English proficiency for international applicants. PTE’s automated scoring system and quick turnaround for results also make it an attractive option for both students and institutions as it allows for the application process to be more streamlined for both parties.
The lower levels of security with PTE can cast a stronger element of suspicion on weaker visa applications that rely on it.
IELTS vs TOEFL vs PTE: Advantages & Disadvantages
When many non-native English speakers are researching the tests. They will more often than not ask themselves the following question; “IELTS vs TOEFL vs PTE, which is easier?”. This isn’t really the right way to go about it, instead a candidate should look at where they’re going and which is most likely to be accepted, as well as how each test compliments their learning and examination styles. So take a look at the following advantages and disadvantages of each test and then perhaps instead as “which is right for me?”
IELTS Pros and Cons
- Widely accepted: IELTS is widely accepted in the UK and English-speaking Commonwealth countries, making it a popular choice for many international students and professionals.
- British and Australian English: It also incorporates Australian, American and non-native accents.
- General and Academic tests: IELTS offers separate exams for general candidates (for immigration purposes) and academic candidates (for university admissions).
- Better evaluation of speaking skills: The face-to-face speaking test can provide a more accurate assessment of a candidate’s speaking abilities.
- Paper and computer-based test options: IELTS offers both paper and computer-based tests, accommodating different test-taking preferences.
- Face-to-face speaking test: Speaking with a real examiner can be daunting for some candidates but most find this to be a more natural and relaxing way to communicate.
- Two-day test schedule: The speaking test is often scheduled on a different day, requiring candidates to set aside two days for the exam. However, this can help to make you more relaxed and fresh on Speaking test day and you can ask for all parts of the test to be scheduled on the same day.
- Challenging essay structure: The essay structure in the writing section can be difficult for some candidates to master. However, it does reflect the kind of style you will be expected to use at university.
- Band score improvement: A significant amount of improvement may be required to increase even a single band score. With expert help, however, the amount of time required can be significantly reduced.
TOEFL Pros and Cons
- Wide acceptance in the US: TOEFL is widely accepted in the US, making it a popular choice for students aiming to study at American universities.
- Objective assessment of speaking skills: The computer-based speaking test offers a more objective evaluation of speaking abilities.
- Multiple choice questions: Candidates may find it easier to guess answers in TOEFL due to its multiple-choice format in some sections.
- American English: TOEFL uses standard American English, which may be preferable for candidates who have learned this form of English.
- No separate general test: TOEFL uses the same test criteria for both general (immigration) and academic candidates.
- Not suited for paper-based test takers: TOEFL is solely computer-based, which may not be suitable for candidates who prefer paper-based exams.
- Long exam duration: The TOEFL test is the longest of the three exams, lasting approximately 4 hours.
PTE Pros and Cons
- Fully automated test: The PTE test is entirely computer-based and automated, reducing potential bias in scoring.
- Fastest completion time: PTE can be completed in the shortest time window among the three tests.
- Quick results: PTE releases test results more quickly than IELTS and TOEFL, often within just 5 business days.
- Single long-form response in writing section: The writing section requires only one long-form response, which can be less daunting for some candidates.
- Limited acceptance: PTE is not as widely accepted as IELTS and TOEFL, although it is gaining ground in Europe and at select Ivy League institutions.
- Computer evaluation of Speaking test: The computer evaluation of speaking skills can be error-prone and may not fully capture the nuances of a candidate’s language proficiency.
- Complex question format: PTE includes a variety of question types and formats that may be challenging for some candidates to understand and navigate, requiring more extensive preparation.
- Challenging Listening material: Some candidates may find the listening material in the PTE test more difficult to understand.
Costs of The IELTS, TOEFL & PTE Exams
Another factor which many candidates consider before deciding on the test they’re going to take is the costs involved for each. Again, whilst this is a deciding factor for some people, it should also be noted that simply taking a test because it is cheaper (or more expensive for that matter) will not mean you are more or less likely to have visa or university applications accepted. This will always depend on what the country or institutions criteria are as to which test is best suited to you.
The IELTS exam has different costs depending on a number of factors. Firstly, it will depend on which country you are sitting the exam in to some degree as there are different administrators as well as exchange rates to consider.
Prices also vary depending upon location for the TOEFL exam. However, unlike IELTS (which details costs in the currency of that country), all TOEFL fees are priced exclusively in USD. There are also other fixed fees in the TOEFL exam for things like rescheduling, late registration and review on the Speaking and Writing sections.
The cost of the PTE exam can also vary based on several factors. Similar to IELTS, the country in which you take the exam plays a role, as different administrators and exchange rates come into play. Also, like IELTS, PTE exam fees are generally displayed in the local currency of the country where the test is being taken.
IELTS vs TOEFL vs PTE: How They’re Scored
Understanding the scoring systems of IELTS, TOEFL, and PTE is essential for candidates to set realistic goals and interpret their results. Irrespective of whether you are going to sit the IELTS, TOEFL or PTE exam – you will need to know what is expected of you by people like immigration authorities, university admission boards and potential employers.
The IELTS scoring system uses band scores ranging from 1 to 9, with 0.5 increments. Each of the four sections (Listening, Reading, Writing, and Speaking) receives a separate band score, and the overall band score is calculated as the average of these four section scores.
A good score in IELTS depends on the requirements of the institution or organisation to which you are applying. Generally, a band score of 7 or above is considered a good score, indicating a high level of English proficiency across the four fundamentals. Most universities require a minimum overall band score of 6.5, with no section score below 6. For immigration purposes, the minimum score may vary depending on the specific country, program, workplace or industry.
The TOEFL scoring system is also divided into four sections (Reading, Listening, Speaking, and Writing), each worth 30 points, for a maximum total score of 120. The scores for each section are combined to determine the overall score, unlike the IELTS test which calculates an average that is rounded up. The TOEFL scoring system also does not have a band-based structure but rather uses raw scores.
Like the IELTS exam, a good TOEFL score also depends on the specific requirements of the country, university or professional body that you are applying to. As a general rule of thumb, a total score of 100 or above is considered good. Most universities which prefer the TOEFL exam to the others will typically require a minimum total score of 80. However, some of the more highly-ranked institutions can require scores of 100 or above due to how competitive they are. For those using the test in order to work in a specific job overseas, the minimum accepted score will likely vary depending on the specific country or employer.
PTE uses a scoring system based on points, ranging from 10 to 90. Similar to TOEFL, it assesses candidates across four sections (Reading, Listening, Speaking, and Writing). However, the PTE test combines the Speaking and Writing sections, giving candidates a single score for the two sections. Similar to the way the IELTS scores are calculated, the overall score for the PTE exam is calculated as the average of the scores from each of the four sections.
Again, and there’s a common theme here, a good PTE score will depend on your reasons for taking the test in the first place, for example which university you are applying to. On the PTE exam a score of 65 or above is considered a good score, indicating a high level of English proficiency. Most universities require a minimum overall score of 58, with some highly-ranked institutions requiring scores of 65 or more. As with IELTS and TOEFL, there is no exact minimum score for work visas as this will almost certainly depend on immigration authorities as well as potentially your employer.
IELTS vs TOEFL vs PTE Score Calculator
When comparing the IELTS, TOEFL, and PTE exams, one aspect that could well be of interest to test-takers is understanding how their scores might equate across the different tests. Knowing this information can be particularly helpful when applying to institutions or job positions that require a specific score on one of the exams, or when planning to take an alternative test after having already completed one.
In order to do this, you need to use something called the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), a widely-accepted international standard that describes language proficiency levels across six tiers, from A1 (beginner) to C2 (mastery).
An example of how this could work between the tests would be that if a candidate has achieved a score of 7.0 on the IELTS exam, which corresponds to the CEFR level C1, they can approximate how their score might translate to the TOEFL or PTE exams by referring to the CEFR level equivalencies. In this case, a C1 level on the CEFR scale would be roughly equivalent to a TOEFL score of 95-120 or a PTE score of 76-84.
If you’d like to know more about the IELTS band score calculations in particular, you can visit this page on our website which describes it all in further detail.
Final Factors To Consider When Choosing Between IELTS, TOEFL & PTE
Throughout this article we’ve consistently referred back to the fact that aspiring candidates need to really analyse the criteria of their university. Different universities and programs have specific preferences or requirements when it comes to English language proficiency tests. Research the requirements of your target universities and programs to ensure that you choose the test most likely to be accepted or preferred.
The same is true for employers in your destination countries. When people are applying for certain skilled roles in English-speaking countries the potential employers will require minimum scores on one of the three tests. A lot of the time, even if the company you’d be going to work for is also your current employer, you should definitely inquire about the preferred test and minimum score requirements for the position(s) you are interested in, in order for you to be able to make an informed decision.
Whilst these are the primary concerns for potential test takers, there are also personal considerations which people will have and be able to take into account when deciding on whether they should take the IELTS, TOEFL or PTE test.
Firstly, is the format of the test itself and what you feel more comfortable with, or what kind of test you feel more confident in taking. For example, if you find yourself leaning towards a more traditional paper-based test, IELTS may be the better choice for you.
As mentioned before, the major difference between the three tests is the Speaking element. This part of the exam is another crucial factor to consider when choosing between the tests. IELTS features a face-to-face interview with an examiner, which can provide a more personal and interactive experience–this is considered to be one of its unique selling points. Nevertheless, these days you are also likely to be talking to the examiner online over a computer rather than being in the same room. In contrast, both TOEFL and PTE require you to speak into a microphone, recording your responses for later assessment.
If you prefer human interaction and feel more at ease during in-person conversations, IELTS may be a better fit for you. However, if the prospect of a face-to-face interview makes you anxious and you would rather avoid that pressure, TOEFL or PTE could be more appropriate choices.
Finally, in terms of question types and test structure, there are some differences between the three exams. IELTS and PTE include multiple question types, and TOEFL focuses on multiple-choice questions. Additionally, PTE merges the Speaking and Writing sections into one part of the test, which as we discussed could either be perfect for you or a nightmare.
In conclusion, IELTS, TOEFL and PTE all have unique characteristics, advantages, and disadvantages, which can significantly impact your test-taking experience and overall results. Therefore, it is essential to invest time in understanding the differences and similarities between the tests and evaluating how they align with your specific needs and goals.
Selecting the right test for your individual requirements is of paramount importance, as it can directly influence your chances of success in university admissions, immigration applications, or job prospects. Factors such as geographical and institutional preferences, assessment methods, test formats, and personal comfort should all be taken into account when making your decision.
Remember also, that if you decide to switch tests later, you will also need to invest time learning about the peculiarities and techniques of the new test.