Everyone knows by now that pursuing a degree in a foreign land is hard work, which should begin even before you start sending out applications. One of the hurdles to cross is in the process is clearing an exam that tests your English language skills.

There was a time when it was only TOEFL in this segment, now it faces stiff competition from two more tests, the IELTS and PTE.

Simply put, TOEFL stands for Test of English as a Foreign Language, while IELTS is abbreviation of International English Language Testing System. The PTE is short for Pearson Test of English.

One thing common among all these tests is that they measure your ability as a non-native speaker to speak, write, read and hear English language.

Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL)

The oldest of the lot, TOEFL has been developed by an independent organization called, Educational Testing Service (ETS). It is a non-profit that holds the test whose results are accepted by over 9,000 universities, colleges and agencies in as many as 130 countries including the UK, USA, Australia, Canada and the like.

This test can be taken in either of the two formats, paper or internet. The TOEFL PBT is for those who wish to take the test on paper and is only available for locations which do not have the facility of taking the same via internet.

This one measures reading, listening, grammar and writing skills of candidates. TOEFL iBT, on the other hand, can be taken virtually on the internet. The latter is more popular as it is faster, and measures reading, listening, speaking and writing skills.

ETS offers this test more than 50 times a year. You can select your test date and location on the ETS website. The test goes on for a good four hours.

International English Language Testing System (IELTS)

The IELTS can be taken for both study as well as work environments where English is used as a primary language of communication. This exam is available in two formats, IELTS Academic and IELTS General Training.

Those who want to opt for higher education or wish to get professional registration, need to clear IELTS Academic test, while for immigration purposes you need to take the IELTS General Training, especially those migrating to Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the UK.

Both the exams involve two parts, one a 150-word letter for the general version and 150-word report in academic version in a chart or table format, describing a process or comparing information on a map. The second part involves writing a 250-word essay for both versions of the exam.

Some organizations where the test taker needs to go for work have their own requirement of IELTS Academic or General Training. Check with your organization which one they want you to take. You can then nominate up to five organizations where the copies of your IELTS test results will be sent free of charge.

The proficiency level can be determined on a scale from one to nine with the latter being that of an expert.


Pearson Test of English (PTE)

Coming from Pearson, the PTE Academic is a computer based academic test to check for a candidate’s English speaking, writing, reading and listening skills to study abroad or for immigration.

You can check on their website which institutes accept it globally. If you wish to get visa for Australia, the Australian government accept PTE score for the same.

The test takes three hours to finish and covers listening, reading, speaking and writing via computer. All the questions will be spread out in 20 different question formats, including multiple choice, essay writing and interpreting information from excerpts from lectures, view graphs and charts.

PTE also offers a PTE General test which is ‘designed to reward positive achievement in English Language learning’. It basically helps candidates practice their knowledge of English.


Major differences between the three

  • Those who have already taken one or all of these tests would know that IELTS is more inclined towards the UK or Australian English, while TOEFL and PTE are more towards American English.
  • Basis the above comparison, you will have to figure out which speaking test you’d be most comfortable with.
  • You will interact face-to-face with the examiner who is also the rater in IELTS, in TOEFL and PTE you are talking into the microphone.
  • IELTS and TOEFL have human raters. PTE test scores are determined by the computer itself.
  • TOEFL tests scores are available to view online within 10 days post the test date. PTE scores are available with five business days and IELTS releases results within 13 calendar days and test centres are supposed to post the test report form. You can also collect the same in person from the test centre.
  • IELTS enjoys better acceptance in Europe and Australia, TOEFL is what most MBA programs in the US would look for, and PTE so far has the same rate of acceptance from MBA programs internationally.


Difficulty level of all the tests

The jury is still out on which out of the three tests is easier or difficult to take, there are some views which can be considered on the subject. PTE, since it is a computer-based test wherein a computer program is the rater, it is considered unbiased and hence easier.

It doesn’t have any long passages to go through. Since there is no waiting time between sections, PTE is found by some to be less time consuming and faster. Nonetheless, it doesn’t give you any time to think for the same reason.

IELTS, on the other hand, gives you the option to write down your essay answer and is shorter than TOEFL or PTE. It also gives you the opportunity to see the questions beforehand.

TOEFL is more of multiple choice format, and you are interacting with a computer in this, rather than a human being in IELTS, much like appearing for an interview.


Score comparison

The most important part of the comparison between the three tests are the scores. All of them follow a different scoring pattern. TOEFL will rate you on a range from 0-120, the IELTS uses the rating scale of 1 to 9. PTE uses the scale of 10 to 90.

Of course the higher the test score, the better it is, but then there is a certain figure that can get push up your chances of getting accepted into the program of your choice. This you can check on the application guidelines of the university or institute you are planning to apply.

All these scores are valid for two years.

Which one is better accepted in the USA/UK?

While it totally depends on what test is your university or institution is seeking, some universities make it difficult when they state that they accept any one of the two or three.

Most experts and ex-test takers believe that the IELTS score is more accepted in Europe (including the UK) and Australia, it is the TOEFL which sees better reception from American institutes.

A relatively newer test in the space, PTE is also accepted by some universities as Harvard Business School, INSEAD and Yale.
Read these related articles:
All about the IELTS exam in India
How to prepare for the IELTS exam
TOEFL Exam Format and Preparation
References: 1, 2, 3

Serious about higher education? Join us on social media for regular updates.

MBA Crystal Ball provides professional Admissions Consulting services. Hire us to improve your chances of getting into the top international universities. Email: info [at] mbacrystalball [dot] com

MBA Crystal Ball //
MBA Crystal Ball
Our counsellors can help you with career counselling and admissions consulting. Check out our free resources for: GMAT Preparation & GMAT Syllabus | MBA Subjects | MBA Scholarships | And much more


  1. LAVAKUMAR says:

    I am Lavakumar pursuing my year).
    I have a CGPA of 8.5 in my degree level and 8 in my +2 level.
    I would like to have Masters in materials science from MIT.what is the minimum GRE score required to get an admission in MIT.and by the way is the TOEFEL score required or GRE and IELTS scores are sufficient to get into MIT? What could be the average tuition fee for masters in MIT(along with accommodation). Do reply asap.

  2. shivam sharma says:


    i am pursuing from electronics and communication branch and i am in 8th sem, i want to do MS from MIT so that i want some guidance about GRE and IELTS score and other required documents and their required score criteria… and how can i get full scholarship for my MS program.. kindly guide me for full scholarship program of MS..

  3. heming says:

    Dear sir,

    I am BE mechanical engineer . I had complete my BE in 2010 till then i am a working in industries (5.5years of exp.).
    i have 5 Band in IELTS . my BE grade is 4.96CPI .

    If i apply for USA in MBA is it ok?

    I have 5.5 years of experience in after Bachelor of Engineering after this may I apply for MBA ?

    Please give suggestion.

    Waiting for your reply.

  4. sweta rath says:


    I have completed my gradutaion in computer science and i have 2 years of IT experience. Now ,I am planning to study MS in CS in US.
    Could you suggest that is it possible to give only IELTS or Toefl test without GRE?

  5. Ayush says:

    Which one of the two – TOEFL or IELTS is more accepted internationally by top universities for Masters or MBA courses ?
    If this is not clearly ascertainable,which one is less likely to be completely disregarded by an institute ?
    For one one applying to both Masters in Finance,Management and MBA ;which one would be more preferable(work for both) ?

  6. Sameer Kamat says:

    Ayush, the last paragraph in the article above addressed this query to some extent. There has traditionally been a geography based trend (as opposed to program based preference) to which exam works where.

    US universities have shown an inclination to TOEFL whereas Europe has been more of an IELTS domain.

    However, universities are trying not to let this become a bottleneck and candidates now apply to a mix of geographies based on which program works best for their career. This is happening with the GMAT vs GRE debate (most business schools accept both now), and is also seeing a similar trend with the English proficiency tests.

    Rather than relying on a general guideline, the best approach is to be doubly safe by checking directly with the university/program you are applying to. Send them a short email, if this isn’t clearly mentioned on their FAQ sections.

  7. Noopur says:

    Hello Sameer,

    Could you please guide about admissions to colleges accepting IELTS/TOEFL scores outside India.My preference is not country specific but exam specific.My academic credentials are:
    10 th : 86.2%
    12 th : 77.2%
    B.E. Civil engineering : 8.32/10
    Work experience : 2 years as an SAP Consultant at an MNC

    Thanks and regards,

  8. santosh says:

    how to get scholarships in universities like mit ,stanford and other universities in top 10.for ms in mechanical engineering
    my cgpa is 7.5.
    how much do i need to score in gre and toefl.
    how many papers dod i need to publish.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *