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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.

ETS also offers the Test of English for International Communication or TOEIC Exam for job seekers looking to establish their fluency in English in a global workplace.


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 TOEFL test in India
All about the IELTS exam in India
How to prepare for the IELTS exam
TOEFL Exam Format and Preparation
TOEFL IELTS Waiver for the top universities abroad
Average TOEFL scores, Minimum TOEFL scores for MS MBA
TOEFL Preparation Guide
References: 1, 2, 3

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11 thoughts on “TOEFL vs IELTS vs PTE”

  1. Hello,
    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. hi

    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. 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. Hi,

    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. 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. 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. 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. 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.

  9. Hi,
    I am an Electrical Engineer(2016 pass out). Currently I am working in an IT company as software developer. I want to do MBA.
    How should I proceed for this and which Exam out of three mentioned will be suitable for my requirement.

    Please guide.

  10. I want to keep this brief and useful and share with you what I wish I had known. If you don’t believe any of this, fine I don’t care. Don’t ruin it for the people that are wise enough to believe the truth. Thanks. TL:DR at the end.

    This is for Australia and their standards, if you are looking into anything else then consider these just extra info (not sure about what you need or how yours works).

    About me: I’ve got exceptional English skills. Even compared to native speakers. Why? Not only do I speak the language with complete fluency, I cherish my English knowledge and have honed it for the better part of the past 30 years every chance I could. Add to that that in my late teens and early 20s thanks to my hobbies I spent a lot of time in front of a microphone and learned how to speak in a clear an concise way under the pressure of being evaluated observed and critiqued (so stage, radio, tv etc. you name it),a lot of this done in English. If you don’t believe me fine consider me a troll on the Internet and keep moving. If you do however, the bad news is that if anyone could have confidence going into a language exam it is I. The only thing that isn’t that strong is spelling. I’d call it better than average. I would assume I spell about as well as any “average” English speaker with a master’s degree in some random field. No better, no worse.

    I needed a “superior English” score, and I’ve taken IELTs Toefl iBT and PTE-A as well, and here is my experience:

    IELTS Academic: it’s an antiquated incorrect and more likely than not corrupt system of testing. They pretend to be very strict with their rules and processes, but the fact that you are only allowed to write by hand and in pencil tells me a whole lot about them. 3 years ago I took a “let’s gauge how these work” test with them and I got 9.0 on 3 modules and 7.5 on writing. Then this summer I was tutored / prepped by one of their teachers (the gentleman is professor in either Oxford or Cambridge, an English literature professor none the less…) he teaches the official prep courses for them. When I was submitting essays to him as practice he said that my essays are what he expects people to produce if they want top marks in his courses. I felt ready. I went in, again I got 7.5 on writing (and 9.0 on other modules). IELTs is a sham. It’s a crapshoot at best. It is unprofessional (they couldn’t start the listening module, as they had forgotten to do a sound check etc.) I spoke to the person on the phone running their operations in the country I lived and agreed with them that it’s best I go take another test, as they are incapable of properly assessing someones knowledge of English, or proper follow up: you are barred from checking your exam etc. You can ask for a reassessment where they just won’t give you a higher score. I thought at first that in the first exam I got a 7.5 because I wrote a silly opinion on an important policital topic, but it turns out I was more likely than not wrong: Hanlon’s razor. Results take forever to come through (3 weeks?), and like I said have little to do with your knowledge of the English language. Good luck if you have no other option. And you’ll need it because Lord knows that’s what your result will hinge on. The reading in my second exam was excruciatingly hard, they were using about 10 different ancient tribal names to describe intertribal relations and just looking back to which name was which tribe was a lot more difficult. If it were simple like “Mongols, Huns, Mohawks” whatever, names that were familiar it would’ve been a lot less stressful yet still gauge how well you grasp the English language. Your ability to identify and differentiate between tribe names that have a “click” sound in them as next to nothing to do with your English, yet that is what they expected of us. Also: they screwed up, they couldn’t start the tape recorder, and when I complained even the British Council head of country admitted that I am better off doing a different exam, and boy was she right!!

    TOEFL iBT: this is a much more fair system. You use computers like you would in the 20th century (let alone 21st!). The accents in the audios are much more consistent and easier to grasp, the results come slow (2 weeks-ish) but much more fair. Also you don’t get the feeling they are trying to make it intentionally difficult. They are trying to gauge your abilities and they do a fairly good job. BUT: the results needed for Superior English language are very high (you need a max score in writing). You can get 30 for each of the 4 modules, with a requirement of 30 in writing. I got 28 in writing and max in other modules so overall 118/120 but still wasn’t enough. Their official online tests are fairly useful and they consistently under-call your results, which means if you get the score you need during the online tests, you’re likely to score higher in the real thing. Sort of a buffer, which I liked a lot. I thought it was very fair.

    Pearson’s PTE-A:
    This to me seemed by far the most professional and well organized exam, and the only one where it’s pretty much impossible to cheat and play with your identity (I am sure IELTS is pretty easy to fool, TOEFL isn’t impossible, but PTA…): they ID you by your veins and if you can fake that, then more power to you, but if someone checks in retrospect, it’ll be a difficult one to pull off, even twins couldn’t jump in for each other. Their method is much more simple, fair, objective and easier to prepare for. I cannot recommend the official trial test, get the biggest package available (the one with 3 tests in it) they too consistently under-call your tests results. They didn’t make the exam too easy as one question (part of a type where 99.99% of the time 2 answers are correct) 3 answers were correct… and also one of the questions actually didn’t have a correct answer and I filed an official complaint after the test as per instructions. Anyway I took the test Friday from 2pm to 5pm, and by noon Saturday I had my results: 90/90/90/90. Obviously I was super happy with it.

    Even if you are computer illiterate it’s easier to learn how to type with some efficiency then it is to prepare for IELTS writing. It’ll take you less time. Professional blind typing can be learned in a matter of month or two if you are dedicated, and if you learn that it will give you an edge on the language exam results: you can type down what is said in the lectures verbatim (I do that I type lightning fast) and then just go through them and summarize them etc, it’s very modern, very professional and unless you like to suffer and pay for no good reason choose PTE-A. Not IELTS.

    Take PTE-A, the others are iffy. TOEFL isn’t bad, but PTE-A is much better. IELTS is a travesty and a joke. It’s 2018.


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