Preparing to study abroad? You’re obviously hearing a lot of buzz about IELTS and TOEFL, their pros and cons. What’s it all about?
TOEFL (Test Of English as a Foreign Language) was developed by ETS (Educational Testing Service), a private, non-profit institute headquartered in the USA. IELTS (International English Language Testing System) has been developed by the British Council, IDP Education Australia, and Cambridge ESOL. Both are used worldwide by universities, corporates and by immigration departments to assess the English proficiency of non-native speakers of the language.
What’s the difference?
Both systems test candidates on their English writing, listening, reading and speaking skills. Some differences exist in their approach, scoring methods and the modalities involved in giving the tests.
The primary difference – IELTS, besides testing writing, listening and reading skills, also has a module for testing speaking skills, in the form of a face-to-face interview. With TOEFL, skills in expression are also tested through the written word, by way of questions involving sentence completion and error recognition.
Each IELTS module you complete (reading, writing, etc.) will be assessed on a “band scale” of 1 to 9. For instance, 1 stands for non-user, 5 for modest user and 9 implies an expert user of the language. The band scores for all modules are totalled and their average is the score that proclaims your overall skill level.
With TOEFL, each module has a numerical score and the total score determines your level of proficiency.
Which is tougher?
It’s all about perception! IELTS’ assessment of speaking skills, in an interview format, is felt to be more intimidating. TOEFL has an extremely simple format and the parameters for judging skills of self-expression are spelt out clearly. On the other hand, it is felt that IELTS is not so clear. Teachers who train students for IELTS feel that the reading and listening modules often feature tricky questions. Also, in the listening module, answers have to be written down while listening. In the process, a candidate making errors in spelling and grammar stands to lose marks. However, those in favour of IELTS argue that this method of testing closely resembles how students work in a university setting. IELTS, therefore, gives an accurate assessment of one’s “understanding English of an academic nature.”
TOEFL has more authorized test centres worldwide. The entire test, lasting 4 ½ hours, is taken in one sitting. Its computerized scoring leaves no scope for inaccuracies. IELTS, which sticks by manual correction, however, claims that its markers are highly trained and regularly go through refresher courses, leaving little margin for error.
IELTS, though has rapidly made strides in recognition among educational institutions worldwide and government agencies. Originally confined to the Commonwealth nations of the UK, Canada and Australia, it is now also recognised by most American universities. Besides testing for academic purposes, IELTS also offers test modules in General Training (reading and writing), for people going to English-speaking nations for immigration or to gain work experience.
Typically, the IELTS test duration is 2 hours and 45 minutes, with the interview taking place within a day of the written test.
Does it matter which one you take?
No. Universities you apply to specify which test you must prepare for, so you really have no choice. Remember, both systems go through rigorous development processes. How you fare ultimately depends on your skills and the particular test given to you.
How can you improve your English language skill? Are coaching classes really necessary for people who regularly speak in English?