How to decide between IELTS or TOEFL

IELTS (International English Language Testing System) and TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) tests are two well-known English language proficiency tests for Canada. Both tests are acknowledged by Canadian academic institutions as part of enrolment to their programs. IELTS can also be used to assess English for immigration pathways to Canada. The two assessments vary in format, options and scores, with the primary difference being the purpose of each test. Sometimes it can be challenging to know which test to take, so we’ve outlined each to help you make a decision below.

What is harder, TOEFL or IELTS?

This is typically one of the first questions to come up. You cannot ‘fail’ either the IELTS or the TOEFL tests as they are graded on your proficiency in the English language. However, the Canadian government as well as universities and colleges in Canada do have a minimum requirement for your application to be successful.

If you do not reach this minimum score, you are free to take either test multiple times.

Several activities can help to improve your language skills ahead of taking the test. These include things like courses, webinars, websites, books and preparation apps. If you choose to take the IELTS test, British Council has lots of free preparation materials available online for you to use. These include things like webinars, free practice tests, learning materials, a study app and study packs.

You can find out more on these here: Prepare for IELTS.

Which test is best for immigration to Canada?

Deciding between the IELTS or TOEFL depends on the reason you are looking to go to Canada. TOEFL cannot specifically be used for immigration purposes, only for entrance into academic institutions. IELTS can be used for both academic purposes, such as a university placement, and also for general immigration to Canada.

With IELTS, there are two different versions of the test you can take: IELTS Academic and IELTS General Training. IELTS Academic is recommended if you plan to attend one of Canada’s many universities or colleges, whilst IELTS General Training is used for immigration purposes. Canada has several immigration programs, each with eligibility requirements and an application process.

To learn more about the different Canadian immigration programs, visit our blog: ‘A Guide to Moving to Canada’.

What do the tests include?

TOEFL ibt and IELTS assess the same range of skills, which are: Listening, Reading, Writing, and Speaking. There are some minor differences between the two tests, however.


IELTS Academic – the Academic version has three main readings and 40 questions in total spread over the three readings.  The topic of the readings are academic in nature and cover a variety of topics.

IELTS General Training – the General Training version also has 40 questions but the text are more based on everyday situations that you may encounter at work (i.e. emails, company notices) or general life (i.e. a completed application form).

TOEFL – The reading section has 3 or 4 reading passages, which are each around 700 words long, with 10 questions per passage. You have 54 to 72 minutes to answer all the questions in the section. The texts are academic in content.


IELTS Listening – The IELTS listening section is made up of four parts. There are 40 questions in total and they range in types (i.e. multiple choice, fill in the blanks, open ended questions). The test lasts approximately 40 minutes.

TOEFL Listening – There are 2 types of listening items in this  section — lectures and conversations. Both use campus-based language. You have 41 to 57 minutes to complete the section.


IELTS Academic Writing – The IELTS Academic writing section lasts 60 minutes and is formed of two parts. Read our blogs to find out more about part 1  and part 2.

IELTS General Training Writing – The IELTS General Training also has two parts and lasts for 60 minutes.  The main difference between the General Training and Academic Writing section is part 1.  Find out more about IELTS General Training part 1.

TOEFL Writing – For the TEFL writing, there are two tasks

  • Integrated writing task (20 minutes) —  you need read a short passage and listen to a short lecture, then write in response to what you read and listened to.
  • Independent writing task (30 minutes) —  you have to write an essay based on personal experience or opinion in response to a writing topic.


This is where there is the most significant difference between the two tests. In the TOEFL Speaking test, you will be asked predetermined questions and the answers are spoken into a microphone and recorded. In the IELTS test, you will have face-to-face conversations with an examiner which takes approximately between 11 to 14 minutes.

The style of how you prefer to answer the speaking section is all down to personal preference, however, most find it easier to speak directly with a person, as in the case with the IELTS version.

Test Results

For both tests, results can typically be issued anywhere between 3-13 days, depending on a few different factors. Find out how long TOEFL test results typically take here, and how long IELTS tests take here.

The IELTS test measures four key areas: Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking. After taking the test, you’ll get a score out of 9.0 for each area of the test, and then an overall score out of 9.0 for all four areas combined. The TOEFL scores are measured on a scale from 0 to 120 points and cover the same key areas. The table below shows the scoring system for both tests in more detail:

Level CEFRIELTS (9.0)TOEFL iBT (120)Basic userA1 Not applicable Not applicableA2 Not applicable Not applicableindependent user Competent userB1C1B2C20-475.58.50-3194-10146-59Not applicable4.57.56932-34102-10960-78Not applicable586.535-45110-12079-93

As outlined before, you are not able to fail either test, however, most Canadian immigration programs and university applications require a minimum score before you are accepted.

Exam Details

Both tests can be taken either in a traditional written format or via computer, at a designated test centre. IELTS has more than 800 centres globally in over 130 countries, making it the most popular and easily accessible English-speaking test in the world.

Both tests vary in time, with the TOEFL taking an average of 4.5 hours to complete, and the IELTS test usually taking less than 3 hours.

Prices are similar, with the TOEFL costing around $245USD (payment is always taken using United States Dollars) and the IELTS test costing around $310CAD. Both tests can be purchased easily online using a payment card.


After reading all of the above information, you may have already decided on a test based on your requirements, however, if you are still undecided, there are a lot of resources online, along with reviews and testimonials from people who have taken the test previously.

Whilst IELTS and TOEFL tests are both internationally recognised by most educational and professional institutions in English-speaking countries, the IELTS test is the most popular English language test in the world and is accepted by the Canadian government. It is also endorsed by more than 11,000 organisations in 140 countries worldwide.

British Council is also one of the most trusted and easily recognisable IELTS providers globally.

For more details on booking a IELTS test with British Council in Canada Click here: IELTS Test Dates in Canada | IELTS Test Booking | British Council