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Comparing IELTS, TOEFL, and PTE: Which English Test Fits You?

So, you want to pursue higher studies abroad? Or perhaps you’re looking for better career opportunities in a foreign land? You’ve got your work cut out for you. People whose first language isn’t English must prove their proficiency in the language before they can look for study or work options abroad. It’s quite simple. Communication is vital for both fields. You can’t study or work without being able to communicate properly.

That’s why institutions (whether academic or professional) want proof that you’re well-versed in English. Tests like the IELTS, TOEFL and PTE can help with that. These English language proficiency tests are recognized worldwide.

The IELTS was first created in 1989. Currently, 11,000+ organizations and 140+ countries recognize the IELTS. The TOEFL is much older. It was introduced in 1964 and is currently one of the most renowned exams accepted in 160+ countries. Compared to the IELTS and TOEFL, the PTE is a newer addition. It was created by Pearson Language Tests in 2009. But it has gained much popularity worldwide and is accepted in 3,300+ institutions.

Overview of IELTS, TOEFL and PTE

You’ve been briefly introduced to the three main English language proficiency tests. But that’s not enough to help you choose. How do you know which test is the best fit for you? Read on. This section will give you an overview of the three exams.

International English Language Testing System (IELTS)

The IELTS is a popular test that assesses your English speaking, reading, writing and listening skills. These are important for effective communication. You can take the computer-delivered exam or the paper-delivered exam, according to your preference. But keep in mind that you can't take this exam from your home. You must go to the designated test centre.

You’ll find two main types of the IELTS – 

  • IELTS Academic 
  • IELTS General Training

The IELTS Academic is specifically aimed at students. Meanwhile, the IELTS General Training is for those who want to migrate to an English-speaking country. The test format varies slightly between the two. But you’ll get into more details about it in the next part. For now, let’s go over the main sections.

Test Section

Number of Questions

Total Duration



30 minutes



60 minutes



60 minutes



11-14 minutes

Your IELTS score is calculated as score bands. The range falls between 0 and 9. You receive a band score for each of the four sections. Increments are in 0.25. All these sectional score bands are added, and the average is your final IELTS score.

The IELTS is recognized worldwide for its effective assessment of a candidate’s English skills. That’s many countries accept this exam. The USA, the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and France are just a few examples. Some of the top institutions that consider IELTS scores for admissions are – 

  • Stanford University
  • California Institute of Technology
  • Yale University
  • Harvard University
  • University of Auckland
  • University of Melbourne
  • Australian National University
  • Oxford University
  • Imperial College London
  • University of Toronto

Read about how long is the validity of IELTS

Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL)

The TOEFL is one of the oldest English language proficiency tests for non-native speakers. It’s primarily for students. The exam tests a candidate’s English speaking, reading, writing and listening skills in an academic setting. Every day, millions of students appear for this exam. That’s why it is always updating itself. The TOEFL introduced the Home Edition so students can appear for the exam comfortably from their homes. It has also shortened the exam duration to just under 2 hours.

Let’s compare the two versions of the test format.

Test Section

Older Version

Newer Version


Total duration: approx. 54-72 minutes

Total number of questions: 30-40

Total duration: approx. 35 minutes

Total number of questions: 20


Total duration: approx. 17 minutes

Total number of questions: 4

Total duration: approx. 16 minutes

Total number of questions: 4


Total duration: approx. 41-57 minutes

Total number of questions: 28-39

Total duration: approx. 36 minutes

Total number of questions: 28


Total duration: approx. 50 minutes

Total number of questions: 2

Total duration: approx. 29 minutes

Total number of questions: 2

Your TOEFL score will fall within the range of 0-120. Your raw scores for each section are converted to a scaled score of 0-30. These scaled scores are added to give you the final result.

The TOEFL is accepted in the USA, the UK, Canada, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, and hundreds of other countries. Some of the top institutions where you can apply with your TOEFL scores are – 

  • Cornell University
  • Stanford University
  • Harvard University
  • University of Oxford
  • Cambridge University
  • Lincoln University
  • UC International College
  • Trinity College Dublin
  • University of Toronto
  • University of Waterloo

Read about the list of PTE Valid Countries For Your Immigration

Pearson Test of English (PTE)

The Pearson Test of English is a renowned computer-based English language proficiency test. The governments of the UK, New Zealand, and Australia have also approved PTE results for student visas and migration. This test makes use of high-end AI technology to provide an unbiased assessment of students’ skills.

There are three kinds of the PTE exam – 

  • PTE Academic
  • PTE General
  • PTE At Home

The PTE Academic is the most popular version used by students who wish to study abroad. The PTE at Home version is similar to PTE Academic. In this case, you appear for the exam from your home. The PTE General isn’t approved for visa or migration purposes. But it’s used to assess a candidate’s English skills.

In this blog, we’ll only consider the format for the PTE Academic. Like the IELTS and the TOEFL, this exam also assesses a candidate’s listening, reading, speaking and writing skills.

Test Section

Number of Questions

Total Duration


Approx. 12-20

Approx. 30-43 minutes


Approx. 13-18

Approx. 29-30 minutes

Speaking & Writing

Approx. 28-36

Approx. 54-67 minutes

The PTE scores range from 10 to 90. Your scores are calculated against the Global Scale of English. The results are divided into two parts – the Overall Score and the Communicative Skills Score. You’ll learn more about this soon.

The PTE has gained significant popularity in 70+ countries. It is used as a reliable English language proficiency test in the USA, Australia, China, the UAE, Canada, Indonesia, and many other countries. Some of the top institutes that accept the PTE Academic are –

  • Harvard University
  • University of British Columbia
  • University of Ottawa
  • University Canada West
  • Concordia University
  • The University of Melbourne
  • University of Windsor
  • University of East London
  • Stanford University
  • University of Waterloo

Did that give you a clearer picture of the three exams? In the next section, you'll learn more about the test formats. Understanding this is important! If the university you're applying to accepts all three tests, you can decide to go with the easier option.

Read about 100+ Popular IELTS Essay Topics

Test Format and Structure

From an overview of the format, you already have an idea about what you can expect. The total duration is around 2 hours. Additionally, all the tests require you to answer a wide range of questions that evaluate your English communication skills. Let's dig deeper into the details.

IELTS Academic & General Test Format:

Reading Test

You’ll have to answer 40 questions within 60 minutes. The questions can be of varying types. Here are some that you might encounter:

  • Short answers
  • Multiple choice 
  • Explain a graph/table
  • True/False 

IELTS Academic

IELTS General Training

Answer questions from 3 long texts with academic content. The texts are taken from journals, newspapers, books, etc.

Answer questions from 4 short passages of varying length and difficulty. The texts are taken from official documents, newspapers, etc.

Writing Test

You get 60 minutes to complete 2 writing tasks. Task 1 varies for IELTS Academic and IELTS General Training. But Task 2 is the same. The duration for the first task is 20 minutes, and that of the second task is 40 minutes.


Writing Task 1

Writing Task 2

IELTS Academic

Describe a chart/diagram/table/etc. within 100-150 words.

Write a letter within 100-150 words.

IELTS General Training

Write a short essay of 250 words.

Write a short essay of 250 words.

Listening Test

The Listening section of the IELTS Academic and IELTS General Training are the same. Here you have 30 minutes to answer 40 questions. You will listen to four recordings. The subjects involve academic discussions, everyday conversations, etc. Read on to find out what each recording contains.

  • 1st recording – A casual conversation between two people in an everyday context
  • 2nd recording – A monologue in an everyday context
  • 3rd recording – A conversation between four people set in an academic/professional context
  • 4th recording – A monologue in an academic context

After listening to the recordings, you must answer questions related to what you’ve heard. These questions can be of the following types – 

  • Sentence completion
  • Multiple choice questions
  • Match correct answer
  • Short answer questions

Speaking Test 

The Speaking section contains three parts – A personal interview, a little speech and a discussion. It's the same for Academic and General Training. You have a total duration of 11-14 minutes to answer the questions. Here's what each part includes – 


Task Details


Personal interview

Answer questions about your family, friends, hobbies, studies, etc.

Approx. 4-5 minutes

Little speech

Speak on a topic for 2 minutes and answer a few questions on it.

Approx. 2-3 minutes


Answer deeper and more abstract questions on the topic and your speech.

Approx. 5-6 minutes

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TOEFL Exam Format:

The TOEFL is expected to undergo massive changes from July 26, 2023, in an attempt to reduce the test timings. Currently, the duration is 3 hours. But the timings and question pattern will undergo changes to cut it to 2 hours.

The pattern provided here is based on the current version of the exam.

Reading Test

Total number of questions – approx. 30-40

Total duration – approx. 54-72 minutes

Read 3-4 passages and answer approximately 10 questions from each passage. The types of questions you might encounter are – 

  • Sentence simplification
  • Inference and rhetorical
  • Insert a question
  • Identify factual information

Writing Test

Total number of questions – 2 tasks

Total duration – approx. 50 minutes

You’ll have to complete two writing tasks – 

  • 1 integrated writing task
  • 1 independent writing task

Type of Task

Task Description

Task 1 – Integrated Writing

Duration -  20 minutes

You get 3 minutes to read an academic text of approximately 300 words in length. Then, listen to a lecture for 2 minutes. Following this, you have 15 minutes to write an essay on what you’ve read and heard.

Task 2 – Independent Writing

Duration – 30 minutes

Choose an essay topic and write about it within 300 words.

Listening Test

Total number of questions – approx. 28-39

Total duration – approx. 41-57 minutes

You can divide the Listening section into two parts:

  1. Lectures – Listen to 3-4 academic lectures and classroom discussions. The duration for each lecture is maximum 5 minutes. After listening, answer around 6 questions from each lecture.
  2. Conversations – Listen to 2-3 conversations of approximately 3 minutes each. These are set in the everyday context. Answer 5 questions from each conversation.

The types of questions you might encounter in this section are – 

  • Connect the content
  • Answer detailed questions
  • Organization questions
  • Gist-content

Speaking Test

Total number of questions – 6 tasks

Total duration – approx. 17 minutes

The Speaking section of the TOEFL tests your skills thoroughly. Maintain a sustained conversation. The questions asked will test you on your vocabulary usage, fluency, delivery, etc. 

Type of Task

Description of Task

Tasks 1-2 – Independent Speaking

Task 1- Choose one of many options, take 15 seconds to prepare your answer and then speak for 45 seconds.

Task 2- Choose one of two options, take 15 seconds to prepare your answer and then speak for 45 seconds.

Tasks 3-5 – Integrated Speaking

Listen to an audio recording, prepare your answer, and then speak for 60 seconds.

Tasks 4-6 – Integrated Speaking

Read a piece of text, listen to an audio recording, prepare your answer, and then speak for 60 seconds.


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PTE Academic Test Format:

Speaking & Writing Test

Total number of questions – approx. 28-36

Total duration – approx. 54-67 minutes

Type of Task

Number of Questions & Duration

Task Description

Personal Introduction

1 question

55 seconds

Speak about yourself.

Prep time – 25 seconds

Speak time – 35 seconds

Repeat Sentence

Approx. 10-12 questions

15 seconds

Repeat the recording of the sentence played.

Describe an Image

Approx. 3-4 questions

25 seconds

An image is shown for 40 seconds. Describe it as best as possible.

Prep time – 25 seconds

Summarize a written text

1 sentence summary

10 minutes

Read a text of approximately 300 words and summarize it within a sentence.

Re-tell a Lecture

Approx. 1-2 questions

90 seconds

Listen or watch a lecture. Re-tell the main issue in your own words.

Answer short questions

Approx. 5-6 questions

20 seconds

Answer the provided questions within a few words.

Read Aloud

Approx. 6-7 questions

Approx. 30-40 seconds

Read a 60-word text prompt once it appears on your screen.


1 essay

20 minutes

Write a 250-words essay on the provided topics.

Reading Test

Total number of questions – approx. 13-18

Total duration – approx. 29-30 minutes

Type of Task

Number of questions

Task Description

Fill in blanks – Reading

Approx. 4-5 questions


Read a short passage and fill in the blanks with appropriate words.

MCQs – Multiple Answers

Approx. 1-2 questions

Read the passage and select multiple correct answers for a question.

MCQs – Single Answers

Approx. 1-2 questions

Read the text of approximately 250 words. Choose the correct option from the given question.

Fill in blanks – Reading & Writing

Approx. 5-6 questions


Drag words from the box to fill gaps in a passage.

Paragraph re-ordering

Approx. 2-3 questions


Rearrange multiple phrases to form grammatically correct sentences.

Listening Test

Total number of questions – approx. 12-20

Total duration – approx. 30-43 minutes

Type of Task

Number of Questions & Duration

Task Description

MCQs – Single Answer

1-2 questions

30-60 seconds

Select the correct answer after listening to a recording.

MCQs – Multiple Answers

1-2 questions

40-90 seconds

Select multiple correct answers after listening to a recording.

Fill in Blanks

2-3 questions

30-60 seconds

Fill in the missing blanks in the gap-filled transcript of the recording.

Summarize a Spoken Text

1-2 questions

11-12 minutes

Listen to an audio recording & summarize the content in 50-70 words.

Select Missing Word

1-2 questions

20-70 seconds

Listen to the audio recording and select the best choice from the displayed words.

Highlight Correct Summary

1-2 questions

30-90 seconds

Listen to a recording. Choose the summary that best matches the recording.

Highlight Incorrect Word

 2-3 questions

15-50 seconds

Listen to the audio and highlight the incorrect words in the transcript.

Write from Dictation

3-4 questions

3-5 seconds

Listen to a short sentence and then write it.

Now you’ve covered the format and structure for all the English language proficiency tests. Does anything stand out? Let’s summarize the main points for all. 

Similarities in exam format:

  1. They assess a candidate’s reading, writing, speaking and listening skills.
  2. All exams have computer-based options.
  3. The writing section involves writing an essay of approx. 250 words.
  4. Multiple choice questions, fill-in-the-blanks, etc., are recurring question types.
  5. Each section has a specific time limit.

Differences in exam format:

  1. The number of questions and duration of each section is different in each test.
  2. The types of questions vary.
  3. The Speaking and Writing section is combined in the PTE Academic.

You’ve understood how the exam format varies. Now let’s dive into the scoring system. Scroll down for a detailed account.

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Scoring System and Score Validity

The IELTS, TOEFL, and PTE Academic scores are all calculated differently. You already have a brief idea about the score ranges for each. Let’s refresh that memory. Meanwhile, you’ll also learn how the scores are calculated.


You’ll be given a band score between 1 and 9 for each section. Your final IELTS band score is the average of the four scores. Let’s take an example. Consider the following scores for Candidate A:

  • Listening Band Score – 6.5
  • Writing Band Score – 5.25
  • Speaking Band Score – 7.0
  • Reading Band Score – 7.25

Their total IELTS Band score will be the sum of the sectional scores, that is, (6.5+5.25+7.0+7.25)/4 = 6.5

Your IELTS scores are valid for 2 years from the date of result publication. 


The total scores for each section ranged between 0 and 30. Based on every correct answer and the quality of your answers for each section, you receive a raw sectional score. This raw score is converted to a scaled score of 0-30. Therefore, your total TOEFL score is the sum of the scaled scores of each section. It ranges from 0 to 120. Like the IELTS, the TOEFL scores are also valid for 2 years.

PTE Academic:

The PTE scores range from 10 to 90. When the results are published, you will receive two kinds of scores – 

  • Overall Score
  • Communicative Skill Score

The Overall Score is calculated based on the accuracy and quality of your answers. But it's not the average of the sectional scores. The Communicative Skill Score range is also from 10 to 90. In this case, you receive an assessment of the four communicative skills – listening, reading, speaking and writing. The score validity remains the same. Educational institutions will accept your scores for 2 years after the exam.

Test Purpose and Focus

You can apply for higher studies in English-speaking countries using your IELTS, TOEFL and PTE Academic scores. But the scores can be used for migration as well. The IELTS Academic is for students only. Schools, colleges and universities accept the IELTS Academic, TOEFL iBT, and PTE Academic for admissions.

  • Now, consider the IELTS General. This exam is used by those who –
  • Wish to study below degree level
  • Want to apply for vocational courses
  • Work in a foreign country

Migrate to the USA, the UK, New Zealand, Canada or Australia

The TOEFL iBT is also used for skilled migration. The Australian Department of Home Affairs accepts these scores for all visa subclasses. New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) also accepts these scores. You can use these for admission to ITPs and PTEs.

You’ll face some restrictions if you want to use your PTE Academic scores for migration. Currently, only New Zealand, Australia and the UK accept the exam for visas.

Test Preparation Strategies

Review the format for each exam. Notice how you must brush up your reading, listening, writing and speaking skills for all? Take this into consideration when coming up with your preparation strategies. First, understand where you need to improve.

As a non-native English speaker, you might have trouble with the speaking and listening sections. You don’t get to hear English in daily conversation. Thus, you might not be accustomed to different English accents, the correct pronunciation or sentence formations. So, what should you do?

Here are some strategies you can consider – 

  • Buy official test preparation packages – PTE Academic, IELTS, TOEFL.
  • Practice conversing in English with friends and family.
  • Familiarize yourself with the test format.
  • Give yourself at least 3-6 months of prep time.
  • Figure out your weaknesses by solving practice tests.
  • Read more to upgrade your vocabulary.
  • Train your ears by listening to podcasts.
  • Watch TV series and movies without subtitles.

Keep these strategies in mind. Don’t forget to take care of your mental and physical health. After all, a healthy body and mind is the key to good scores.

Pros and Cons

Every test has its advantages and disadvantages. You need to consider all of these when deciding on which English language proficiency to choose. Let’s break it down for each exam.


Advantages of IELTS:

  • Option to take the exam from home
  • Results within 3-5 working days
  • More slot availability

Disadvantages of IELTS:

  • Screens are locked after a particular time
  • Good typing speed needed
  • The timer does not display the last few seconds


Advantages of TOEFL:

  • Test scores accepted in most countries
  • Access to several free learning materials
  • Detailed assessment of all sections

Disadvantages of TOEFL:

  • Hard to book preferred exam slots
  • Takes longer to complete (before the new update)
  • Requires good computer skills

PTE Academic

Advantages of PTE:

  • Results within 48 hours
  • Objective assessment of answers
  • Accessible throughout the year

Disadvantages of PTE:

  • No option of taking a paper-based test
  • Limited preparation materials are accessible for free
  • Not as widely accepted as IELTS and TOEFL

Are you still on the fence about which test to choose? It’s a tough decision. But here are some suggestions that might help.

  1. Consider the test availability.
  2. Choose an exam where the test center is nearby.
  3. Opt for the one where you get better scores in the practice tests.
  4. Check the exams accepted in the institute of your choice.
  5. Consider the test fees.

Hopefully, you'll pick the exam that's right for you. Don't be in a hurry. Take time to consider all options. Review the pros and cons of each exam thoroughly. If you’re still confused, consider hiring a reliable consultant from

In conclusion,

The IELTS, the TOEFL and the PTE Academic are all reliable English language proficiency tests. The IELTS and TOEFL are widely accepted in 120+ countries. The PTE Academic is relatively newer. But it is entirely computer-based. Still, it’s also a great choice. Consider the availability, locations and complexity of the exam. Keep your goals in mind. If required, talk to some professional consultants for advice.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which test is more widely accepted by universities?

The TOEFL is more widely accepted than any other test. It was first introduced in 1964. Thus, it is one of the oldest English language proficiency tests. Over 11,000+ institutes in 160+ countries consider TOEFL a reliable exam. So, if you want an exam that will be accepted in the university of your choice, opt for the TOEFL.

Can I switch between tests if I'm not satisfied with my score?

You can always opt for another test if you don’t perform well in one. But consider the following –

  1. Do you have enough time to prepare for another exam?
  2. Is the other exam accepted where you wish to apply?
  3. Are you confident you will score well in the other exam?

There’s no point switching your test if the answer is not “Yes” for all. 

How long does it take to receive test results?

The time taken to receive the result for the IELTS, TOEFL and PTE Academic vary. 

Paper-based IELTS – 13 days

Computer-based IELTS – 3-5 days

TOEFL iBT – 4-8 days

PTE Academic – 2-5 days

The PTE Academic results are published relatively quickly. Many test-takers have claimed to receive their scores within 48 hours of taking the test.

What is a widely accepted IELTS score for studying in the US?

You need a minimum 6.0 score band for every section of the test, with an overall score of 6.5. This is the minimum requirement for a student visa. But universities have their own admission criteria. The average score is around 7.0. However, check the eligibility criteria beforehand. Many institutes require a minimum band score of 7.5 or 8.0.

Should I take the TOEFL test at home or at the test center?

It’s always best to take the TOEFL at a test center. If you appear for the exam from your home, you must ensure that you meet all equipment requirements. If your internet fails or your device malfunctions, you can’t give the exam. This won’t happen at a test center.

  • Shabnam
  • August 16,2023
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