For students who are given the choice of which English exam to take in order to take their credentials to a whole new level, they are usually torn between the two major kinds: TOEFL and IELTS. If you belong to the group of the undecided, the correct choice would actually depend on how you thoroughly assess your needs and preferences.
Guide for Assessment #1: Test results required by academic institutions
For academic English purposes, both TOEFL and IELTS are recommended.
Guide for Assessment # 2: Speaking British or American
Familiarity with British or Australian English makes the IELTS more ideal. If you want to concentrate on enhancing your English skills using American vocabulary, accent and idiomatic language, take TOEFL instead.
Guide for Assessment #3: Concerns regarding immigration
Applying for an immigrant visa, especially in countries such as Canada and Australia, would normally require IELTS. In this case, it would be easier to complete the IELTS general version than either its counterpart for academic English or the TOEFL.
Guide for Assessment # 4: Typing speed
For fast typists, best bet is TOEFL as it includes the typing speed in the results. TOEFL requires actual typing of essays in the exam’s written section. Otherwise, opt for the IELTS because essay responses only need to be written by hand.
Guide for Assessment # 5: Exam duration
You might just feel too nervous to stay long for an exam; hence you can choose one between the two based on the number of hours it would take for you to finish. Approximate duration for the TOEFL and IELTS are four hours and two hours 45 minutes, respectively.
Guide for Assessment # 6: More question types
With the TOEFL, you’ll only be limited to multiple choice questions. But if you think you’re smart enough to know the answers whatever the question type is, you will be more comfortable with the IELTS. The IELTS doesn’t only have a multiple choice section, but also gap fill and matching exercises among others.
Guide for Assessment # 7: The Ability to Take Notes
Although both TOEFL and IELTS recognize the importance of note taking, it is the TOEFL that will put this particular skill to the test. Its entails note taking only after listening to the exam, while IELTS allows answering questions and listening at the same time.
For further understanding of how TOEFL and IELTS differ from each other, About.com presents a more detailed comparison:
TOEFL – You will have 3 – 5 reading selections of twenty minutes each. Reading materials are academic in nature. Questions are multiple choices.
IELTS – 3 reading selections of twenty minutes each. Materials are, as in the case of the TOEFL, related to an academic setting. There are multiple type questions (gap fill, matching, etc.)
TOEFL – The listening selection very different from the IELTS. In the TOEFL, you will have 40 – 60 minutes worth of listening selections from lectures or campus conversations. Take notes and respond to multiple choice questions.
IELTS – The largest difference between the two exams is in listening. In the IELTS exam there are wider varieties of question types, as well as exercises of differing lengths. You will answer questions as you move through the listening selection of the test.
TOEFL – Two written tasks are required on the TOEFL and all writing is done on the computer. Task one involves writing a five paragraph essay of 300 to 350 words. Note taking is important as the second task asks you to take notes from a reading selection in a text book and then a lecture on the same topic. You are then asked to respond using notes by writing a 150 – 225 word selection integrating both the reading and listening selection.
IELTS – The IELTS also has two tasks: the first a short essay of 200 – 250 words. The second IELTS writing task asks you to look at an info graphic such as a graph or chart and summarize the information presented.
TOEFL – Once again the speaking section differs greatly between the TOEFL and the IELTS exams. On the TOEFL you are asked to record responses on the computer of 45 – 60 seconds to six different questions based on short descriptions / conversations. The speaking section of the test lasts 20 minutes.
IELTS – The IELTS speaking section lasts from 12 to 14 minutes and takes place with an examiner, rather than a computer as on the TOEFL. There is a short warm up exercise consisting mainly of small talk, followed by a response to some sort of visual stimulus and, finally, a more extended discussion on a related topic.
To have an idea on how the scoring system goes for both tests, the British Council shows the scores and their corresponding description of levels via their official website.