MBA applicants whose first language is not English but who want to apply to a business school in an English speaking country are often required to take a standardized test in order to prove their proficiency in the English language. Two standardized tests are generally accepted for this purpose: the TOEFL and the IELTS. But what are the differences between these 2 tests and which one should you take: the TOEFL or IELTS?

ARINGO will try to help you make a decision regarding this by explaining both what these 2 tests have in common and what the differences between them are.

What the TOEFL and the IELTS have in common

Both tests test 4 different main language skills: reading, writing, listening as well as speaking. The cost for taking the test is also similar, as they both cost between $150 and $250 to take, but the price may vary depending on where the test is taken. The score for both tests is valid for 2 years and expires after that time has passed.

Some differences between the tests:


About 4 hours long 2 hours and 45 minutes long
Available at over 500 locations in the US, over 4,500 worldwide Available at 59 locations in the US, about 900 worldwide
Cost is usually between 160 and 200 USD Cost varies widely even within the same country; usually is about 200 USD
Score on a sliding scale from 0 to 120 Score at any of 9 “bands,” or levels of proficiency



The TOEFL focuses on academic English while the IELTS offers both an academic version of the test and a general version of it. However, even the academic version of the IELTS has a more general part for listening and speaking, so many experts say the IELTS has more of a real world feel compared to the TOEFL.

Additionally, test takers who have knowledge mainly in American English may find parts of the vocabulary in the IELTS slightly unfamiliar, while those who have studied British English for the most part may feel the same about the TOEFL.

Differences in the speaking section

The biggest difference between the tests can be found in the speaking section, as this is done by recorder for the TOEFL but in person on the IELTS. That means that you may be asked to clarify your answers in the IELTS, while this is of course not possible for the TOEFL.

The speaking part in the TOEFL requires you to answer 6 questions and lasts for around 20 minutes, while the same part in the IELTS consists of 3 different sections and lasts for around 15 minutes. The sections are: 1. Familiar topics, such as your studies, your job, your family etc. 2. A specified topic that you will have to prepare a monologue about. 3. Questions about part 2 and clarifications related to the monologue given.

Differences in the writing section

There are some noteworthy differences in the writing section as well. Namely, you will be typing everything on a keyboard when taking the TOEFL but when you take the IELTS you will be writing on paper instead.

Differences in the listening section

The listening section in the TOEFL will require you to listen for 60 minutes, while the IELTS will require you to listen for 30 minutes. In order to see if you have understood what you have heard, you will be given multiple choice questions in the TOEFL while the IELTS will have a range of different types of questions for this part, including sentence completion, choosing “True”, “False” or “Not Given” etc.

It is also important to note that the IELTS may include a range of different accents from different English speaking countries, such as Ireland, Scotland, Canada, Australia, Great Britain and the United States but the TOEFL will always be in standard American English.

Differences in the reading section

Again, the TOEFL will only give you multiple choice questions to answer, but a range of different types of questions may show up in the IELTS. Test takers who like multiple choice questions therefore often opt for the TOEFL but there are also a lot of people out there who believe that it is easier to get a high score if there are a range of different questions in the test and therefore prefer the IELTS.

The TOEFL reading material is significantly longer than the IELTS material and therefore it is sometimes suggested that the TOEFL text requires more concentration.

Other things you should know about the tests

Not all business schools will accept both the IELTS and the TOEFL, so if you already know which business school you are applying to, you may want to contact them in order to ask them which one of the two they accept, or if perhaps both are accepted. This information can often be found on the university’s website as well.


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