“Should I take TOEFL or IELTS?” and “Which one is better?” seem to be perennial questions of many English language learners. Now before answering these questions, I would like to note that both of them have already been thoroughly answered by dozens of or maybe even hundreds of bloggers. Therefore, in order to avoid a rehash, I’m going to cite two professional opinions to succinctly answer each question and then discuss why I personally prefer IELTS.
Michael Goodine, creator, and author of the website TOEFL Resources asserts that when deciding which test to take, students only need to confirm which test their university requires and then take it (Goodine, 2021). As long as your university of choice only accepts one of the exams, I agree with him: it really is that simple. However, if the university offers you a choice regarding which exam to take—which is fairly common (Studyportals, 2021)—your decision becomes more complicated.
In an article for International House Journal, David Petrie grapples with the interminable debate surrounding TOEFL and IELTS—which one is better? After careful thought, Petrie (2016, para. 8) concludes that “the answer will change depending on the context and the student.” I must admit that while this answer is not as clear as I would like, I nevertheless agree with him. For clarity’s sake, however, I will assume that my reader has a choice about which exam to take and that they want to know how to decide which exam is best for them. To do this, simply consider the following:
If you are a person who has awful spelling, loves reading dense academic texts, enjoys speaking with computers more than real people, and doesn’t mind listening to professors whose speech patterns are reminiscent of machine-gun bursts, then you should take TOEFL.
Whereas, if you are a person who spells pretty well, can read reasonably academic texts, enjoys speaking with humans more than machines, and likes listening tasks that feel fairly life-like, then IELTS is for you.
If Student A’s description fits you best, then TOEFL’s probably the exam for you; conversely, if Student B’s description is more on point, then IELTS is likely better.
The real-life feel of IELTS listening and speaking tasks is what makes it a better test, in my opinion. The English used in these sections is undoubtedly a more accurate reflection of how people really communicate in English.
Finally, I think both TOEFL and IELTS are quality exams. Each one has been and is being subjected to countless trials in order to constantly update and improve its content. In the end, you will, as Petrie said, have to decide which exam is best for you. But if you choose TOEFL over IELTS, be aware that you may become frustrated by the contrived feeling of the speaking and listening sections.