The TOEFL, Test of English as a Foreign Language, is an exam for non-native English speakers who wish to enter a university in the United States. As a teacher of TOEFL prep courses I have seen the exam change over the years going from a paper-based exam to computer based, and now internet based. With each change to the method of testing, there have been various changes to the content and skills tested as well. The current exam is a better measuring tool to ascertain whether a test taker can write, read, listen and speak on a college level in academic courses and take part in classroom situations and campus life.

How are the TOEFL and IELTS Exams Different?

Students often ask me if the IELTS exam is equal to the TOEFL exam, and the answer is “yes and no.” Although both tests can be taken by non-native speakers, the TOEFL is the test that is commonly used for entrance exams at universities and graduate schools. IELTS, on the other hand, is used for immigration reasons in the UK and Canada.

When comparing the formats of Academic IELTS and TOEFL, test takers who want to go on with higher education, should be aware that both exams have four sections: reading, listening, speaking and writing. The TOEFL tests independent and integrated skills where students must provide a written or oral analysis of reading and/or listening material. The subject matter is usually based on academic subjects, whereas the IELTS exam is geared to more real-world topics and; therefore, may be a little easier. However, with that being said, test takers should be sure if the university they are applying to will accept the IELTS as an entrance exam as some programs do not.

Should you take the TOEFL or IELTS?

It is important to do your homework when deciding which test to take. You will have to consider the school, its requirements, and the scores they require and where the tests are offered. Generally, the TOEFL exam lasts 4 hours whereas the IELTS is under 3 hours. The TOEFL is available at over 500 locations in the US and over 4,500 globally and the IELTS in only 59 locations in the US and 900 worldwide. Whether you choose to take the IELTS or the TOEFL test, you will need to prepare for either exam. The rest of this analysis will focus on the TOEFL exam, its sections and best practices for preparing for the test.

How Should You Prepare for the TOEFL Test?

Ideally, if you look at the TOEFL test, you will notice from the subject matter, pictures and prompts that everything on the test is related to college courses and life. This means there are excerpts to read, listen to or write about from college level text books about America history, English literature, science, geology, anthropology and other academic subjects. Therefore, in order to prepare for these skills, it is essential that test takers develop their vocabulary particularly regarding these topics. Reading National Geographic, listening to lectures online and watching educational TV will certainly help. In addition, enrolling in a TOEFL preparation course, purchasing a TOEFL prep book and taking practice tests will increase your success on this exam. This is a vital part of the getting ready for the test. On average I recommend a 3-month course to cover a whole book which includes practice tests.

In addition to formal preparation with a teacher and a book, I recommend exposing yourself to as much English as possible. This means that test takers should practice with native English speakers as much as possible, visit college campuses to experience and learn about college life, as part of the exam has listening and speaking scenarios that relate to campus life. The more exposure one has to American college life, the more one will be able to relate to the topics presented on the test. That is why test takers should plan to take the test far enough in advance to have ample time to really prepare for the exam.

The most overlooked part of the test is the speaking section. It may be more practical to memorize words and improve reading and writing skills, but speaking is the skill that takes special preparation. Feeling confident to efficiently speak on command and being able to process written information into a well thought out oral response while being understood (considering foreign accents), are especially challenging issues for non-native speakers. Preparing for this section is time intensive and needs continuous practice and refinement. Answering questions correctly in the reading section is all good, but it is essential to be able to communicate orally and be understood to get a good score on this part of the test. Therefore, test takers must be aware of this hurdle and work tirelessly to reduce their accents and pronunciation patterns in order to be understood on the speaking sections of the test.

In short, because preparing for the test is so labor intensive, getting a good score on the TOEFL carries a lot of weight. Most programs would welcome a student who does well on it and can prove his/her English proficiency. As I always tell my students, “the worst thing that could happen is you get a high enough score to pass the test and get accepted to a university, but you are not proficient enough in all the areas of the test to keep up with your school work and end up flunking out”. After all, the TOEFL is a test that measures your ability to read, write, understand and speak effectively at an American university.

Excel English Institute will open its next TOEFL course on January 2, 2018. Space is limited, so if you are interested in enrolling in our TOEFL Preparation Program, apply today or call 214-363-1700 to reserve your spot.

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Showing 6 comments
  • tombala

    Hi mates, its fantastic paragraph about tutoringand fully defined, keep it up all
    the time.


    First of all I would like to say terrific blog!

    I had a quick question that I’d like to ask if you do not mind.
    I was curious to know how you center yourself and clear your
    mind before writing. I have had trouble clearing my mind in getting my ideas out.
    I do take pleasure in writing but it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes tend
    to be lost just trying to figure out how to begin.
    Any suggestions or tips? Appreciate it!

    • Excel English

      What an excellent question. I think most people face the same situation. Something that I tell my students is not to focus on the truth so much as answering the question. Sometimes personalizing the question requires deep thinking
      and, therefore, eats up precious time when you are limited to 30 minutes to write an essay response. For example, if the question is “Do you think students should do a year of service after high school and before college?” you may find this question has no impact on your life from which to draw personal experience. The best strategy is to think of the simplest way to answer the question whether it is actually your opinion it or not. For me, the best answer to this question is, “Yes, I agree that students should do a period of service before going to college”. From what I’ve seen in movies and from friends, right off the bat, I can think of three reasons doing a period of service is good: it helps young people become mature, it gives back to the community, and it provides an opportunity for young people to experience a part of life they otherwise would not see or feel. Therefore, even though I didn’t do a period of service myself, it is easier to support a positive response just from common sense.
      In answer to your question, the bottom line is think of your purpose before you begin writing. Your purpose is to write a well crafted and supported essay to communicate your opinion and support it effectively with sound reasons. Your purpose is not to amaze the reader with mind blowing facts and philosophies that will influence the reader. Take the pressure off and just discuss the answer knowing you are just answering the question and giving the reasons why. The reality of how you really feel is secondary. You have a job to do, and you have to get it done, so don’t waste time overthinking your answer.
      Another helpful tip is to review as many independent TOEFL writing questions as you can and prepare short outlines for them. This way, when you are faced with a question, you have already given it some thought and have an outline in your head. The more you think of and prepare answers for the questions on the independent speaking and writing, the easier it will be to formulate your answers with ease and minimal stress. It is hard come up with an answer to a question you have never thought about in a short amount of time. I’ll leave you with this thought: prepare,practice,and pretend. I hope this helps.

  • yuvaprithika

    Thanks for sharing this valuable information with us. Keep on updating.

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  • madhubalan

    I really enjoyed on this article. All the stuff regarding the differences between IELTS and TOEFL are clearly explained. keep on sharing!
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  • Diya

    At some point of time, candidates planning to study or work abroad are sure to face this question. Both the above mentioned tests are popular but few know the actual difference between the two. Thank you for sharing this blog and adding to the knowledge of readers. Keep sharing such informative posts.

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