The International English Language Testing System (IELTS), Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) and the Pearson Test of English (PTE) are three widely-accepted standardized tests measuring English language ability for non-native English speakers. What is the difference between them?

Before you dive into IELTS prep, let’s take a look at the difference between IELTS Academic, TOEFL and PTE Academic.

IELTS Academic vs TOEFL vs PTE Academic  

 IELTS AcademicTOEFLPTE Academic
Duration2 hours 45 minutes3 hoursAbout 3 hours
TypePaper test, or computer test in select locations around the world.Computer testComputer test
Score Range0-90-12010-90
Score Validity2 years2 years2 years
Sections1. Listening
2. Reading
3. Writing
4. Speaking
1. Listening
2. Reading
3. Writing
4. Speaking
1. Speaking and Writing
2. Reading
3. Listening

Detailed difference in assessing four skills

From the chart above, we can see that IELTS Academic, PTE Academic and TOEFL assess takers all of the four skills. Here are the detailed difference of the four sections in these tests.

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IELTS Academic ListeningTOEFL ListeningPTA Academic Listening
Length: 40 minutes

Content: 1 social conversations, 1 social speech, 1 academic conversation, and 1 academic speech.

Accent: Mostly British accent
Length: 41-57 minutes (standard time is 41 minutes)

Content: 3-4 lectures, 6 questions each (standard length of 3 lectures)

Accent: Mostly North American accent.
Length: 45-60 minutes

Content: 8 recordings in academic settings

Accent: A variety of accents


IELTS Academic ReadingTOEFL ReadingPTE Academic Reading
Length: 60 minutes

Content: 3 academic passages
Length: 54-72 minutes (standard time 54 minutes)

Content: 3-4 passages (standard length of 3 passages)
Length: 30-40 minutes

Content: 5 academic passages


IELTS Academic WritingTOEFL WritingPTE Academic Writing
Length: 60 minutes

A. Describe information in a table, graph, chart, or diagram

B. Write an argument discussing a given topic
Length: 50 minutes


A. After reading a passage and listening to a speaker discuss it, write a summary

B. Write an academic essay on a given topic
Length: About 40 minutes


A. After reading a text, write a one sentence summary of the passage

B. Write an essay on a given topic


IELTS Academic SpeakingTOEFL SpeakingPTE Academic Speaking
Length: about 15 minutes

Type: Face to face interview

Content: Conversation about daily topics, personal speech about a given topic, and discussion with examiner about the topic
Length: 17 minutes

Type: Record on a computer

Content: Answer questions about familiar topics, based on listening prompts, and based on both reading and listening
Length: About 40 minutes

Type: Record on a computer

Content: Personal introduction, read aloud, repeat sentence, describe image, re-tell lecture, and answer questions

IELTS General and PTE General

Both IELTS Academic test and PTE Academic test are designed for students who want to study in English speaking countries. The IELTS and the PTE also have a general test for people who want to work or live in those countries.

The format and content of IELTS General is slightly different from that of IELTS Academic.  (Check out the difference between IELTS Academic and IELTS General. )

Unlike PTE Academic, PTE General consists of a written paper and a spoken test which is marked by examiners. The content of PTE General assesses takers’ communicative language ability because it is based on real life settings and materials.

Based on these differences between IELTS, TOEFL and PTE, choose the one suits your need and work hard for it!

UPDATE: Although the IELTS is primarily available on paper, it is also available as a computer-based test in some parts of the world. If you have access to the computer-based IELTS, then you should compare the IELTS computer interface to the TOEFL iBT one. From there, consider which one you are most comfortable with.


By the way, improve your IELTS score with Magoosh!

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  • Kuangyan

    Kuangyan creates IELTS blogs at Magoosh. She is passionate about language education and has a MA in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages from New York University. Kuangyan has experience of teaching English both in China and in US. In her free time, she drinks mocha, does yoga, takes photos and travels to different places to explore the exciting world.

3 Responses to IELTS vs TOEFL vs PTE

  1. Anil November 4, 2016 at 5:00 am # is excellent site to practice PTE exams, they have one sample test which is free and another two tests for very minimal cost… it is like real time test.. it helped me a lot to crack my PTE socre.

  2. An December 10, 2018 at 6:08 am #

    I want to keep this brief and useful and share with you what I wish I had known. If you don’t believe any of this, fine I don’t care. Don’t ruin it for the people that are wise enough to believe the truth. Thanks. TL:DR at the end.

    This is for Australia and their standards, if you are looking into anything else then consider these just extra info (not sure about what you need or how yours works).

    About me: I’ve got exceptional English skills. Even compared to native speakers. Why? Not only do I speak the language with complete fluency, I cherish my English knowledge and have honed it for the better part of the past 30 years every chance I could. Add to that that in my late teens and early 20s thanks to my hobbies I spent a lot of time in front of a microphone and learned how to speak in a clear an concise way under the pressure of being evaluated observed and critiqued (so stage, radio, tv etc. you name it),a lot of this done in English. If you don’t believe me fine consider me a troll on the Internet and keep moving. If you do however, the bad news is that if anyone could have confidence going into a language exam it is I. The only thing that isn’t that strong is spelling. I’d call it better than average. I would assume I spell about as well as any “average” English speaker with a master’s degree in some random field. No better, no worse.

    I needed a “superior English” score, and I’ve taken IELTs Toefl iBT and PTE-A as well, and here is my experience:

    IELTS Academic: it’s an antiquated incorrect and more likely than not corrupt system of testing. They pretend to be very strict with their rules and processes, but the fact that you are only allowed to write by hand and in pencil tells me a whole lot about them. 3 years ago I took a “let’s gauge how these work” test with them and I got 9.0 on 3 modules and 7.5 on writing. Then this summer I was tutored / prepped by one of their teachers (the gentleman is professor in either Oxford or Cambridge, an English literature professor none the less…) he teaches the official prep courses for them. When I was submitting essays to him as practice he said that my essays are what he expects people to produce if they want top marks in his courses. I felt ready. I went in, again I got 7.5 on writing (and 9.0 on other modules). IELTs is a sham. It’s a crapshoot at best. It is unprofessional (they couldn’t start the listening module, as they had forgotten to do a sound check etc.) I spoke to the person on the phone running their operations in the country I lived and agreed with them that it’s best I go take another test, as they are incapable of properly assessing someones knowledge of English, or proper follow up: you are barred from checking your exam etc. You can ask for a reassessment where they just won’t give you a higher score. I thought at first that in the first exam I got a 7.5 because I wrote a silly opinion on an important policital topic, but it turns out I was more likely than not wrong: Hanlon’s razor. Results take forever to come through (3 weeks?), and like I said have little to do with your knowledge of the English language. Good luck if you have no other option. And you’ll need it because Lord knows that’s what your result will hinge on. The reading in my second exam was excruciatingly hard, they were using about 10 different ancient tribal names to describe intertribal relations and just looking back to which name was which tribe was a lot more difficult. If it were simple like “Mongols, Huns, Mohawks” whatever, names that were familiar it would’ve been a lot less stressful yet still gauge how well you grasp the English language. Your ability to identify and differentiate between tribe names that have a “click” sound in them as next to nothing to do with your English, yet that is what they expected of us. Also: they screwed up, they couldn’t start the tape recorder, and when I complained even the British Council head of country admitted that I am better off doing a different exam, and boy was she right!!

    TOEFL iBT: this is a much more fair system. You use computers like you would in the 20th century (let alone 21st!). The accents in the audios are much more consistent and easier to grasp, the results come slow (2 weeks-ish) but much more fair. Also you don’t get the feeling they are trying to make it intentionally difficult. They are trying to gauge your abilities and they do a fairly good job. BUT: the results needed for Superior English language are very high (you need a max score in writing). You can get 30 for each of the 4 modules, with a requirement of 30 in writing. I got 28 in writing and max in other modules so overall 118/120 but still wasn’t enough. Their official online tests are fairly useful and they consistently under-call your results, which means if you get the score you need during the online tests, you’re likely to score higher in the real thing. Sort of a buffer, which I liked a lot. I thought it was very fair.

    Pearson’s PTE-A:
    This to me seemed by far the most professional and well organized exam, and the only one where it’s pretty much impossible to cheat and play with your identity (I am sure IELTS is pretty easy to fool, TOEFL isn’t impossible, but PTA…): they ID you by your veins and if you can fake that, then more power to you, but if someone checks in retrospect, it’ll be a difficult one to pull off, even twins couldn’t jump in for each other. Their method is much more simple, fair, objective and easier to prepare for. I cannot recommend the official trial test, get the biggest package available (the one with 3 tests in it) they too consistently under-call your tests results. They didn’t make the exam too easy as one question (part of a type where 99.99% of the time 2 answers are correct) 3 answers were correct… and also one of the questions actually didn’t have a correct answer and I filed an official complaint after the test as per instructions. Anyway I took the test Friday from 2pm to 5pm, and by noon Saturday I had my results: 90/90/90/90. Obviously I was super happy with it.

    Even if you are computer illiterate it’s easier to learn how to type with some efficiency then it is to prepare for IELTS writing. It’ll take you less time. Professional blind typing can be learned in a matter of month or two if you are dedicated, and if you learn that it will give you an edge on the language exam results: you can type down what is said in the lectures verbatim (I do that I type lightning fast) and then just go through them and summarize them etc, it’s very modern, very professional and unless you like to suffer and pay for no good reason choose PTE-A. Not IELTS.

    Take PTE-A, the others are iffy. TOEFL isn’t bad, but PTE-A is much better. IELTS is a travesty and a joke. It’s 2018.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert December 13, 2018 at 9:28 am #

      Thank you for providing your perspective and sharing your experience!

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