Nov 11 19

Explaining the format of exams, their major differences, similarities and many more.

The decision is made: you want to study abroad. The general universities’ requirement is providing a certificate that confirms your knowledge of the language at a sufficient level. The most popular exams, which allow you to prove your level of English, are IELTS and TOEFL. In this article, we’ll discuss both IELTS or TOEFL and analyze major differences between exams.

To begin with, usually, universities accept either IELTS or TOEFL equally, so it is not that important which one you will choose. Both exams test your language skills in four areas: reading, listening, writing and speaking. Additionally, both of them are valid for 2 years. However, they are not completely identical.

TOEFL and IELTS examine not purely your proficiency in the language, but also the ability to take tests and knowledge of a specific form.

IELTS is the abbreviation for International English Language Testing System. There are two types of IELTS exams: IELTS Academic and IELTS General. The first is designed for students planning to study abroad and the second one is for those who plan to migrate to one of the English-speaking countries to obtain residence permits and work. You can pass the IELTS both electronically and on paper, but the paper option is more widespread today. The duration of the exam is 2 hours 45 minutes. When passing the Speaking part, you talk to a real person and your conversation is recorded. The maximum score you can score in IELTS is 9. Depending on the program, you usually should get at least an IELTS score of 6.0 – 7.0 out of 9 to be able to apply to most of the programs.

TOEFL means Test of English as a Foreign Language. Despite the fact that TOEFL also exists in electronic and paper versions, the paper version of the TOEFL test is very rare. Basically, it practices in those regions where there is no access to the Internet (e.g. some poor regions). So the examinee performs all tasks on a specially equipped computer spot during 4,5 hours. The most notable issue about the exam is that the Speaking part is also passed electronically: you record your speech via microphone. Passing the TOEFL, you can get up to 120 points. Usually, it is enough to get 79 – 90 to be accepted by most international education programs.

The specific organization of these 4 examined parts is also in a way different in IELTS and TOEFL, but basically, the tests check your ability to understand and produce both life-related and academic topics. Academic-related themes could be tricky: even if you plan to study, let’s say, management, it is possible that on the exam you have to cope with some biology or physics topics.

Don’t be scared: you just need to be able to catch the sense, even if you have completely no idea about technical details. This is even some sort of a bonus because the preparation for the exam allows you to broaden your ken and improve English by expanding vocabulary. As you prepare, you also begin to understand academic English better, and it will help you when you are admitted to the university and begin to master your program.

It’s very important to arrive at the exam spot early and go in among the first people in the computer room.

There are some tips, which can help you to prepare for this challenge:

  • Understand the structure of the exam. When you know the specifics of the parts and the organization of the test, it reduces the level of stress and minimizes the amount of time to understand the task itself. To do this, take some trial tests (many trial tests 🙂).
  • You should take trial tests not only to understand the structure. They allow you to understand what topics are often found in speaking and writing parts, and based on this you can make useful templates. Forewarned is forearmed.
  • Read academic articles to prepare yourself for reading and writing parts. If you are currently a student, use your library to get access to them. Anyway, the Internet provides a lot of open-source information, for example, ScienceDirect or Popular Science.
  • Train your listening skills, especially the ability to understand academic speech. You can find suitable materials on Ted Talks, YouTube or Coursera.
  • Try to practice tests not in parts, but in its entirety: set the timer and start. You will feel much more confident in a real exam room.

Additionally, I want to share my personal insights about passing TOEFL. The reason for choosing this test was, actually, that there is no need to talk to an unknown person during the speaking part: even a longer exam duration was less terrible for my internal introvert than the ‘opportunity’ to interact with people and create unnecessary stress for myself 🙂.

TOEFL is a marathon, so you really need to train yourself to stay focused for more than 4 hours with just one short break in the middle. Luckily, the structure of the exam and questions is quite repetitive, and the more trial test you take, the more chance that you can guess correct answers even if you don’t know them exactly. So practice is a key here.

It’s very important to arrive at the exam spot early and go in among the first people in the computer room. Everyone starts the exam as soon as he entered the room and find his place. If you enter in the middle or at the end, you have to do other parts of the exam while some people start speaking – and it’s very annoying and distracting. It’s better to be an ‘irritant’ than to complicate the conditions for passing the exam for yourself 🙂.

To pass these tests successfully, you will have to prepare anyway, it is not news. Even if you speak English very well, set aside at least a month (preferably two or three) to prepare. Like most exams, TOEFL and IELTS examine not purely your proficiency in the language, but also the ability to take tests and knowledge of a specific form.

When you get the desired certificate, you need to attach it to a package of documents and send it to each university separately. However, it’s another option, which can help you to save plenty of time: you can upload the necessary documents to your profile on and apply it to all chosen universities in just several clicks.

Your success is our goal!
Good luck!

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