Tuesday, October 2, 2007


I get asked a lot about what English exam is best to take when applying for a license in the US. People who read my blog know that I took the TOEFL iBT for my own licensure application but most people I know take the IELTS.

The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) is administered by ETS, a private nonprofit organization that develops and administers tests for educational measurement and research. The TOEFL and its latest product, the TOEFL iBT, was primarily developed to test English skills of foreign nationals to see if they would be able to communicate effectively in an academic setting in the US. That's why the content of the test simulates situations on campus that potential students would like encounter.

On the other hand, the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is jointly managed by the University of Cambridge ESOL Examinations, British Council and IDP Education Australia. Unlike TOEFL which is geared primarily for an academic setting, IELTS offers two modules: one for academic and the other for non-academic training and immigration purposes.

Although both will test your English language proficiency, they offer different testing techniques and content. US schools and immigration will accept either TOEFL or IELTS scores, but in the UK, Australia, and New Zealand, only the IELTS is recognized.

Both TOEFL and IELTS will measure your English proficiency in four areas: reading, listening, speaking, and writing. However, TOEFL iBT is administered entirely through the computer, while the IELTS Speaking module requires that you talk in-person to an examiner who will evaluate your skills based on questions that you, the examinee, select.

The Speaking module is the bane of most Filipino examinees and most find it comfortable talking to a real person instead of just speaking through a microphone connected to a computer or recording device. This is the reason most reviewers advice examinees to take the IELTS instead of TOEFL iBT.

In my own experience, the TOEFL iBT's Speaking Test was quite daunting. Although the test content or the tasks themselves were not difficult at all to someone who's comfortable using the English language, the anxiety that goes with the preparation when answering a question may become overwhelming. For example, a typical question would have you listen to a conversation between two students. For one of the tasks, you will be asked to summarize the conversation, explain which optional actions were suggested during the conversation, choose which action is best for the student to take, and then explain why this is your choice--all in 40 to 60 seconds. A good answer would use up all the time alloted for the question; too short or too long responses usually get minus points. For this task, you'll only be given 30 seconds to prepare your answer. The time constraint puts pressure on the examinee to answer quickly and groping for words can be disastrous.

I don't have personal experience with IELTS, as I have neither taken it nor answered sample exams on the Internet, so I can't give you an opinion on this test. I would love to have someone who has experience in the IELTS share their comments here so that others would be enlightened as well.

To answer the original quesion of this entry: which is best to take, TOEFL iBT or IELTS. My short answer is: it really depends on which English test is recognized by the country you want to apply for. In the US, both IELTS and TOEFL iBT is accepted by US immigration for Visascreen purposes. In Australia, New Zealand and the UK, IELTS is recognized but not TOEFL. Then, you also have to choose based on your level of English proficiency. If you believe you can hurdle the Speaking and Writing tests in TOEFL, then by all means, go for it. Otherwise, try to gauge yourself by answering sample tests for both IELTS and TOEFL iBT to see where you're most comfortable in.

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Anonymous said...

can i just ask if in TOEFL exam there is a required score in each part... like in speaking what is the required score or in listening,readingand writing...

coz in Phtsical therapy they require a score of 26 in speaking.. is it teh same in Nursing??

especially in state of california

Geoff said...

The same minimum score of 26 in the speaking module is required for nurse applicants. There is no minimum score for each of the other three modules, but if I remember correctly a minimum Total score of about 98 points is needed to pass.

PTs are only allowed to take the TOEFL in the US. IELTS is not accepted.

Bebot said...

Hi Geoff, did your review center for Toefl give you materials like the book and the CD for TOEFL IBt? Thank you

Geoff said...

Where I went for English classes, they don't give out books or CDs. Although they gave some materials about the tests itself--overview, what to expect, those kind.

You have to buy the books yourself.

pat said...

hi geoff, do you know the recipient code of cgfns visascreen? i dont know how to put cgfns visascreen as my score recipient. when I search cgfns the result was cgfns institution and the zipcode is different from the visascreen address. tnx

pat said...

hi geoff. please ignore my previous post, i already saw the recipient code. its 9988! thanks..

Anonymous said...

hi geoff!... i would like to ask if it is possible for me to take ielts instead of toefl? because im planning to apply in Illinois..and toefl is the only english exam they accept in that state. but for visa screen application it can be either ielts or toefl....and i prefer taking ielts since they say that its easier than toefl...can you help me decide what to take?thanx....

Geoff said...

Yes, you can take IELTS instead of TOEFL. This TOEFL requirement is waived if the medium of instruction in your school is English.

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