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Choosing an English Proficiency Test: PTE, TOEFL, & IELTS

 This article covers:
  • What is the difference between IELTS, TOEFL, and PTE?
  • Where are IELTS, TOEFL, or PTE tests accepted?
  • What is the IELTS, TOEFL, and PTE exam format?
  • How are IELTS, TOEFL,and PTE exams scored? What is a good IELTS, TOEFL, or PTE score?
  • What are IELTS, TOEFL, and PTE exam fees and costs?

If you’re working with a student looking to study overseas, it’s very likely they will need to complete an English proficiency test. Most English-language schools need students to complete this type of test before applying to study. Test results show how well the student can communicate in English and ensure they won’t have too many challenges during their studies.

There are several different English proficiency tests including IELTS, TOEFL, and PTE. Different schools accept different tests and each test has different key features. That’s why it’s important to know where the student wants to study before helping them choose which test to take. Let’s take a closer look at each test type.

Where Each Test is Accepted

All three major tests are accepted at many English colleges and universities. Over the past few years, many schools have started accepting more test types. However, some schools may not accept online or “at-home” test results. Be sure to check exactly which tests are needed for each school your student wants to apply to.

  • TOEFL: TOEFL tests are often accepted at schools in the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Ireland, and Canada.
  • IELTS: Like TOEFL, IELTS tests are usually accepted at schools in most English-language speaking countries such as Canada, the United States, the UK, and Australia.
  • PTE: PTE tests are often accepted at schools in the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, and Canada. Click here to learn more about the types of PTE tests.

ApplyBoard accepts IELTS, TOEFL, and PTE scores for our applications.


Test Cost

Costs for each test tend to vary from country to country and depending on the specific location your student takes the test. For example, IELTS tests often cost between $200CAD and $350CAD.

For PTE and TOEFL tests, you can offer your students amazing discounts by partnering with ApplyBoard! ApplyBoard has partnered with Pearson and ETS to offer PTE and TOEFL exam vouchers at up to 30% off. An exam voucher is an alphanumeric code that you can buy and then enter during checkout in order to save money on these exams.

Click here to buy discounted vouchers for PTE and TOEFL English proficiency exams.

Length & Format of Test

Each test takes a different length of time, based on the test format.

  • TOEFL: TOEFL iBT tests take around 3 hours to complete. The test is divided into reading (54-72 minutes), listening (41-57 minutes), speaking (17 minutes), and writing (50 minutes). TOEFL tests can be completed on paper or on a computer.
  • IELTS: IELTS tests have a total test time of 2 hours and 45 minutes. The test is divided into listening (30 minutes), reading (60 minutes), writing (60 minutes), and speaking (11-14 minutes). The first three sections are completed together on paper while the speaking test is done separately.
  • PTE Academic: PTE Academic tests are completed in one 2 hour session. The test is divided into speaking & writing (54-67 minutes), reading (29-30 minutes) and listening (30-43 minutes). PTE Academic tests are completed on a computer.

Test Score System

Each English proficiency test uses a different scoring system.

  • TOEFL: Scored on a total scale from 0 to 120, with each section scored between 0 and 30. TOEFL tests are marked by both humans and computers. Most schools require a minimum overall score of 80-90.
  • IELTS: Scored on a scale from 0 to 9. IELTS tests are exclusively marked by humans. Most schools require a minimum overall score of at least 6.
  • PTE Academic: Scored on a scale from 10 to 90. PTE tests are graded by automated systems. Most schools require a minimum overall score of at least 50.

It’s important to note that for competitive programs and schools, higher minimum scores will be needed.

Test Content

While TOEFL and IELTS tests have similar formats, PTE tests have different content. These lists do not include every question type, but give an example of common question formats.

  • TOEFL: The written part of a TOEFL test includes multiple choice, completion, categorization, short answer, and essay questions. The spoken part of the test includes a presentation, a short reading, and two short summaries.
  • IELTS: The written portion of the IELTS test features a variety of multiple choice, matching, completion, short-answer, and essay questions. The spoken portion of the test includes an oral interview with questions and a short presentation.
  • PTE: PTE tests feature multiple choice, short answer, summary, and fill-in-the-blank, and selection questions. PTE tests also feature blended questions that require listening or reading before speaking or writing a response. Click here to read more about PTE tests.

As you help your students prepare, use free online TOEFL, IELTS and PTE practice tests and other preparation resources so they can go into the test with confidence!