IELTS or TOEFL? Which Should You Choose and How To Prepare? - Atlas Academy

IELTS or TOEFL? Which Should You Choose and How To Prepare?

University Applications
Unravel the mystery of IELTS and TOEFL, and learn which test is right for you and the secrets to acing your chosen exam!



Published 2023 05 23

Greetings, intrepid language learners and supportive parents! Are you on the quest to prove your English language prowess for college admissions or career opportunities? The IELTS and TOEFL exams are two popular choices to showcase your English skills. But which test should you choose? And once you’ve made your decision, how do you prepare for success? We’re here to help you navigate these questions and provide expert advice to master your chosen English language test. Let’s embark on this linguistic adventure!

Comparing IELTS and TOEFL

The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) and the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) are both widely recognized English proficiency exams. While both tests assess your reading, listening, speaking, and writing abilities, they have distinct formats, scoring systems, and testing styles. The IELTS is offered in two versions: Academic and General Training, whereas the TOEFL is primarily academic-focused. Additionally, the IELTS is a paper-based exam, while the TOEFL is administered online.

Choosing the Right Test

Determining which test is best for you depends on your personal preferences, strengths, and your target colleges or institutions. Before deciding, research the requirements of your desired colleges, universities, or organizations to ensure they accept your preferred test. Consider taking a diagnostic test for both the IELTS and TOEFL to compare your performance and comfort level. Keep in mind that the IELTS features a one-on-one speaking test with an examiner, while the TOEFL involves speaking into a microphone. Consider your test-taking style and preferences when making your decision.

Mastering the IELTS

Utilize official IELTS practice materials and reputable test prep resources to practice your skills.

To excel in the IELTS, employ these insightful strategies for each section:

  1. Listening: Improve your accent comprehension by exposing yourself to various English accents through podcasts, videos, and radio broadcasts. Practice active listening by taking notes or jotting down keywords while listening to recordings.
  2. Reading: Skim through passages before answering questions to get a general understanding of the content. Practice identifying the main ideas, supporting details, and inferences. Familiarize yourself with different text genres, such as academic articles, newspapers, and literary works. This will also directly help you with the reading sections on the SAT and ACT.
  3. Writing: Develop strong arguments and learn to structure your essays effectively, with clear introductions, coherent body paragraphs, and concise conclusions. Focus on varying your sentence structure and improving your grammar, punctuation, and vocabulary. Use tools like Grammarly and ChatGPT to give you suggestions, and show some final drafts to an Atlas mentor or your English teacher for more constructive feedback.
  4. Speaking: Record yourself speaking on various topics and assess your fluency, pronunciation, and grammar. Practice paraphrasing to demonstrate your ability to express ideas in different ways. Engage in mock interviews with Atlas mentors or friends also taking the test to simulate the one-on-one speaking test with an examiner.

Remember to practice time management, as each section is strictly timed.

Excelling in the TOEFL

To stand out in the TOEFL, consider these expert tips for each section:

  1. Reading: Practice synthesizing information by summarizing passages in your own words. Improve your skimming and scanning skills to quickly locate specific details within the text. Familiarize yourself with the different question types, such as fact/detail, vocabulary, and inference questions.
  2. Listening: Strengthen your note-taking skills to capture key information from lectures and conversations. Pay attention to transitions and signpost words that indicate the speaker’s main points, examples, or changes in direction.
  3. Speaking: Structure your responses using a clear beginning, middle, and end to present coherent ideas. Develop a mental checklist of key points to cover within the limited response time. Practice speaking under time constraints to become more comfortable with the fast-paced nature of the TOEFL speaking section.
  4. Writing: Focus on crafting well-organized essays with clear thesis statements, topic sentences, and supporting evidence. Enhance your ability to paraphrase and summarize information from reading and listening sources for the integrated writing task. Review feedback from native English speakers or language experts to identify areas for improvement.

As with the IELTS, practice effective time management to navigate the timed sections efficiently, and use reputable resources.

Some Additional Thoughts on Your Preparation

In general, we at Atlas advise against large study groups or paying for group tutoring sessions. This is because in group settings, everyone is forced to move at the pace of the slowest student, which is likely to slow you down. Moreover, often times the tutors and teachers delivering these courses are themselves simply synthesizing and reciting material from official practice guidance and tests, usually only adding to the complexity by creating an additional barrier which is their own lack of understanding when it comes to one topic or another. All in all, in the past, Atlas students have found that identifying the best study materials and simply getting to work by themselves, solving as many practice problems as possible, is the most effective pathway to a high score you’re aiming for.


By understanding the differences between the IELTS and TOEFL and selecting the test that best aligns with your goals and strengths, you’ll be well-equipped to conquer your chosen English language exam. With diligent preparation, ample practice, and unwavering determination, you’ll be one step closer to achieving your academic or professional aspirations. Embrace the challenge, and soon enough, you’ll be celebrating your English language success!


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