PTE VS IELTS VS TOEFL: Differences and similarities

Boundaries are slowly becoming a thing of the past. The forces of globalization and liberalization are opening up the world to everyone. Borders are no longer something that threatens you but the gateways to different experiences. Today, people move around the world in search of better education, better jobs, different lifestyles, and different cultural experiences. 

Cross border movements have played a major role in the evolution of the world’s largest democracy as well. From our colonial history to modern-day migration in search of greener lands, our country has so many stories to tell about crossing boundaries. In fact, around 17 million Indians live outside the country. 

Last decade saw a steep increase in the number of Indians who opt for education abroad. But to secure an admission, you’ve to meet the eligibility criteria set by the university you apply to. The first hurdle before a non-native English speaker to avail admission in an English speaking country is the English language proficiency test. The most common English language proficiency tests in India are TOEFL, IELTS, and PTE. Let’s get to know a little better about these three tests.

What is TOEFL?

Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) is the oldest of the three. It was developed by the Educational testing service (ETS). This English language proficiency test assesses a non-native English speaker’s language ability on the domains of listening, reading, writing and speaking. This is one of the most popular English Language proficiency tests in the world and is accepted by over 10000 universities and other institutions across 150 countries. 

There are two types of TOEFL tests. TOEFL iBT and TOEFL PBT. While TOEFL IBT is internet-based, TOEFL PBT is paper-based. TOEFL iBT has a higher level of acceptance in most foreign universities. TOEFL PBT is conducted only in regions where internet facilities are not available. Due to such limitations, speaking test is not a part of TOEFL PBT. Only TOEFL iBT is available in India.

One can apply for TOEFL online by logging into the Education Testing Service (ETS) website. Though there are more than 4500 TOEFL test locations around the world, the slots get filled up fast due to its popularity. So, if you’re up for it, hurry and grab the best seat for the next available show.

What is IELTS?

You’ve heard this name somewhere. Maybe it’s that aunt who has her son studying in the USA or the career guru uncle who bugs you all the time with career advice. Yes, Indian career freaks frequently use this term nowadays. Whether they know this or not, the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is the most popular English language proficiency test in India. 

Just like TOEFL, its scores are accepted by almost all reputed foreign institutions around the world as proof of English language proficiency. Currently, around 10,000 universities spread over 140 countries consider IELTS scores for admissions. The test which is jointly managed by the British Council, IDP, IELTS Australia, and Cambridge Assessment English holds a high reputation in almost all countries that speak the Queen’s English and is also accepted by countries like New Zealand and the United States.

A paper-based test is the most common version of IELTS tests. It usually has four sections. Namely, listening section, reading section, writing section and speaking section. The speaking section is conducted separately as face to face interviews. Two types of IELTS tests are available in India. IELTS Academic and IELTS General. IELTS academic is for the candidates who want to study abroad while IELTS General is taken by those who are going abroad for work. 

What is PTE?

Pearson Standard Test or PTE is the newbie in town. It was launched only in 2009 by Pearson inc. Just Like IELTS, PTE also conducts separate exams for those who are looking for education abroad and those who are going abroad for other reasons. 

It is a Computer-based test and like the other two, measures an individual’s language proficiency on the domains of listening, reading, writing and speaking. The test uses scenario-based exams and is administered by Edexcel. PTE has fewer test centers compared to the other two and you might find it hard to grab a slot if not booked early.

Even with these limitations, the cub was never shy to get into the business.  PTE is quickly gaining popularity around the world. You want to know how quick? The test is now accepted by around 5000 universities in over 50 countries and is also considered for Visa purposes to Australia and Newzealand. Graduate Management admission council endorses PTE academics and prestigious universities like London Business School (UK), Harvard Business School, Stanford Graduate School of Business, and Yale University accepts the PTE scores for admissions. Did that ring bells inside your head?

So, that was my sneak peek into the three most common language proficiency tests. Now, you’ve a brief idea of what these three tests are. But which one is better for you? Let’s compare them and find out.

PTE VS IELTS VS TOEFL: Test format

All three tests have the same purpose. They assess a student’s listening, speaking, reading, and writing ability in English. But there are differences as well. While IELTS and TOEFL have four different sections, PTE combines speaking and writing sections together.  

TOEFL follows the typical American style examination pattern with two essays, 6 brief spoken responses, and lots of multiple-choice questions. Even IELTS has a similar pattern. But the newbie, PTE don’t follow the traditional way and avoids standardized patterns. It has one essay and nearly twenty different types of questions and tasks. 

Also, IELTS uses face to face conversations for the speaking test while both PTE and TOEFL records speech using a microphone.

PTE VS IELTS VS TOEFL: Acceptance

Both TOEFL and IELTS are widely accepted. While TOEFL has an upper hand in US and other North American countries, IELTS is heavily favored by countries that speak the Queen’s English. Both the tests are accepted by over 10000 universities in over 100 countries. 

PTE is quickly catching up. But it’s still not accepted in many places. Though almost 5000 universities across 50 countries consider PTE scores, it’s not yet a safe bet like the other two. 

PTE VS IELTS VS TOEFL: Cost 

Let’s say all three tests costs almost the same. In India, IELTS will charge you Rs 13250 while it is Rs 13300 for PTE. The cheaper option among the three is TOEFL and that costs Rs 12750 in India. No much difference! So, better forget your pocket while making the choice. Anyway, this is not going to break the bank for someone who can afford education abroad. 

PTE VS IELTS VS TOEFL: Evaluation

Let’s say it’s the human versus computer comparison. For IELTS, a human examiner will evaluate you. While in PTE, the computer does all the job. In TOEFL, there are human raters, but it uses artificial intelligence as well. 

For IELTS, the speaking section is a conversation with a certified examiner. While in both TOEFL and PTE, you speak to a microphone which records your speech. While the computers grade you on the basis of the audio in PTE, multiple examiners listen to the recordings in TOEFL to grade your performance. Though computer-based evaluation can help in eliminating personal bias, it can cause problems with accents for non-native English speakers. 

PTE VS IELTS VS TOEFL: Duration

TOEFL takes a lot of time. You’ll have to spend a good 4 hours on it. Though IELTS takes less time, approximately 2 hours and 45 minutes,  the speaking section is conducted on a later date. So, it’s only fair to say IELTS takes 2 days. PTE takes less than 3 hours. So, if you go by time, PTE is the shortest.

PTE VS IELTS VS TOEFL: Score comparison and result duration

You won’t have to wait much for PTE results. It hardly takes 5 days. So, if you’re on a tight schedule, it’s the safest choice. That doesn’t mean the other two will take ages to announce the results. IELTS releases the result in 13 days and TOEFL does it in 10 days.

IELTS grades the candidate on a 9 point scale. The results won’t be in detail or separately for different sections. TOEFL and PTE results are much more in detail. While TOEFL uses a 120 point band, PTE uses a 90 point scale.

PTE VS IELTS VS TOEFL: Frequency and validity

All three tests happen frequently. IELTS happens around 4-5 times every month in all major test centers. TOEFL has 50 test dates per year. Even PTE happens very often. 

TOEFL is available in 4,500 centers in 165 countries, while the IELTS has 1,100 centers across 140 countries. PTE has comparatively less number of test centers and is available only at 250 locations in 50 countries. 

The scores of all three tests are valid for two years. But a candidate can reappear for the exam within the validity period if he or she wishes to improve the score.

PTE VS IELTS VS TOEFL: Which is easier?

Now, the million-dollar question. Which one among the three is easier? I will say it depends on the individual.

PTE generally takes less time when compared to the other two. Also, it doesn’t have long essays and is fully a computer-based test. This makes many people think that PTE is easier. But on the other side, the same reasons can chase you like a dead duck. Most questions in PTE cannot be repeated and the time slot for answers is very short. This can cause difficulty for people with test anxiety, or the ones who are not confident about their speaking and listening skills.

Moreover, it can cause discomfort for candidates who are not used to the native speaker’s accent. You might get a lower grade if the computer finds your accent incomprehensible. And also, PTE uses highly accented real lectures for the learning sections. Non-native-English speakers might find this difficult to understand. 

On the other hand, TOEFL or IELTS will have a series of questions. While it’s more about drag and drop questions or short answers for TOEFL, IELTS will require you to come up with your own content. Thus, IELTS can become a real hell for candidates who are not good with writing. In fact, the essay type questions will test your writing as well as sentence structuring skills. As it’s paper-based, personal bias can affect the results. The speaking section in IELTS demands you to indulge in face to face conversations. This won’t be a pleasant experience for non-conversationalists. But on the other hand, it gives you enough time to express yourself and also shows you the questions beforehand for the listening section.

 TOEFL is more of straight-forward questions and won’t test your writing skills. As it’s partly computer-based, you don’t have to indulge in face to face conversations. But at the same time, this can be time-consuming.

Conclusion

TOEFL, IELTS, and PTE are the most popular English language proficiency tests available in India. While IELTS and TOEFL are accepted by almost all reputed institutions in the world, PTE is still a newbie in the town. The choice should depend on an Individual’s needs and preferences.  I hope the illustrated analysis have powered up your insights and have widened your perspectives.

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