To give you an idea how the different exams compare, here are some of the common CEFR levels and the scores or results that reflect these levels.
|Speaking & Writing|
|Test delivery||Paper-based or computer-based||Computer-based||Computer-based|
|General & Academic||yes||only one exam||yes|
|Duration until you receive your results||paper-based: 13 days|
computer-based: 5-7 days
|10 days||5 days|
|Can I take the test again if I don’t get the result I need?||yes, as often as you want||yes, as often as you want||yes, as often as you want|
|Results valid for how long?||2 years||2 years||2 years|
|Approximate Cost||around €280||around €280||around €300|
Test format - sections
The IELTS Academic exam is structured in 4 parts:
- Listening: 30 minutes. You will listen to four recordings of native speakers. Afterwards, you’ll need to answer 40 questions.
- Academic Reading: 60 minutes. You will read 3 texts, and then you’ll have to answer 40 questions.
- Academic Writing: 60 minutes. There are 2 tasks. For the first one, you have to describe a graph, table, chart or other visual information in your own words. For the second one, you need to write an essay as a response to a point of view, problem, or argument. You need to write in a formal style for both tasks.
- Speaking: 11-14 minutes. There are three parts, during which you will talk with the examiner about yourself, you will describe or express your opinion about a particular topic and end with discussing more abstract ideas or concepts.
The TOEFL® iBT exam has 4 sections:
- Reading: 54 – 72 minutes. You’ll read 3 or 4 passages from academic texts. Then, you’ll need to answer 30-40 questions.
- Listening: 41-57 minutes. You’ll listen to 4 recordings of native speakers, and then you’ll have to answer 28-39 questions.
- Speaking: 17 minutes. 4 tasks. You need to express your opinion on a familiar topic and provide answers based on reading and listening tasks.
- Writing: 50 minutes. There are 2 tasks. You’ll need to write essay responses and support your opinions.
The number of questions in the Reading and Listening sections for TOEFL® varies. Why? Because the number depends on the length, type, and difficulty of the text(s) and audio recording(s).
The PTE Academic or Pearson Test of English has 3 parts:
- Speaking & Writing: 77 – 93 minutes. You’ll have to complete several tasks, including introducing yourself, reading aloud, describing an image, summarising a text, writing an essay, and others.
- Reading: 32 – 40 minutes. You’ll have to complete tasks like filling in the blanks, answering multiple-choice questions, and re-ordering paragraphs.
- Listening: 45 – 57 minutes. You’ll have to answer a series of questions after listening or watching audio or video clips.
The duration of the 3 English tests is similar:
- IELTS Academic: 2 hours and 45 minutes
- TOEFL® iBT: 3 hours for the computer-based test. The revised TOEFL® paper-delivered test takes 2 hours and 25 minutes to complete because it doesn’t include a Speaking part. However, it is only offered in locations where an internet connection is not available.
- PTE Academic: 3 hours
General & Academic
IELTS and PTE offer two different exams, a general and an academic version. The format of the test is more or less the same for both types, but they focus on different topics. Also, the academic IELTS exam is more difficult than the general one because it is aimed at people who would like to go to university where their English needs to be more advanced than in an everyday setting.
Cambridge offers a range of exams without having a specific one for academic purposes. The differences are more about different age groups and for business purposes, but, like in IETLS, they only use different topics which are more appropriate to each exam.
TOEFL only offers one exam which has an academic focus.
Can I take the test again if I don’t get the result I need?
Cambridge and IELTS don’t give specifics on this, but they say that you can take their exams as often as you want. Of course, these exams aren’t offered at a very high frequency so you have to wait for some time until you can take the test again.
TOEFL is a bit more specific as they say that you can take the test every three days.
PTE makes you wait until you have received the results of your last test, which usually happens within 5 business days.
IELTS, TOEFL and PTE are valid and accepted by official institutions like universities or immigration departments around the world for 2 years.