IELTS General vs PTE:Academic vs TOEFL iBT

Here we are with our third English test review starring TOEFL iBT.

Bookings are made online through the creation of a TOEFL account. When registering for a test, you will need to set date parameters and the results for what is available between those dates will show. There is no full list, but with a little poking I have discovered that there are about a handful of test centres in Sydney. These test centres do not consistently host the TOEFL iBT however, and you are unlikely to see the full range of them for any date range. The system features online payment.

The TOEFL iBT is a fully computerised test. Having been through both the IELTS: General and PTE: Academic tests already, and armed with my experience with a digitalised format through the PTE, I did not think that the TOEFL iBT would be able to surprise me much. I was both right and wrong.

Like all the rest of the approved tests, the TOEFL iBT features four modules – writing, reading, listening and speaking. As far as the questions go, the approach has differed with each test, but the ultimate aim is a constant – how functional is your grasp of the English language? Do you understand context? Do you understand the nuance in different but similar words and phrases? Are you able to appropriately respond? Whilst a broader vocabulary and good grammar would undoubted work in your favor, most of the questions are multiple choice and only require straightforward answers. The test itself did not bring much that was new to the table.

Similar to the PTE, you are provided with headphones to complete your listening and speaking modules. Instructions appear before each section. You are provided with scrap paper for notes if you wish to take them. You are given time to formulate your answers before speaking questions.

Here is where the TOEFL iBT test deviates from the others. I had arrived a half hour early for the test, as is indicated that you should in your confirmation email, and discovered that they admit people into the exam room as soon as the identity and security checks have been cleared. Every examinee will have a different start time.

I was relieved of my passport and handed a form to fill along with keys to a locker. Outside the basics, the form required that you copy a terms and conditions clause to make sure it would not be overlooked. It was also remarked that my jacket looked too warm, and I was warned that if I were to take it off, the invigilators would have to remove my jacket entirely from the exam room. At this point I was thinking that the security thing, important as it is, was getting a little silly.

What took the cake was the pre-check before the exam room. Your photo is taken, standard. Personal details and passport checked, standard. Being scanned with a metal detector, turning out all our pockets (no easy feat with you have tight jeans on), lifting the cuffs of your sleeves and jeans, not so standard. This entire check is repeated when you re-enter the exam room after a compulsory short break. The process just seems far too pedantic for an English test.


Here are my tips:

  • You arrive early, you start early. This means you don’t have to listen to people talking when you start on your speaking section. Do it.
  • Enunciate, you’re being assessed through recordings
  • Don’t look too warm (I kid)

But what we really need to talk about is what went wrong. The sound conked out during my listening test. I notified the invigilators, who sat outside, with frantic waving of hands and was asked to leave the exam room. A call was made to the headquarters while I waited, my test left running, that meant unanswered questions from time run out. Eventually I was returned to my seat after the airport level security check. Sound was still on strike.

At the end of the whole thing I was assured that the glitch had been reported and to wait to be contacted. I was never contacted and received my results 12 calendar days after I sat the test. I just cannot consider the results fair, and I find it difficult to accept such unfairness on such a substantial outlay! I’ve contacted TOEFL but it has been a week and there has been no response, and feel rather neglected.


So here are my TOEFL iBT scores:

*TOEFL iBT scores range from a minimum of 0 to a maximum of 30


Here are the previous test scores:

IELTS (General)     Listening 9.0       Reading 8.5       Speaking 9.0       Writing 7.5

*IELTS scores range from a minimum of 1.0 to a maximum of 9.0

PTE (Academic)      Listening  90       Reading  90       Speaking  66       Writing  90

*PTE Scores range from a minimum of 10 to a maximum of 90

This exercise has made me question my command of the English language, but English is not bound by rules the same way math is, and I’ve realised how fickle performance in an exam can be. So don’t beat yourself up if you’ve taken the test a few times and have always had a module or two that has disappointed you. Pick the format you like (IELTS for traditional and PTE:Academic for digital) and if you’re relatively unfamiliar with the language, don’t go memorise a dictionary! Speaking and reading more is your answer.


I took the TOEFL iBT test  at the ITIC test centre. It cost $300 AUD.

Ease of booking                              4.0

Test date/time options                   4.0

Convenience of test centres           4.5

Clarity of instructions                    3.5
Test result lead time                       3.5

*These ratings are personal and relative to the other tests. They are scored out of 5.0.


Emma Natalie H