Are you an international student thinking of continuing your studies overseas in the UK or US? If you answered ‘yes,’ you will probably have to complete an English proficiency exam. Most schools require international students to submit these scores as part of their application, particularly if English is not their native language. But with so many different exams available to you, it’s difficult to choose the right one. That’s why we’re taking an in-depth look at the three major options – Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), International English Language Testing System (IELTS), and Pearson Test of English (PTE) – to find out what the differences are so that you can determine which is the right option for you.

Acceptance & Availability

It may seem obvious, but the first considerations should always be which English proficiency tests are accepted by your school of choice and which of these are available in your area. The type of test that is accepted may also vary from country to country, so make sure you do your research properly. Then choose the option that is most convenient for you, with a testing facility nearby.



Do you struggle to concentrate for long periods of time? Does the length of an exam have an impact on your performance? Not all English proficiency exams are the same length. The TOEFL, for example, usually takes four hours to complete, making it by far the longest of the three options. The PTE generally takes three hours and the IELTS comes in as the shortest, taking only two hours and 45 minutes, which can be split over two days.


If you’re the type of person who likes to ruminate on questions and then go back to answer them later, the PTE is probably not for you. With this exam, each section is allocated specific time limits and you’re not able to go backwards. The time frames for the spoken answers in particular are quite tight. Plus, if you start recording a response but stumble over your words, you simply have to continue, as there is no option to pause or re-record. This can make the PTE a real challenge for people who suffer from exam-related anxiety. The IELTS, on the other hand, only has set time for each paper, allowing you to go backwards and forwards as you wish.


When it comes to costs, there isn’t much difference. All three exams are within the same general price range (roughly USD 200-300). That said, prices vary in different locations, so if you’re on a tight budget make sure you do the research to find out the cheapest option for you.

Scoring System


One of the major differences between the exams is the way in which they are scored. The IELTS is exclusively scored by humans, whereas the TOEFL is scored by humans and an automated scoring system. The PTE is unique in that it relies on automated scoring for all its sections, with no human involvement at all. You may prefer having a real person interpret your answers, or perhaps you feel that an automated system is a fairer way to be scored. Do you get intimidated in face-to-face meetings? Whatever your preference, it’s good to understand the options that are available to you so you can make the best decision possible.


Although all three tests will focus on your abilities to listen, speak, read and write in English, the way they go about it is slightly different. The TOEFL follows an American test template and consists of two essays, six spoken responses and a multiple-choice section. The IELTS is similar with two essays, a multiple-choice section and a spoken interview. But the newest of the three tests, the PTE, is somewhat different as it includes just one essay and nearly twenty different types of questions and tasks.



Do you have a tight deadline for your application? Then it’s important to consider the time it will take to get your exam results. With the PTE exam, you can expect your results in just five days, whereas with TOEFL and IELTS you’ll have to wait at least 10 days, with the printed score reports mailed to you 13 days after your test date.

If you’re already feeling overwhelmed at the thought of having to take an English proficiency exam, stop stressing. There are plenty of language schools around the world that offer classes to help prepare you for these tests, easing you through the process and helping you develop the skills you’ll need to improve your spoken and written English, and ace your test. Don’t know where to start? Take a look at the following recommended schools from around the world:

If you wish to learn more about English language tests in order to become eligible to Study abroad 2019, get in touch with us and our advisors will rightly inform you on the test you will need to take for your chosen study abroad destination.