When it comes to the test race, IELTS (International English Language Testing System) is the clear leader. After all, IELTS has a global footprint with test centres across 140 countries and is recognised and trusted by over 11,000 organisations around the world. IELTS is closely followed by TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language). PTE (Pearson Test of English) is a relative newcomer.
So which one is easier?: We are often asked that question. There’s no straightforward answer, unfortunately. You might want to dig deeper into the different scoring systems to get a better understanding of which one is best suited to you.
Clearly the most popular format in the world, the IELTS test follows a band scoring pattern. Scores are given in “bands” ranging from 0 to 9. A band score is awarded for each of the four parts of the test, namely Reading, Listening, Writing and Speaking, in addition to an overall score.
IELTS band scores are always calculated to the nearest 0.5. So, for example, a band score of 6.75 would be rounded off to 7.
A band score of 9 indicates that a test taker is an expert English speaker, able to converse fluently and with accuracy. A score of 5 means they have basic command over English and are not yet able to handle the complexities of the language.
The oldest test format introduced in 1964, TOEFL also provides scores for reading, writing, listening and speaking. However, that is where its similarity to IELTS ends (other than the fact that IELTS started in 1980).
Each section of the TOEFL test is marked from 0 to 30, which means a test taker can potentially score 120 marks overall. Unlike IELTS, your TOEFL score is not rounded off to the nearest 0.5. There are, however, raw scores and scaled scores.
Raw scores are what one gets for the number of questions answered in each section. In other words, if there are 34 questions for instance, and a student gets 30 of them correct, his or her raw score would be 30.
Yet that is not what is shown in the report card - instead what a student sees is a scaled score.
Why raw and scaled scores? This is in a spirit of fairness for students who might be taking a slightly more challenging test than others. If they score lower than their counterparts, it would make it seem as though their English skills are not up to par. Scaled scores help to even out the playing field for all.
So in terms of advantage for the test taker, the scoring system of IELTS, which rounds off final scores to the nearest 0.5, has an obvious edge compared to the raw and scaled scores system used by TOEFL.
The newest English language test, PTE Academic arrived in 2009. PTE scoring is based on their own Global Scale of English. It awards scores on a scale from 10 to 90 – 90, of course, representing the highest level of language ability. They claim this pattern of scoring allows students to measure their skills with pinpoint accuracy.
Unlike IELTS, the overall score is not simply calculated as an average of the four skill-based sections - Reading, Listening, Writing and Speaking. Instead, the scoring factors in aspects such as oral and written fluency, pronunciation, spelling and vocabulary. The simplicity and transparency of the IELTS scoring system is perhaps one of the reasons why test takers choose to book IELTS over PTE.
Apart from the scoring system, there are other factors to also consider when booking an English proficiency test.
Paper vs computer
PTE and TOEFL are purely computer-based, whereas IELTS gives you a choice between computer and paper. The freedom to choose is particularly important to some test takers who are more comfortable using a pen instead of a keyboard to write their answers.
Real person vs robot
The Speaking section also varies widely across the three tests.
With IELTS, your spoken English is assessed by a real person, face-to-face in a private room. That means you can ask the examiner questions if something is not clear. With IELTS, you also don’t have to worry that an examiner doesn’t understand your accent as they are trained to work with people from a variety of different backgrounds.
For the PTE and TOEFL speaking components of the test, you will be conversing with a robot into a microphone in a room where other test-takers will be doing the same. Questions and instructions will be pre-recorded. If you’re someone who prefers a more human/personalised interaction, the IELTS test may be better suited to you.
TOEFL offers Multiple-Choice questions, while IELTS and PTE have a combination of both short-answer and multiple-choice questions.
So, there you have it. Choosing a test format is all about your comfort level around others and how you work. We hope this article makes it easier for you to decide. We wish you all the best!