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17 November 2023

6 minutes read

Understanding CEFR IELTS and TOEFL: A Comprehensive Guide to Scores and Comparisons

Navigating the world of English language proficiency tests is a crucial step for many students and professionals aiming to study or work in an English-speaking environment.

This comprehensive guide focuses on three key systems: the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), the International English Language Testing System (IELTS), and the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). We will explore their scoring systems, compare their formats, and understand how they align with each other.

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Introduction to CEFR, IELTS, and TOEFL

Understanding the acronyms IELTS, TOEFL, and CEFR is essential for anyone planning to study abroad or apply for international opportunities. These systems are benchmarks for assessing English language proficiency and are used by educational institutions, employers, and governments worldwide.

Deciphering the CEFR

The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) is a standard for gauging language proficiency. It categorizes learners into six levels: A1 and A2 (basic users), B1 and B2 (independent users), and C1 and C2 (proficient users).

This framework is used not only for English but for languages across Europe, providing a clear and consistent method for assessing an individual’s language ability.

IELTS and Its Scoring System

The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) assesses a person’s ability in listening, reading, writing, and speaking. With scores ranging from 1 to 9 (band scores), it is widely recognized for university admissions, professional registration, and immigration.

The IELTS test comes in two types: Academic, for those applying for higher education or professional registration, and General Training, for those migrating to Australia, Canada, or the UK, or applying for secondary education, training programs, and work experience in an English-speaking environment.

TOEFL and Its Unique Format

The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) measures the English language ability of non-native speakers. Predominantly internet-based (TOEFL iBT), it includes reading, listening, speaking, and writing sections, with scores ranging from 0 to 120. TOEFL is accepted by more than 10,000 universities and other institutions in over 150 countries.

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Delving Deeper into Language Proficiency Tests

Comparing TOEFL vs. IELTS Scores

TOEFL Score RangeIELTS Band ScoreSkill LevelDescription
0-310-4BasicLimited use of English. Frequent misunderstandings in both spoken and written English.
32-424.5-5ModestBasic competence is limited to familiar situations. Has frequent problems in understanding and expression.
43-595.5-6CompetentGenerally effective command of the language despite some inaccuracies and misunderstandings. Can use and understand fairly complex language, particularly in familiar situations.
60-786.5-7GoodGood command of the language. Occasional inaccuracies, misunderstandings, or inappropriate uses. Handles complex detailed argumentation well.
79-957.5-8Very GoodVery good command of the language. Only occasional unsystematic inaccuracies and inappropriacies. Misunderstandings may occur in unfamiliar situations.
96-1108.5-9ExpertFully operational command of the language. Appropriate, accurate, and fluent with complete understanding.

Mapping Scores to the CEFR

Both IELTS and TOEFL scores can be mapped to CEFR levels. This mapping helps in understanding how these scores translate into the broader framework of language proficiency used across Europe. For instance, an IELTS score of 6.5 (competent user) is roughly equivalent to a CEFR level of B2-C1.

TOEFL iBT vs. IELTS Academic

Comparison FactorTOEFL iBTIELTS Academic
Test FormatPrimarily internet-based with reading, listening, speaking, and writing sections. Speaking done via computer.Paper-based or computer-based test with listening, reading, writing, and a unique face-to-face speaking test.
Scoring SystemScored on a scale of 0-120, with each section out of 30.Band scores from 1 to 9 for each section, with an overall average score.
DurationApproximately 3 hours.Roughly 2 hours and 45 minutes.
Speaking TestSpeaking responses are recorded and assessed by evaluators.Conducted as a live, face-to-face interview with an examiner.
Writing SectionTwo tasks: an integrated task (reading, listening, and then writing) and an independent writing task.Two tasks: describing a chart or diagram, and responding to an argument or point of view.
Reading Section3-4 passages with 10 questions each, multiple-choice format.3 long passages with a variety of question types, including multiple-choice, fill-in-the-blanks, and short-answer.
Listening SectionInvolves listening to lectures and conversations, followed by answering questions.Comprises four recorded monologues and conversations.
Test AvailabilityOffered over 50 times a year at authorized centers.Available on 48 fixed dates a year, up to 4 times a month depending on the center.
CostVaries by country, and generally ranges between $160 – $250.Also varies by country, typically between $215 – $240.
Useful ForOften preferred by American universities and professional institutions.Widely accepted by UK, Australian, Canadian, and New Zealand institutions, as well as thousands of institutions in the USA.
Retake PolicyCan be taken unlimited times, but not more than once in a 3-day period.Can be retaken any number of times, but usually with a recommended waiting period for improvement.
Result Processing TimeScores are available online approximately 10 days after the test date.Results are available 13 days after the test for paper-based and 5-7 days for computer-based tests.
Skill EmphasisEmphasizes understanding and speaking American English.Tests a more diverse range of accents and writing styles, reflecting international English usage.

The Impact of Test Format on Performance

The format of these tests can significantly impact performance. The IELTS speaking section involves a live conversation with an examiner, which some find more natural, while others prefer the recorded responses of the TOEFL.

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Adapting Study Strategies for Different Tests

Preparing for these tests requires tailored strategies. For IELTS, practice in writing by hand and engaging in face-to-face conversations can be beneficial. For TOEFL, becoming comfortable with typing and speaking to a computer is crucial.

The Relevance of Test Scores in University Admissions

University admissions often hinge on these test scores. Higher education institutions set specific score requirements for both TOEFL and IELTS, aligning them with their language proficiency expectations for incoming students.

English Proficiency for Professional Purposes

Beyond academia, IELTS and TOEFL scores are also vital for professional registration and employment in English-speaking countries. They are a testament to an individual’s ability to communicate effectively in a professional English-speaking environment.

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Choosing the Right Test: Factors to Consider

Target Institution or Country Requirements

Applicants should first check the specific requirements of their target institutions or countries. While some universities prefer IELTS, others may require TOEFL scores.

Personal Strengths and Test Format

The choice between tests should also consider personal strengths in language skills. Some may find the structured format of TOEFL more comfortable, while others might excel in the more varied context of IELTS.

Availability and Accessibility of Tests

Availability and accessibility are key factors. Some regions have more test centers for one test over the other, affecting convenience and choice.

Costs and Retake Policies

The cost of these tests and their retake policies should also be considered. Both tests are comparably priced, but retake policies and the frequency of test dates may vary.

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Conclusion: Making an Informed Choice

Choosing between IELTS and TOEFL and understanding their relation to the CEFR requires careful consideration of several factors, including personal strengths, institutional requirements, and test availability.

Regardless of the choice, adequate preparation is essential for achieving the desired scores. Understanding the nuances of each test and how they compare to the CEFR can significantly impact success in academic and professional endeavors in English-speaking environments.

FAQs

Q1. What are CEFR, IELTS, and TOEFL?

CEFR stands for Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, a standard for gauging language proficiency. IELTS (International English Language Testing System) and TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) are tests designed to assess the English language proficiency of non-native speakers for academic and professional purposes.

Q2. What is the difference between IELTS and TOEFL?

IELTS assesses English proficiency through listening, reading, writing, and speaking, with a unique face-to-face speaking test. TOEFL, primarily internet-based, evaluates similar skills but uses a computer for the speaking test. The choice between them often depends on the test format preference and the specific requirements of institutions or countries.

Q3. How are the scores of IELTS and TOEFL compared?

While there is no direct conversion, approximate comparisons exist. For example, an IELTS band score of 6.5 might correspond to a TOEFL score of around 79-93. However, institutions may interpret scores differently.

Q4. How do IELTS and TOEFL scores map to CEFR levels?

IELTS and TOEFL scores can be mapped to the CEFR levels to understand their equivalence in a broader language proficiency context. For instance, an IELTS score of 6.5 is roughly equivalent to a CEFR level of B2-C1.

Q5. Which test should I choose for university admissions: IELTS or TOEFL?

The choice depends on the specific requirements of the university. Some universities prefer IELTS, while others require TOEFL scores. Check the admission criteria of the specific institution you are applying to.

Q6. Are IELTS and TOEFL scores relevant for professional purposes?

Yes, IELTS and TOEFL scores are often required for professional registration and employment in English-speaking countries. They indicate an individual’s ability to communicate effectively in a professional English-speaking environment.

Q7. How should I prepare for IELTS and TOEFL?

Preparation strategies should be tailored to each test. For IELTS, practicing writing by hand and face-to-face conversation is beneficial. For TOEFL, focus on typing and speaking to a computer. Familiarizing yourself with the test format and practicing with sample questions is crucial for both tests.

Q8. What factors should I consider when choosing between IELTS and TOEFL?

Consider the requirements of your target institution or country, your personal strengths in language skills, the availability and accessibility of the tests in your region, and the costs and retake policies of each test.

Q9. Can I use IELTS and TOEFL scores interchangeably?

While some institutions may accept either score, it’s not always interchangeable. Always check the specific requirements of the institution or organization you are applying to.

Q10. How often can I retake IELTS or TOEFL?

Both IELTS and TOEFL can be retaken as many times as needed. However, consider the cost and the frequency of test dates in your region when planning retakes.

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