Let’s compare the English language tests

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english test comparisonToday we’re going to compare the four English language test most migrants take – the IELTS General and Academic, the PTE Academic, and the TOEFL iBT – by doing a side-by-side comparison of these three sections of the tests:

  • Test overview
  • The parts of the test
  • How long it takes to get your test results

This comparison will not only help you understand the differences between the tests, it will also familiarise you with each of these four tests.

Let’s get started:

Test overview

In the test overview, we give you a short description of what each test assess and how it’s done.

IELTS General and IELTS Academic:

The IELTS tests assess your abilities in listening, reading, writing and speaking – in less than three hours. The Listening, Reading and Writing sections of all IELTS tests are completed on the same day, with no breaks in between them. The Speaking section, however, can be completed up to a week before or after the other tests. Your test centre will advise.

PTE Academic:

PTE Academic assesses listening, reading, speaking and writing all via computer in a single three hour test session. To complete a PTE Academic test, you will need to attend a secure Pearson test center. You will use a computer and headset to listen to, read and respond to questions.


The TOEFL iBT test measures your ability to use and understand English at the university level. It also evaluates how well you combine your reading, listening, speaking, and writing skills to perform academic tasks. The TOEFL iBT test is given in English and administered via the internet. It takes about 3 hours total for the 4 sections of the test (Reading, Listening, Speaking, and Writing).

Test format

All four English language tests assess your speaking, writing, reading and listening skills. However, the PTE Academic test assess your speaking and writing skills in one session while the other English tests assess each skill in an individual session.

Part 1

IELTS General and IELTS Academic: Listening (30 min):

You’ll listen to four recordings of native English speakers and then write your answers to a series of questions. Assessors will be looking for evidence of your ability to understand the main ideas and detailed factual information, the opinions and attitudes of speakers, the purpose of an utterance and evidence of your ability to follow the development of ideas.

PTE Academic: Speaking & Writing (77 – 93 min):

  • Personal introduction
  • Read aloud
  • Repeat sentence
  • Describe image
  • Re-tell lecture
  • Answer short question
  • Summarize written text
  • Essay (20 mins)

TOEFL iBT: Reading: (54 – 72 min):

You’ll read three or four passages from academic texts and answer 30 to 40 questions.

Part 2

IELTS General and IELTS Academic: Reading (60 min):

The Reading section consists of 40 questions, designed to test a wide range of reading skills. These include reading for gist, reading for main ideas, reading for detail, skimming, understanding logical argument and recognising writers’ opinions, attitudes and purpose.

  • General: Reading material includes extracts from books, magazines, newspapers, notices, advertisements, company handbooks and guidelines. These are materials you’re likely to encounter on a daily basis in an English-speaking environment.
  • Academic: Reading material includes three long texts which range from the descriptive and factual to the discursive and analytical. These are taken from books, journals, magazines and newspapers.

PTE Academic: Reading (32 – 40 min):

  • Reading & writing: Fill in the blanks
  • Multiple choice, choose multiple answers
  • Re-order paragraphs
  • Reading: Fill in the blanks
  • Multiple choice, choose single answer

TOEFL iBT: Listening (41 – 57 min):

You’ll listen to lectures, classroom discussions and conversations, then answer 28 – 39 questions.

Part 3

IELTS General: Writing (60 min):

Topics are of general interest. There are two tasks:

  • Task 1: You’ll be presented with a situation and asked to write a letter requesting information, or explaining the situation. The letter may be personal, semi-formal or formal in style.
  • Task 2: You’ll be asked to write an essay in response to a point of view, argument or problem. The essay can be fairly personal in style.

IELTS Academic: Writing (60 min):

Topics are of general interest to, and suitable for, test takers entering undergraduate and postgraduate studies or seeking professional registration. There are two tasks:

  • Task 1: You’ll be presented with a graph, table, chart or diagram and asked to describe, summarise or explain the information in your own words. You may be asked to describe and explain data, describe the stages of a process, how something works or describe an object or event.
  • Task 2: You’ll be asked to write an essay in response to a point of view, argument or problem. Responses to both tasks must be in a formal style.

PTE Academic: Listening (45 – 75 min):

  • Summarise spoken text
  • Multiple choice, choose multiple answer
  • Fill in the blanks
  • Highlight correct summary
  • Multiple choice, choose single answer
  • Select missing word
  • Highlight incorrect words
  • Write from dictation

TOEFL iBT: Speaking (41 – 57 min):

Express an opinion on a familiar topic; speak based on reading and listening tasks. You’ll complete four tasks in total.

Part 4 – Only applies to IELTS and TOEFL iBT

IETLS General and IELTS Academic: Speaking (11 – 14 min):

The speaking section assess your use of spoken English. Every test is recorded.

  • Task 1: The examiner will ask you general questions about yourself and a range of familiar topics, such as home, family, work, studies and interests. This part lasts between four and five minutes.
  • Task 2: You will be given a card which asks you to talk about a particular topic. You will have one minute to prepare before speaking for up to two minutes. The examiner will then ask one or two questions on the same topic.
  • Task 3: You will be asked further questions about the topic in Task 2. These will give you the opportunity to discuss more abstract ideas and issues. This part of the test lasts between four and five minutes.

TOEFL iBT: Writing (50 min):

You’ll have to write essay responses based on reading and listening tasks, and support an opinion in writing.

When do you get your results?

Waiting for the results on such an important test is nerve-racking! It helps to know for how long you’ll have to wait. Here we break down the time frames:

IELTS General and IELTS Academic:

If you’ve taken a paper-based test, your Test Report Form will be available 13 days after you complete the test, but if you’ve taken a computer-delivered test, your results will be available between 5 and 7 days after your test.

PTE Academic

PTE Academic results are typically available within five business days.


Score reports are available and can be viewed online in your TOEFL iBT account approximately six days after your test date. If you requested a paper copy, it will be mailed to you roundabout 11 days after your test date.

For even more information on each test, go to the individual websites:

Want to know which test you should take?

Our immigration consultants advise on English language tests during the assessment process. You’ll find out if you have to take an English test and which English test is best for your situation.

The first step is a consultation call to see if you are eligible for immigration to New Zealand. Should our advisor find that you are eligible, you can proceed with your visa application.

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