English proficiency tests that students are required to take in order to study in universities abroad require much more than a knowledge of English. They require overcoming your apprehensions. And the best way to do that is to know what the tests are about. Tehreem Azeem lays down the details diligently.

f you are planning to go abroad for higher studies, chances are you would either be taking IELTS or TOEFL exam depending on the country you are planning to head to. IELTS is majorly accepted in UK, Australia, Canada, and Europe, while TOEFL is accepted in the US and neighboring countries. However, most universities in America accepts IELTS too so, don’t worry if you have taken only IELTS. IELTS and TOEFL exams are two of the most widely accepted English proficiency exams around the world. Both have a different test structure, approach and are accepted across the world.

IELTS is an abbreviation for International English Language Testing System. It is available in two formats: IELTS Academic and IELTS General Training. IELTS Academic is for those who are planning to study at a higher education level abroad and IELTS General Training is for those who are applying for immigration or jobs abroad. In this piece, we will focus on IELTS Academic.

TOEFL is an acronym for Test of English as a Foreign Language. It is developed to check an individual’s reading, speaking, writing, and listening proficiency in American English. TOEFL is also available in two formats – a paper-based test (TOEFL PBT) and an internet-based test (TOEFL IBT).

Both exams have almost the same fee, around $200, which makes taking the test a tough financial decision. Many students skip the idea of getting a higher degree from abroad because of the fear of not passing the test and the fee going to waste. Some of the students take coaching classes offered by various institutions at the same price per month. This not only adds to their bills, but also to the anxiety and the burden of passing the test.The overall misconception about these tests and the lack of information have added to the apprehensions. There is a need to clear our concepts about these two tests and know that these are not the toughest exams in the world.


First, we will talk about IELTS. It has four sections – speaking, listening, reading and writing. Usually, the speaking part is conducted a day or two days before the exam date. This test is taken in a very informal style. Informal means that the examiner talks about general topics in a very friendly way. He asks you some random questions and you reply in the same tone and style. He will then give you a topic to talk about for two minutes. You just have to talk in English. Speak what you want to. Do not care if the information is correct or not. He is there to access how comfortable you are in speaking English not to verify the facts. Just be a chatty person and talk until the examiner asks you to stop.  The other three modules will be on the same day. The test starts with the listening part. Both the British Council and AEO Pakistan provide headphones for the listening part of the test. They give time to check the headphones and report any glitch in it before the actual test starts.  When the test starts, you are given the time to read the questions first so you know what information you have to get from the recording. Once the recording plays, focus on it and write the required information on the answering sheet. Remember the recording are only played once. You would not have the second chance to confirm the answers so forget about everything and focus on the recording. The next part is reading. Usually, there are three passages with their respective questions. The passages are not very difficult. They usually have simple to medium vocabulary. The tip is to read the questions first and then read the passages to find the answers. Underline the answers so you can double-check those at the end of the test. Writing is the last part of this test. It comprises of two sections. It is also not a hard nut to crack. The first part is usually any diagram or drawing or map or a process you have to explain in words. See the picture, understand the process and describe it in your own words. The second part is about your opinion on any topic. You will be required to prove your point with some strong arguments.  IELTS take 2 hours and 40 minutes to complete. There is no break in between. You can go to the restroom during reading or writing test, but the time you take will be consumed from your test time.


TOEFL is different than IELTS in its test format and overall approach. It is a four-hour long test with a ten-minute break in the middle of it. It has the same four sections – listening, speaking, reading and writing. The questions are in multiple-choice format only.  All sections have their own specified time. You will always have 20 minutes for the speaking part and 50 minutes for the writing part. However, the reading and listening sections could be lengthy as these also include some questions which have no scores. Reading test is 60 to 80 minutes long, while listening test is between 60 and 90 minutes long. The tip is to attempt all questions as there will be no indication on which questions are experimental and which are not.  Whichever test you take just remember one thing; you can pass any one of the tests. You have been reading English since you were in preschool. You know the basic. You know the language. Just because you do not use it in your regular life does not mean that you cannot pass a proficiency exam. Go for it and, good luck!

Tehreem  Azeem is a digital Journalist based in Lahore. She handles digital media  platforms for shirkat Gah- Womens  Resource center.She is  a regular contributor to various national and international media organizations.Her work has been polished in Dawn. The Diplomate, and independent Urdu. She tweets @tehreemazeem