Whats the difference between IELTS and TOEFL essays?

difference between ielts and toefl essays

Following on from yesterday, I wanted to answer a question I get answered often, what’s the difference between an IELTS essay and a TOEFL independent essay? The answer is not so much, aside from the obvious, IELTS is hand-written, TOEFL is typed, IELTS you have 40 mins, TOEFL you have 30 mins, IELTS is 250+ words, TOEFL is 300+ words, the basic idea of how to write an essay is essentially the same. Although some recommend you to write five paragraphs for TOEFL, you can write four, the same for IELTS, and also I would say the TOEFL is more abstract than academic in terms of writing style and makes more use of personal examples than the IELTS, although this again depends on the topic you get. This applies to most exams, PTE, CAE, etc…an essay is an essay, you have to have certain things in it and use a certain structure regardless of the exam, and also if you are at uni or college, apart from the length, the way you write will be the same.

There are other similarities too, as I wrote yesterday, for TOEFL there are five q types, the same is true more or less for IELTS. You have opinion, discussion, advantage and disadvantage, problem/cause and solution, and other two part qs. I have written about these in earlier posts so I won’t repeat myself here but they have a slightly different structure sentence by sentence but the basic ingredients of essay writing need to be present which is what we shall look at today.

To illustrate we will use an opinion essay question the same for both IELTS and TOEFL, so you can see the differences and similarities between them.

Do you agree or disagree with the following statement, “Only people who earn a lot of money are successful”.

Use specific reasons and details to support your answer.

Now we need a structure to follow, I recommend this…though bear in mind this is just a general framework….

Essay structure.

Paragraph 1: introduction

Sentence 1: paraphrase question/restate topic., a “hook” (for TOEFL)

Sentence 2: Thesis/opinion statement.

Sentence 3: outline statement/main idea 1 (for paragraph 2), and main idea 2 (for paragraph 3).

Body paragraph 1.

Sentence 1: topic sentence (main idea 1).

Sentence 2: explain/expand on main idea 1.

Sentence 3: example (the more specific the better), (more abstract for TOEFL).

Sentence 4: option 1(concession sentence)/option 2 (reinforce/reiterate example/main idea).

Body paragraph 2.

Sentence 1: topic sentence (main idea 2).

Sentence 2: explain/expand on main idea 2.

Sentence 3: example (the more specific the better), (more abstract for TOEFL).

Sentence 4: option 1(concession sentence)/option 2 (reinforce/reiterate example/main idea).

Body paragraph 3. (for TOEFL)

Sentence 1: topic sentence (main idea 2).

Sentence 2: explain/expand on main idea 2.

Sentence 3: example (more abstract as above).

Sentence 4: option 1(concession sentence)/option 2 (reinforce/reiterate example/main idea).


Sentence 1: summary (restate question/topic + main idea 1 and 2).

Sentence 2: suggestion/recommendation (depends on how the question is worded/if you can think of anything).

You can use this for both essays, I know that some people say you can or should use a “hook”..a general statement about the topic, I don’t like this myself, I like to get straight to the point, but a “hook” would be more suitable for TOEFL than IELTS.

In any case for the introduction, you should restate the topic, then give a clear opinion, then an outline sentence. Then, for your body paragraphs, whether two or three, you need to have a topic sentence, a sentence or two to explain it, then an example. For the IELTS you can use more “concrete” examples, make something up in other words, a recent survey showed, a recent report said that, etc. And for TOEFL, more personal examples are usually used, “In my experience, when I was a child, etc”. then a conclusion that restates the topic, your opinion, and your main ideas.

Essay 1 IELTS

According to some, the key definition of success is how much money you make. I would disagree with this statement, in my view first we need to define success in terms of what it means individually, and secondly, to recognise that success can be measured in more than financial terms.

It is a truism that for many people money is the all important factor in being considered a “success”, yet not everybody defines success in such narrow terms. In fact, there is no true definition of what this word means at all. While I would agree that being rich can be one component to this, for some individuals it could be having the freedom of being self-employed and being able to live life and work on their own terms. For example, a recent survey of entrepreneurs in the UK showed that 80% of them said they were successful in being free to run their own affairs without interference, regardless of how much money they made.

To illustrate further, in my view purely monetary success, which I do concede is somewhat significant, fails to take into account many other factors. These could be having a strong family life, a close network of supportive friends, sufficient leisure time to pursue hobbies and interests, etc. For example, the survey mentioned above also showed that the respondents valued family, friends, and having time for other interests apart from business as measurable factors in success.

In conclusion, despite the general belief that being successful equates only to the size of our bank balance, I believe that this thinking is flawed. This is because the word success means many things depending on who is being asked, for some it also means freedom to live as they please, while for others it includes having more personal aspects such as close relationships with loved ones.

307 words

Essay 2 TOEFL

It is said that money makes the world go round. We spend the majority of our waking hours at work – earning a living, providing for our families and saving for our retirement. Although money no doubt plays a critical role in determining the quality and nature of our lifestyles, in my opinion, the size of one’s pay-cheque is not a measure of one’s success in life. The basis of my views are philosophical, social and personal.

Philosophically, success can be defined in myriad ways. For some, success is an external concept to be measured in terms of high income, huge bank balances, fancy cars, expensive mansions, luxurious holidays and so on. However, in my view, success is a reflection of internal human qualities, such as compassion, kindness, honesty, understanding and more. By this definition, the mere fact of earning a high income does not determine or define success.

Socially, success depends on how we treat other human beings. Do we regard others with respect or do we impose our will on them? Are we mindful of their needs and desires or do we behave selfishly? Do we encourage and support our friends, family and communities or do we insist they only follow the path we think best? To illustrate, it is clear that a critical aspect of success lies in the answers to such questions for they reveal the quality of relationships we share with our fellow human beings.

Personally, success can only be self-defined. My idea of success may not be the same as another person’s vision. This is as it should be. Each of us is a product of diverse social, cultural, economic, political, religious and ideological influences. When we add to that mix the free will that each of us exercises, we can understand clearly how each of us fashions his / her own aspirations for what we consider to be success in our own lives.

In conclusion, success is a concept which can be interpreted in a million different ways. Each individual’s version adds to the richness of our world and makes our planet a more delightful, amazing and colourful place to live.

So, there you are…I hope you can see the slight differences between them, the IELTS is more analytical, focused and “academic”, whereas the TOEFL is rather more abstract, but the general idea is basically the same, the general approach and structure.

I hope you find this useful, if you have any qs, you can write to me at kevin@ielts9pro.com anytime…