TOEIC vs. TOEFL, What’s the Difference?

toeic toefl difference

How do you know which is the right one from TOEIC vs. TOEFL?

When discussing English proficiency tests, the two most frequently heard names are TOEIC and TOEFL. Both are standard English exams that help you, and the organisation you are applying to, determine your level of English language proficiency (reading, writing, listening, and speaking). But what makes these exams different enough, that there are two versions of it? This article will explain exactly for whom the two exams are meant, and how to determine which is the one you need.


Understanding the Educational Testing Service

The Educational Testing Service, or ETS for short, is the international not-for-profit organisation behind the TOEIC and TOEFL exams. ETS is more than just English however it provides other widely known and accepted standardised tests as well, such as the GRE. Being a private and non-profit organisation aids its image as being an unbiased and universal testing method, accessible to all. Its widely accepted testing methods means that ETS exams such as TOEIC and TOEFL are embraced by many countries and organisations around the globe.


Understanding TOEIC Exam

TOEIC is the abbreviated name for the Test of English for International Communication, it is a standard test that helps to determine someone’s proficiency of the English language, specifically to be able to determine their ability to communicate with others (hence the ‘communication’ in the name) in a professional setting. TOEIC has a very collaborative and professional purpose; it is used most frequently for places of work (jobs, internships, expat assignments) to determine how well you will be able to communicate and work with others in an English environment.


Who takes the TOEIC?

The TOEIC is meant first and foremost for professionals and is often used by organisations to test those who are applying for work in an international or multi-lingual organisation. In such an environment, your English proficiency needs to be sufficient to be able to effectively work with others. As TOEIC covers subjects that are very useful for situations that occur in the workplace, businesses are the most common organisations to request a TOEIC exam. It can be used by businesses for recruitment (hiring of new employees or interns), but also as a management tool. For example, an existing employee at a company may be asked to complete a TOEIC for assignment, training, or promotion purposes. If your company organises a set of courses or seminars as part of an internal training programme, your company may ask you to complete a TOEIC exam if the course is taught in English. Especially in today’s interconnected world, also known as the ‘global village’, proficiency tests have become ever more important. It is becoming more and more common for the working language of workplaces to be English, even when you work for a domestic company. The TOEIC exam can therefore be an important asset to have on your CV if you are looking for an international career.


Understanding TOEFL Test

The difference between TOEIC and TOEFL can be confusing at first. Both are English tests provided by the same organization and cover the same topics. TOEFL is the abbreviated name for the Test of English as a Foreign Language. Whereas TOEIC helps to indicate your level of proficiency for the workplace, and is a measure of your ability to communicate in English at that moment in time, TOEFL exists to determine your level of proficiency in an academic setting, and help you understand which stage of English learning you are in. It helps you to continue learning English as a foreign language and as part of your study curriculum. Like TOEIC, TOEFL covers the same basic topics: reading, writing, listening, and speaking. But because of TOEFL’s educational purpose, it is more frequently used by institutions such as (international) universities and for exchange students. Sometimes, a university may accept both TOEIC as well as TOEFL scores, however it is far less likely for businesses to request a TOEFL.


Who takes the TOEFL?

The TOEFL is largely academic. This means that most frequently universities will request (international) students to take the TOEFL test. This test may be an entry requirement for permanent as well as exchange students, and it is up to the university to decide whether they will require you to take a TOEFL test. Usually, an English entry exam such as TOEFL is required in order for all students to be able to function on the same level in an academic setting. The need to take an English entry exam may also depend on your nationality, as some institutions may have different entry requirements depending on where you are from. As mentioned earlier, the TOEIC is quite universal, and may be used by businesses or universities alike. TOEFL however is specifically designed for educational institutions.


Similarities between TOEIC and TOEFL

There are certainly areas in which TOEIC and TOEFL are similar. They are provided by the same organisation, ETS, and are therefore taken and assessed in a similar manner. Both exams consist of the same structure, and covers the same topics (reading, writing, listening, and speaking). As mentioned, the TOEIC is intended for professional use, and TOEFL is educational. This does not mean however that TOEIC covers terms or theories common in international business. The difference in the exams lie in the context of the questions. The TOEIC often challenges the test-taker to be able to communicate, but also assess the context of the questions in a professional environment. TOEIC often covers topics and situations that may occur in a workplace, TOEFL’s subjects relate to a student’s university curriculum.

The assessment of TOEIC and TOEFL are largely the same. The exams are not pass or fail but are instead scored on a point score basis. The higher the score, the higher the level of proficiency. In total, there are six levels of proficiency that are accepted globally, defined as the CEFR system. CEFR is the abbreviated name for the Common European Framework of Reference (for languages). These six levels of proficiency range from A1 (Beginner) to C2 (Proficient). The ETS is able to determine your proficiency on five of the CEFR levels from A1 to C1, these scores and proficiency levels as follows:

  • 120-220 points | A1
  • 225-545 points | A2
  • 550-780 points | B1
  • 785-940 points | B2
  • 945-990 points | C1


How do you choose?

Quite often, the choice of which exam you need to take is already determined by the organisation for which you are applying. In addition, most businesses and universities that request a TOEIC or TOEFL exam will provide a minimum score in order to be eligible to enter the organisation with a sufficient level of English. If your organisation does not specify which exam you will need to take, it is likely that instead of a TOEIC or TOEFL score the organisation will require a certain proficiency level ranging from A1 to C2. In such a situation, you will have to determine by yourself which exam is most suitable. In this case, contact the organisation in question to see if TOEIC or TOEFL are accepted testing methods. If you have difficulty choosing the right exam, refer to the rule-of-thumb below:


Are you applying for a job, career, or internship?

  • Choose TOEIC

Do you want to put your English proficiency level on your professional CV or resumé?

  • Choose TOEIC

Do you want to apply for a university study or exchange program?

  • Choose TOEFL



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