Two of the most important English proficiency exams are the B2 First and the TOEFL iBT. EFL/ESL teachers and students should know the difference between them so they can make the right choice about which one to study for.

The world of proficiency exams is quite confusing, so hopefully in this article I can clear some things up for you.

In the table below you can see the main differences between the B2 First and the TOEFL iBT (internet based test), but make sure to keep reading beyond that to find out the full story.

Exam companyCambridge AssessmentEducational Testing Service (ETS)
Scoring method60% mark for B2 certificationOverall mark gives you level (0-120)
Exam papers4 – Writing, Listening, Speaking and Reading & Use of English4 – Writing, Listening, Speaking and Reading
Exam duration3 hours 30 minutes approx.3 hours approx.
Expiration dateNever expiresValid for 2 years
Required forEmployment, University entranceUniversity entrance (especially USA), Employment

What are the B2 First and TOEFL iBT?

Both the B2 First and TOEFL iBT are exams taken by non-native English speakers to prove their ability to understand and use the English language.

The B2 First certificate (previously called the FCE) is a B2 level (upper intermediate) qualification so is not for beginners or very advanced students.

The TOEFL iBT (internet based test) is an exam designed for students of all levels. For the record, TOEFL stands for Test of English as a Foreign Language, not to be confused with TEFL (the industry of Teaching English as a Foreign Language).

If the terms TEFL and TOEFL are confusing to you, check out my article explaining the differences: TEFL vs TOEFL: What’s the difference and which is better?

Who provides the B2 First and TOEFL iBT qualifications?

The B2 First certificate is provided by Cambridge University Press and Assessment (Cambridge Assessment), while the TOEFL iBT qualification is from Educational Testing Service (ETS). Both are internationally respected.

Cambridge have a suite of other exams for different levels, like the B1 Preliminary and the C1 Advanced.

ETS provides other qualifications, too, some of which are related to English proficiency, like the TOEIC, and others which are not, like the GRE, for graduate school entry.

Both companies have test centres in almost every country in the world.

How are the B2 First and TOEFL exams scored?

The B2 First and TOEFL are scored in very different ways.

The B2 First is a pass/fail exam, with a pass earning the qualification of B2 level English, and a fail getting nothing. B2 is Upper Intermediate on the CEFR scale. The CEFR is the most popular system around the world for ranking English proficiency, and ranges from A1 to C2.

An average score of 60% across the whole exam is needed to pass. Anyone who isn’t near this B2 level of English shouldn’t take the exam.

(Note: if you narrowly fail, Cambridge will let you know you performed to a B1 level, and if you get very high marks, they’ll say you performed to a C1 level, but neither of these are official certifications)

The TOEFL iBT, on the other hand, is for English learners of all levels (except beginners). The result you get reflects the level of English you showed, scored from 0 to 120. Scores less than 40 are invalid and mean you have a very low level (A2 or lower). 120 shows an extremely advanced ability.

72-94 points is the TOEFL iBT score that corresponds to the B2 First’s Upper Intermediate certification.

The effect of the TOEFL iBT being scored in this way is that questions range in difficulty. In contrast, the B2 First has questions suited for candidates at the upper intermediate level only.

What are the different parts of the B2 First and TOEFL iBT exams?

On the surface, the B2 First and TOEFL iBT look similar.

Each has 4 papers. Both have papers for Writing, Listening and Speaking. The B2 First has “Reading & Use of English” while the TOEFL just has “Reading”.

The “Use of English” part of the B2 First is a fancy way of saying grammar. It’s also the hardest part of the exam for many students.

Don’t let these similarities fool you, though. The nature of the content in each exam is quite different.

The B2 First aims to test general English. It covers a broad range of topics, using a variety of text types and language.

The TOEFL iBT is focused on academic English. It’s primarily a test for gaining entry to university in English-speaking countries. As a result, the questions target a students’ ability to understand things like lectures and seminars, as well as write academic essays.

The Speaking parts are very different, too. Those who take the B2 First do the Speaking in-person with two examiners and another candidate. In the TOEFL iBT, the Speaking is done by listening to questions on a computer and answering them into a microphone, with no in-person examiner required.

Another slight difference is that the B2 First uses British English, while the TOEFL iBT uses American English. However, both accept all variations of English in the speaking and writing parts.

How long do the B2 First and TOEFL iBT exams take?

The B2 First has a total duration of about 3 hours and 30 minutes. The TOEFL iBT takes about 3 hours. Here’s a breakdown by part.

Writing80 minutes50 minutes
Listening40 minutes (approx.)41-57 minutes
Speaking14 minutes17 minutes
Reading (& Use of English)75 minutes54-72 minutes
TOTAL3 hours 30 minutes3 hours

The B2 First is not only longer, but it is often done over multiple days. Generally the Writing, Listening and Reading & Use of English tests are done together in the same session, but the Speaking tests are done in person, so may take place a few days before or after the other parts.

As the TOEFL iBT Speaking part is done by speaking into a microphone, no examiners are needed, so all four parts are done in one session.

How long are the B2 First and TOEFL iBT qualifications valid for?

The B2 First certificate is valid for life.

The TOEFL iBT certificate is valid for 2 years. For most people this is enough, as it’s mostly used to gain entry into university.

How much do the B2 First and TOEFL iBT exams cost?

The B2 First exam can be taken at one of thousands of exam centres around the world. Due to local and national variations, the cost ranges from $150 to $300.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

The TOEFL iBT typically costs between $245 and $255. While you can do it in almost any country, the standardised, computerised nature of the test means prices are fairly uniform worldwide.

There are other ways of doing the TOEFL iBT, and that’s on paper, or at home with someone monitoring you remotely (this was attempted during 2020 and 2021 but doesn’t seem to be the best option). Costs vary based on location, but are in a similar range to the standard test.

What are the B2 First and TOEFL iBT certificates used for?

The B2 First is a test of general English, so has a broad range of applications. Some universities and many employers around the world require it.

From my experience in Spain, the Cambridge Exams (of which B2 First is the most common) are the most sought after by international businesses where good English is a minimum.

The TOEFL iBT is mostly used for university entrance in the USA. In fact, the TOEFL iBT is the main exam in the States, with the country preferring its own ETS provider to UK-based Cambridge.

Universities in other countries accept the TOEFL iBT, too, but only in the USA is it a universal requirement.

Note: The TOEFL is NOT valid for UK universities, which usually require the IELTS exam.

IELTS exam? Another confusing acronym? Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered – check out my comparison of the B2 First and IELTS here: B2 First vs IELTS: What’s the difference? Which is better?

Which is better, B2 First or TOEFL iBT?

The short answer is, neither.

They’re for different things. If you want to get into university anywhere except the UK, you’ll probably want the TOEFL iBT (although you should definitely check the requirements for your specific university).

The problem with the TOEFL iBT is it only lasts 2 years. If you get the B2 First certificate, however, you have it for life.

Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

The B2 First is also cheaper in the long run, because, assuming you pass, you only ever have to take it once. It’s popular with employers, so it could end up being the last English proficiency exam you ever need to do.

If I had to pick one, I’d go with the B2 First. That’s from a teacher’s point of view – I much prefer the way the speaking test is done, face to face rather than through a microphone, and I feel it’s more accurate in specifically assessing if the student has a B2 level than the TOEFL iBT which has questions for all levels.


For students, there are plenty of resources and guides out there for both the B2 First and TOEFL iBT exams. Whichever you choose, you can find the support and practice needed to succeed.

For teachers, though, trying to figure out how an exam works is daunting. Sure, you have the technical specifications provided by the exam companies, but there’s not much out there showing you how to teach the best techniques and tricks.

That’s why I’ve made guides to the B2 First exam. The aim is to help EFL/ESL teachers get to know the exam better and prepare their students using tried and tested strategies.

If you’re a teacher preparing students for the B2 First exam, check out these links:
Teacher’s Guide to the Cambridge B2 First Writing Exam
Teacher’s Guide to the Cambridge B2 First Speaking Exam

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