We can’t compare them without understanding what each one is like, so let’s do that.
Both are exams created to judge whether the candidate has a level of English which corresponds to the European B2 classification, which is often the minimum standard required by universities and multinational companies.
The TOEFL exam is an internet based exam where you have to sit in front of a computer for about 4 hours answering questions, and the FIRST CERTIFICATE (FCE) is a paper based exam where you have to use a pencil for about 4 hours, answering questions.
Both have advantages and disadvantages:
- The cost of the TOEFL test can range from $160 to $250 and varies between countries, but is only valid for 2 years, so you have to sit it again after 2 years.
- The FCE exam costs about 160€, which also varies in different parts of the world, but does not become invalid after a period of time.
– The TOEFL exam has 4 parts: READING, WRITING, SPEAKING and LISTENING, and examines the Use Of English part within the questions of the other parts.
- The FCE exam has 5 parts: READING, WRITING, SPEAKING, LISTENING and USE OF ENGLISH.
As such it covers more material than the TOEFL exam.
One of the main disadvantages of the TOEFL exam is that the same exam is used to judge whether the candidate has a level that corresponds to the B1 level, the C1 level or the C2 level. The exam contains easier questions for B1 candidates, harder questions for C1 candidates and even harder questions for C2 candidates.
The candidate has no way of knowing which questions correspond to which level, and the final mark, marked out of 120, is used to judge the candidate’s level.
So 90/120 means the candidate is B2, while 110/120 means the candidate is C1, and 120/120 means the candidate is C2.
The level of English used in the exam is higher in the TOEFL, because they are catering for advanced students, than in the fce, which is designed specifically for B2 candidates.
As such the FCE is fairer than the TOEFL.
Some of the material in the reading exam for the TOEFL is too difficult for the average B2 candidate.
The problem of British English, American English or Australian English has a bearing on this question.
The TOEFL mark is affected if the candidate approaches the exam with British English and the FCE mark is affected by the candidate’s use of American English.
This is a factor that needs to be considered when choosing which exam to take. Also, in one sense, the TOEFL is fairer than the FCE because, if the final mark in the TOEFL exam is lower than 90, the candidate has a classisification of B1 so you get something for the money you spend. That is not the case with the fce. If you fail, you are left with nothing.
My personal opinion is that the FCE is better value for money, but often the candidate does not have the choice because the university or employer only accepts either TOEFL or FCE.