British Council v IDP: Key Differences And The Easiest Option

As a high school teacher and IELTS examiner, students often ask me about the differences between the British Council and IDP and if one was easier. My reply usually goes something like this:

The British Council and IDP provide the exact same testing service. They use the same questions created by Cambridge English and they run tests to the exact same timings and structure. Examiners are trained in the same way and use the same band criteria ensuring the same level of difficulty.

So, basically, the two organisations do offer the exact same testing service but if you dig a bit deeper there are in fact some subtle differences which we will look at now.


British Council


Australian owned



British owned



Uses tests created by Cambridge English



Original co owner of IELTS*



Highly trained examiners



Certificate valid worldwide



Certificate valid for 2 years



Test fee is approximately $250**



Offers UKVI



Offers computer based tests



*IDP became joint partners with British Council and Cambridge English Language Assessment in 1989 who originally offered a version of IELTS from 1980.

** Test fees vary from country to country but IDP and British Council will always offer the same price in that country.

Is British Council IELTS Easier Than IDP?

The British Council IELTS test is not easier than the IDP IELTS test, they offer the exact same test questions and format. However, the physical environment, staff and facilities can be different from one centre to another which may alter your perception of which organisation is easier to pass IELTS.

The pie chart below shows the results of a survey I recently conducted of test takers who had all taken the test at least twice from both IDP and BC. It backs up the theory that they are the same level of difficulty.

Is IDP really Easier?

Survey Comments 

A few interesting comments came out of the survey and really they all relate to personal perceptions and do nothing to prove that one organisation is easier or better to do IELTS with than the other.


British Council

Less strict

Higher band scores given


Staff not responsive

More organised

Longer to get results

More professional

More friendly

Whilst the IELTS organisation as a whole try very hard to make the test be exactly the same wherever you take it in the world it is not possible for them to offer the exact same experience to all candidates although they do get very close.

The Test Day Experience

For example, one test centre may have a nice spacious test centre with a new modern waiting room for candidates to wait in. Furthermore, the staff on duty that day may be polite and friendly, and you may be one of the first candidates that the IELTS speaking examiner sees that day.

All these things mean that you feel calmer waiting for the exam and so perform better due to lower stress levels. The examiner is also fresher and perhaps smiles more, putting you at ease further.

Compare this to waiting in a room full of other test takers with little space with staff that are stressed because there is a large group of test takers who have just taken the listening test and have nowhere else to go so they sit noisily waiting for their speaking test. 

Combine this with an examiner who is under pressure because they have already been given a warning for not scoring candidates correctly and you are going to get a test that feels much more unpleasant and difficult even if it is the exact same test as elsewhere. 

Now, imagine one candidate has the second experience and then retakes their test at the first centre. Of course, they are going to feel like that test centre was easier. They will then say this to their friends and so the rumour starts that one centre is easier than another.

In reality, you need to simply prepare properly for the exam and if at all possible visit the centre before the test to make sure you are familiar with how it looks and feels and then you will have a much better experience.

You might also want to read: Is IELTS UKVI harder to pass?

IELTS Examiners: IDP v BC

It is true that all IELTS examiners from both British Council and IDP go through the same training and therefore should be equally as good as each other they are still humans which means they make mistakes.

You may get lucky and benefit from an examiner overgrading you too much, or you may get unlucky by an examiner undergrading you. I know because I have done this.

On one particular day I had been teaching in my school all week and was already tired when I arrived to conduct the tests on a Saturday. It was a very busy day and many candidates were due to take their test because of previous test postponed due to covid 19.

So, that day I had 25 interviews to conduct whereas normally I would prefer to do between 10-15. You see, it is a very repetitive test and there’s very little room for creativity which essentially means that it is actually quite boring and tiring to do regardless of how many coffees you drink!

I distinctly remember giving one student a band 9 as I thought she spoke really fluently like a native speaker using a great range of vocabulary. However, a few weeks later I received an email from the ‘moderators’ warning me that I had overgraded the student considerably and that they should only have been a 7.5 – a massive difference.

I went back and listened to the recording again and they were correct, she was no way a band 9. I had simply lost focus. The interesting thing is that that band 9 score still stands and that student got to keep it even though it was the wrong score for them!

So, you can see how that student might get that result and then go and tell her friends that IELTS is easy to pass at the centre she had visited thus starting rumours in the area.

As you can see though, the IELTS head office is listening to test recordings and checking examiners, and if they keep getting it wrong then they are let go, i.e. fired! 

This means that whilst a few bad scores may be let through it won’t keep on happening for long so please don’t book an IELTS test in a different location on the chance that you may get an ‘easier’ examiner it is a highly flawed strategy. 

You are far better off simply improving your English and improving your exam technique until you are ready to take the test again rather than looking for easy ‘shortcuts’ to success.

In the end the only reason you won’t get the band score you need is because of you, and not because of difference between centres, or between IDP and British Council.

In fact IDP have just bought all branches of the British Council in India for $130 million and they will be using for the most part the exact same examiners to deliver the tests which proves the services are more or less identical.

To avoid failing the test again take a look at my highly successful course, here.

Beware of Sales Agents

Some tutor schools get commission by recommending students to use a certain centre, so, of course they are going to say, or lead you to think that one centre is better/easier than the others if it means they will get more commission from it.

Always remember that the test questions, format, structure and marking system is exactly the same no matter where you take the IELTS test.

Listening Test Accents 

The voices you will hear on the listening test recording will be of native speakers, typically from Britain, USA, Canada, New Zealand and Australia.

The IDP listening test does not feature more people with Australian accents and, similarly, the British Council do not use more native British speakers in their listening tests.

Once more, even in the listening test, the British Council and IDP are offering the exact same test. 

You can see my full guide to the listening section here.

Trivial Matters

From centre to centre and country to country, there do appear to be a few minor differences that can make a difference to your experience with BC and IDP. My students tell me sometimes that it is the little things that annoy them such as: 

BC send out messages with a more threatening tone compared to IDP. IDP offers to keep your baggage with receipt whereas BC offers to keep your baggage with a ‘disclaimer note’ saying they don’t take responsibility for any losses even though it is in their care.  

IDP provides water bottles and BC does not (I’m not sure how true this is), the availability of feedback forms is less forthcoming at some centres, BC has more corporate clients who seemed to get preferential service from staff.

For all of the above sorts of matters you should find out from your centre what their approach is. These issues have just been passed on to me from my own students online who took the test in various locations and are likely just localised variations.

Does IELTS Cost The Same At IDP And The British Council?

The cost of the IELTS test, approximately $250, is the same whether you book it at IDP, or the British Council. The fee is only different if you take the test in a different country which may mean the price is slightly different, or if you take the more expensive UKVI version. 

If you are wondering whether to take IELTS IDP or British Council then simply choose the one with the available dates that suit you the best as there is no real reason to prefer one over the other. 

The only real reason to have a preference of one over the other is if you have experienced the test venue in the past and dislike one for some reason.

These could be personal reasons such as traffic, parking, or more test related factors, such as larger rooms, friendlier staff, a more relaxing environment and so on, but again these are simply personal preferences the test will still be the same.

Some things students have mentioned in the past are that some centres perform the paper based listening test with headphones whereas other centres the recording is simply played out aloud. If this bothers you then contact your test centre to find out how they do it beforehand.

Which Is Better For IELTS, IDP or British Council?

Some people consider that the reputation of the British Council is better than IDP and so book with them. However, in reality the tests are exactly the same and the certificate you receive actually has the logo from IDP, British Council and Cambridge English on it.

One important discrepancy may be that in your country, or locality there may be different times and dates of appointments available to take the test. This is most likely to determine who you book the test with.

In my experience, in Thailand, the British Council tend to book up their slots quicker than IDP even though the tests are identical and neither organisation is ‘better’ than the other, they both provide the exact same service at the exact same price.

Is IDP IELTS Valid In Canada?

IELTS certificates from both IDP and the British Council are valid in Canada for migration purposes, as are they in Australia, New Zealand and the UK as evidence of your English language proficiency.

The actual band score you require, however, will depend on the purpose of your visit and the type of visa you require.

You might now want to read: What To Do If You Fail IELTS? my complete guide.

Recommended IELTS Study Tools

Thank you for reading this article. I always get lots of questions about how else to get a better band score quickly. So, this is what I recommend:

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IELTS Essay and Speaking Feedback: To complete full mock tests and get feedback from IELTS examiners on your IELTS essays or speaking tasks then visit: IELTS Feedback and Mock Tests, here.

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