Abstract The International Reference Ionosphere (IRI) is a model of the ionosphere, based on experimental data, which has been proposed as a standard ionospheric model. As such, it should be tested extensively to determine its range of validity. One of the ways in which the electron denisty profile given by the IRI, especially above the peak of the F layer, can be tested is to compare calculated and observed values of total electron content (TEC). We have therefore studied the discrepancies between calculated and observed values of TEC recorded at 15 stations covering a wide range of longitudes and latitudes, mainly in the northern hemisphere, and mainly for high levels of solar activity. W have found that the IRI produces reasonably accurate values of TEC at mid and high latitudes, but that it greatly underestimates the daytime values of TEC at low latitudes. We conclude therefore that the daytime electron density profile given by the IRI is reasonably accurate at mid and high latitudes, at least above the peak of the F2 layer. The situation at low latitudes clearly requires more work, and we have suggested two possible lines of study. The generally low discrepancies at night indicate that the night-time electron density profiles given by the IRI correspond fairly closely to the actual profiles.