Duolingo English Test emerges as new contender against IELTS and PTE

Many universities around the world are currently accepting the Duolingo English Test for their admission process. It has emerged as a substitute for other English proficiency tests such as IELTS, PTE, and Toefl.

The Duolingo English Test was developed by the same company which created the highly-popular language-learning app Duolingo. Presently, almost 2000 universities worldwide accept the results of this test as proof of English language ability.

The main features of the Duolingo English Test:

  1. It is an online test which can be taken at home.
  2. A computer with an internet connection, a webcam, a microphone, and speakers are needed.
  3. The test is approximately 1 hour long.
  4. Scores are given on a scale of 10 – 160.
  5. The price of the test is US $49.
  6. Results can be accessed online within 48 hours of the test.
  7. Institutions which accept the Duolingo English Test do not require the results of the IELTS, the PTE, or the Toefl tests for admission.
  8. Immigration departments or embassies which are responsible for issuing student visas may not accept the Duolingo English Test results.

How is the Duolingo English Test delivered?

The test can be taken anywhere and anytime. As the test is currently unavailable via mobile devices, you would require a desktop or a laptop computer. You can take the test via a web browser like Google Chrome or by downloading and installing a software after you have purchased the test.

Like all other English proficiency tests, Duolingo English Test also evaluates the four skills of English communication: Speaking, Writing, Listening, and Reading.

Candidates have to create an account on Duolingo in order to proceed to the test. You can browse through a limited set of practice materials to familiarize yourself with the test, before you take the actual test.

The entire test is conducted in one session. Different types of questions appear on the screen one after the other without breaks in between. The questions are randomly selected from a vast database.

You have to sit alone in front of your computer with your webcam turned on the entire time. You cannot take breaks, go off screen, or take help from others during the test. You have to be visible in the video throughout the test.

Format of the test

There are three sections of the Duolingo English Test.

SectionsTime (approx.)
Introduction and onboarding5 minutes
Graded computer adaptive test45 minutes
Ungraded video and writing sample10 minutes

How to take the test?

  1. Sit in a quiet room with a computer.
  2. Make sure there is a reliable internet connection.
  3. The computer should have a camera and you have to be in the frame of the video during the entire test.
  4. The computer must also have built-in microphone and speakers (as most laptops already do). External headphones or earphones are not allowed.
  5. You have to be completely alone while taking the test. You are not allowed to even look away from the screen.
  6. You are not allowed to use any pen or notebook.
  7. It is advisable you use the Duolingo English Test desktop app instead of your web browser to take the test. After you have paid for the test, you have the option to download the app from the website. You can launch the test via the app whenever you are ready.

Introduction and onboarding

Once you load the software, the first few steps involve setting up the computer and making sure your devices are working properly.

Step 1. Loading the test

Open the software you have downloaded from the website, fill in your username and password, and click on START TEST. Although you can take the test via a web browser, the software is a more stable option.

Loading the Duolingo English Test

Step 2. Get ready

Make sure you have a government-issued photo ID card with you. This could be your passport or your driver’s license. Lock your room and ensure nobody is going to disturb you for the next one hour. Click on START.

Getting ready for Duolingo English Test

Step 3. No headphones

Do not wear headphones or earphones. You can use the inbuilt microphone and speakers of your laptop. You can also plug in external speakers and microphones. Click on NO.

Instructions for Duolingo English Test

Step 4. Adjust speaker volume

Increase or decrease the volume of your speaker until it is nice and perfect. Only press YES when the sound is loud and clear.

Instructions for Duolingo English Test

Step 5. Check your microphone

Select START RECORDING and speak a few words. Then, press NEXT.

Instructions for Duolingo English Test

You would be able to hear your voice if everything is working correctly.

Step 6. Take your photo

Look into the camera, and click on TAKE PHOTO. Make sure the picture is clear.

Instructions for Duolingo English Test

Step 7. Select your country and ID type

Choose from the dropdown menu.

Instructions for Duolingo English Test

Step 8. Take a photo of your ID

Hold your identification card up in front of the camera. Press CAPTURE ID.

Instructions for Duolingo English Test

Step 9. Fill in your information

Make sure the information you enter corresponds to the information on your ID.

Instructions for Duolingo English Test

Step 10. Select your language and gender

Select the language you usually use. This could be your mother tongue or the national language of your country.

Instructions for Duolingo English Test

Step 11. Read and follow the instructions

The next several screens will provide guidelines which have to be followed throughout the test. Read them carefully and press NEXT.

Instructions for Duolingo English Test
Instructions for Duolingo English Test
Instructions for Duolingo English Test
Instructions for Duolingo English Test
Instructions for Duolingo English Test
Instructions for Duolingo English Test
Instructions for Duolingo English Test

Step 12. Start the test

Click on START. The test begins now. There is no going back.

Start the Duolingo English Test

Graded computer adaptive test

The graded section of the Duolingo English Test consists of 10 types of questions. The number of individual questions and their order is random.

Question typeUsual number of questionsTime
Read and complete3-73 minutes each
Read and select3-71 minute each
Listen and select3-790 seconds each
Listen and type3-71 minute each
Read aloud3-720 seconds each
Write about the photo31 minute each
Speak about the photo130-90 seconds each
Read, then write15 minutes each
Read, then speak230-90 seconds each
Listen, then speak130-90 seconds each

Type 1. Read and complete

read and complete

In this question, you will get a short passage with several unfinished words. You have to type in the missing letters to fill in the blanks of incomplete words.

Type 2. Read and select

read and select

The screen will display several words, some of which are real English words, while the others do not exist in the English language. You have to select all the ones which are actual words in English.

Type 3. Listen and select

listen and select

You will be provided with a list of sounds. Play them one by one and decide whether they are real English words or not.

Type 4. Listen and type

listen and type

A sentence will be played for you. Listen carefully, and try to write down the sentence as exactly as you can. You can listen to the sentence a maximum of three times.

Type 5. Read aloud

read aloud

You have to record yourself dictating the sentence that is on the screen.

Type 6. Write about the photo

write about the photo

You have to describe an image that appears on the screen in one or more sentences.

Type 7. Speak about the photo

speak about the photo

Similar the the earlier question type, an image appears on the screen. After looking at it for 20 seconds, you have to start describing it orally. The answer should be between 30 seconds and 90 seconds.

Type 8. Read, then write

read then write

Based on a written cue, you have to write at least 50 words. The question usually asks you to describe something.

Type 9. Read, then speak

read then speak

In this question in the Duolingo English Test, you will see a prompt on the screen. You are given 20 seconds to think before you speak on the topic. Then, you have to talk about it for at least 30 seconds and at most 90 seconds.

Type 10. Listen, then speak

listen then speak

You will hear a question. After a 20-second preparation time, you have to verbally answer the question. The answer should be anywhere from 30 to 90 seconds long.

Ungraded video and writing sample

This section of the test does not affect your score. Hence, it is called ungraded. Nevertheless, your responses to the questions are recorded so that universities can evaluate a qualitative sample of your speaking and writing. When you submit your Duolingo English Test score to admission departments, they will be able to access your complete answers to this section as well.

QuestionNumber of questionsTime
Speaking11-3 minute
Writing13-5 minute

Speaking sample

speaking sample

On the screen, you will two separate questions. You have to decide on one of them and be ready to talk about the topic at length. You have to select and prepare for the question within 30 seconds. Thereafter, you have to talk between 1 minute and 3 minutes.

speaking sample

Writing sample

writing sample

Again, you can choose between two prompts. You will have 30 seconds to make your selection as well as to prepare your response. You have to write at length about the topic. For this, you are given a time of between 3 and 5 minutes.

writing sample

Submit your test

upload Duolingo English test

At the end of it, you will see the option to upload your test. Your result will be ready within 2 days. You will be notified via email.

Scoring system of the Duolingo English Test

Different from the scoring system of IELTS and PTE, Duolingo uses the scale of 10 to 160. Similarly, unlike the IELTS and the PTE tests, the overall score is not broken down into the four skills of Speaking, Reading, Listening, and Writing.

Look at the sample report card below.

sample report card of duolingo english test

The scores increase or decrease at 5-points interval.

Apart from the overall score, you will also be assigned sub-scores on the criteria of Literacy, Comprehension, Conversation, and Production.

Humans are not involved in the scoring of the Duolingo English Test. AI system evaluates answers as well as assigns scores.

For some questions of the test, there is objective scoring based on whether the answer is correct or not. These are Read and Complete, Read and Select, Listen and Select, Listen and Type, and Read Aloud. The AI compares your answers to correct answers. Partial scores are given if the answer is partially correct.

There is no negative marking for incorrect answers or for not attempting the question.

For other questions, Write about the photo, Speak about the photo, Read then write, Read then speak, and Listen then speak, your responses are judged against the reference samples fed into the computer. The scoring engine is smart enough to recognize patterns of speech and writing, and it has been trained to assign a score based on the quality of answer.

The software assesses grammatical accuracy, complexity of language, vocabulary, relevance, fluency (in speaking), and length of response.

Though algorithms are put to work in the appraisal of the answers, human proctors (invigilators) are involved in ensuring the test is fair. They monitor the test-takers with the help of the video.

Convert Duolingo English Test score into IELTS

The following table has been created based on the official score guide of Duolingo.

Duolingo English Test ScoreIELTS Band Score
20 – 252.5
30 – 403.0
45 – 503.5
55 – 604.0
65 – 704.5
75 – 805.0
85 – 905.5
95 – 1006.0
105 – 1106.5
115 – 1207.0
125 – 1307.5
135 – 1408.0
145 – 1508.5
155 – 1609.0

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Which universities accept Duolingo English Test?

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which has hampered the IELTS and the PTE tests, many universities have started to adopt the Duolingo English Test as the proof of English language proficiency. Formerly, universities used to have a minimum criteria of IELTS or PTE score for admission. Now they accept Duolingo score as well.

Nonetheless, there are only a limited number of universities which currently accept the Duolingo English Test.

To find out whether the university you want to attend accepts the Duolingo English Test, click here »

Please note. Some universities demand additional proofs of language proficiency besides the Duolingo English Test score.

How to submit scores to university?

When your score is ready, you will receive an email notification, and you can access your results online via your account.

If you have received the desired score, then click on SEND RESULTS at the top of your score card.

submit duolingo english test score to university

This will take you to another page where you can select the type of institution you want to submit your score to.

select institution type

Search the institution you are looking for, then click on NEXT and then SEND.

select university

Your university’s admission department will receive the score automatically.

What about IELTS or PTE? Are they still needed?

Don’t abandon IELTS or PTE just yet. Despite of the fact that universities have begun accepting Duolingo English Test as a substitute for IELTS and PTE, immigration departments of countries, which issue visa, will still ask for IELTS or PTE certificates.

This means you can apply to your college using the Duolingo English Test, but have to take the IELTS or PTE test as well for travel permit.

Right now, the only reason why students are flocking to the Duolingo test is to expedite their admission application. As there are lockdowns and other restrictions in several countries around the word due to the coronavirus epidemic, Duolingo English Test is gaining in popularity as you can take the test at home.

Remember, as of today, Duolingo English Test is just a placeholder. However, the potential of this test as a future replacement of IELTS or PTE cannot be dismissed.

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