What you need to know about the Duolingo Language Test

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Bryan Smith - December, 19 2023

7 min read

About the author

Content Manager at Prodigy Finance, helping international students gear up to study abroad

The Duolingo English Test (DET) is an online, standardised assessment that measures how well you can read, speak, and understand English. Relatively new to the scene of testing English proficiency, it’s fast, convenient, and affordable.

If English isn’t your native language but you’re planning to study at an English-speaking university, you’ll need to prove that you can speak and understand English, and proficiency tests like Duolingo are a way to do that.

An increasing number of institutions are accepting the Duolingo English Test from international students. Over 4,500 universities in over 50 countries currently endorse it (as of July 2023), a 50% increase from just 2 years ago - with numbers continuing to grow.

Read on as we explore more details about the Duolingo English proficiency test and what you need to know.

About the Duolingo English Test

Launched in 2016 with the mission of ‘a better way for students to prove their English language ability’, the Duolingo test centre was the first fully digital-first Secure English Language Test (SELT).

Duolingo initially focused on developing access to higher education for high achievers from low-income students. Over the years, they developed the test to include long-form speaking and writing sections. The impact of the global pandemic in 2020 meant the demand for these tests exploded as there was an increased need for fully online tests. More institutions agreed to accept the Duolingo English test for proof of English, and today, the test is recognised and used by thousands of universities worldwide for admissions.

How does the Duolingo English test compare with others?

The DET test measures English language proficiency, giving a score in the same way as other popular tests such as the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) or the Cambridge English test. However, several differences make the Duolingo test unique.

Here are some of the main differences:

  • It’s shorter: the test only takes one hour to complete, compared to TOEFL and IELTS which can take double the time.
  • It uses an ‘adaptive format’: meaning the difficulty of the test questions adjusts to your abilities; if you’re getting questions correct, the next few questions will get more difficult. You won’t waste time answering questions that are too easy or too hard for you.
  • Quicker results: you get the results within 48 hours (and for $40 more, you can get them within 12 hours) as opposed to the TOEFL test results which take 4 to 8 days and the IELTs test results that take a minimum of 13 days to access online (and a further 10 to receive in paper format).
  • It’s cheaper: The DET costs $59 for 1 test and $98 for 2 (working out to $49 per test). It costs the same worldwide and doesn’t charge any additional fees like late registration or rescheduling fees.
  • Share your results for free: you can send your DET results to as many schools as you would like for free.
  • It’s more convenient: designed to be done at home, on your computer or laptop with a camera and microphone, all you need is a stable internet connection and some quiet. This is why it was so popular during the pandemic – you can take the test literally anywhere! TOEFL test dates need to be booked way in advance.
  • Scores are valid for 2 years: test results are valid for 2 years, as are TOEFL test results.

Test format and structure

The Duolingo English test syllabus and exam pattern consists of four sections:

  • Reading
  • Listening
  • Writing
  • Speaking

Elements of the test

  • Introduction and instruction (5 minutes): At the start of the test, you’ll receive an explanation of the rules and requirements for taking the test.
  • Adaptive test (45 minutes): this section evaluates your English language skills through a variety of tasks, which will vary in complexity and format.
  • Written paper and video interview (10 minutes): here you’ll be given a specific topic to answer in detail. You may be required to provide a written response and participate in a video interview.

In addition to multiple-choice questions, you answer open-ended questions to assess your spoken and written English skills. The computer grades all of the questions you answer.

The adaptive style of the Duolingo English test ensures you are tested on real English comprehension, not just learned knowledge. For example, during your exam, you will have to:

  • Fill in missing letters or words in a sentence
  • Read sentences out loud to test your speaking
  • Write a description in English of a picture or topic
  • Select the correct pronunciation of a word
  • Identify which are real English words and which are fake
  • Listen to audio recordings and type what you hear
  • Respond to audio questions by speaking your answer

Registration and test-taking requirements

Registering to take your Duolingo English test is an easy process.

Here’s a quick step-by-step guide:

  • Create an account on the Duolingo English test website and complete your details like your age, email address, and password
  • Click "Next" to proceed
  • Now you need to select what you are interested in, choosing from the list below (you can only pick one):
    • Undergraduate university admissions
    • Graduate admissions (MBA, PhD, etc)
    • Middle or high school admissions
    • Applying for a job or promotion
    • None of the above
  • Then, click "Create account" to continue
  • After creating your account, purchase and pay for the exam
  • Once you’ve paid, you’ll need to take the Pre-Test Survey before you’re able to take the test.
  • You have 90 days from the date of purchase to take the test

Preparation tips

The Duolingo English Test is designed to show your real proficiency level in English, so instead of preparing with intense studying right before the test, it’s a better idea to prepare over time with “test readiness”. Rather than memorising test questions or strategies, we suggest this “test readiness timeline” to help optimise your Duolingo English Test experience.

Preparing a few weeks before your test

Prepare your space the day before

  • Choose a comfortable, quiet environment that has ample light and is private
  • Make sure you have all the equipment you need, including your identity document, your laptop or computer and a reliable internet connection
  • Purchase the test in advance, so all you have to do is click “Start Test” when you’re ready to take it
  • Choose a time of day when you’ll think and feel your best - as you can choose when it suits you best to take the test

Test day experience

The Duolingo English test includes a video interview and a writing section. Two question themes are available for each video interview and writing sample. This is followed by one to three minutes of speaking, and five minutes of writing. A timer will keep track of your progress for you.

Review your responses before sharing them with institutions, so you can make sure they are accurate. You can retake the test if you're not satisfied with your results.

Duolingo requirements

Here’s a checklist of things you should have ready before taking the exam:

  • A photo ID issued by the government (passport, driver’s licence or ID).
  • A quiet room with good lighting
  • A computer with a built-in front-facing webcam, speakers, and microphone (no earphones are allowed)
  • A strong internet connection and a browser that works with the test
  • Duolingo rules & regulations for English test

Rules to follow during the Duolingo English exam:

  • You must be alone in the room
  • Your face and ears must be visible and uncovered
  • No headphones or earphones
  • No outside materials, including mobile devices, notes, or textbooks
  • No communication with anyone else
  • No pens, papers or mobile devices are permitted so make sure they are packed away from your desk
  • You should not look away from the screen
  • You are permitted to leave the test window only after the exam concludes
  • No grammar or spelling checkers are allowed
  • Take note: your browser navigation will be disabled once you have started your test

Take note that once you have completed your test, that an examiner will watch it to make sure that you’ve followed all the rules!

Understanding your results

The Duolingo English Test is designed to evaluate your reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills of the English language. Statistical machine learning algorithms are used to score the test, based on your responses.

Each test candidate's proficiency is scored on a scale from 10 – 160 marks. Each score has an equivalent Central European Framework of References for Languages (CEFR) level. The CEFR is a standardised level of language proficiency that ranges from beginner to advanced.

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