Most college admissions tests, like the SAT, ACT and TOEFL, were not administered in person in North Macedonia this spring because of the coronavirus pandemic, so recent high school graduate Mila Bileska took the online Duolingo English Test. Since then, she’s been busy researching specific admissions requirements for her top-choice universities in the U.S.
“To my surprise, almost all accept the Duolingo exam for the upcoming 2021 admission cycle,” Bileska says of the schools she’s interested in.
Due to the pandemic, the Duolingo English Test, a computer-adaptive language proficiency test, is gaining momentum as a way to measure the language skills of prospective international students applying to U.S. colleges and universities.
“While the number of universities recognizing the Duolingo English Test has been growing quickly over the last three years, the COVID-19 pandemic has rapidly accelerated the use of our test as students and schools needed an accurate and secure online testing solution,” says Luis von Ahn, CEO and co-founder of Duolingo, a language learning platform.
Here are three things prospective international students should know about the Duolingo English Test:
— How to access the test
— What the test covers
— Which schools accept the test
How to Access the Duolingo English Test
The Duolingo English Test can be taken online anytime, anywhere, in less than an hour, according to the test’s website. It costs $49.
“What I liked about Duolingo English Test was that I could take the exam at home and that it was way cheaper than TOEFL, when it comes to taking the test and sending the scores to colleges,” says South Korean student Yein Yoon, an engineering major at the University of Pennsylvania.
In comparison, the Test of English as a Foreign Language, or TOEFL test, and the International English Language Testing System, or IELTS — which have been two of the most popular English proficiency exams — take up to three hours to complete, are traditionally administered in testing centers and can cost more than $200 each depending on where the test-taker is based.
“TOEFL, IELTS and most recently Duolingo are part of the college admission process,” says Juan-Camilo Tamayo, a higher education consultant and founder of JCT4Education in Florida. “I have seen and recommended to my students the three exams, and there is one key factor when I recommend Duolingo: access.”
Due to COVID-19, however, both the TOEFL and IELTS have home-testing options available as well.
Educational Testing Service, which administers the TOEFL, is temporarily offering the TOEFL iBT Special Home Edition. The internet-based test is the same in content, format and on-screen experience as the test-center version, according to ETS, but is monitored by a human proctor online.
IELTS is similarly temporarily offering IELTS Indicator, an online test for students who cannot go to a test center due to pandemic-related restrictions; the speaking portion of the test is conducted with a trained IELTS examiner via a video call.
What the Duolingo English Test Covers
Like the TOEFL and IETLS, the Duolingo English Test focuses on reading, listening, speaking and writing. However, one difference is that the Duolingo English Test is adaptive; this means that the question difficulty adjusts to each test-taker based on skill level and depends on if the previous question was answered correctly.
Duolingo does not have long reading and writing prompts but rather short questions that measure the same skills. Some of the question types include filling in blank words in a passage, differentiating between real and fake English words and describing an image aloud or in writing, says Jennifer Dewar, head of strategic engagement for the Duolingo English Test.
The test also has an ungraded portion that consists of a video interview and writing sample. Von Ahn says exam results include an overall proficiency score (on a 160-point scale) and subscores of integrated skills; the results are ready within two days and can be sent immediately to an unlimited number of schools at no additional cost.
Bileska says she would describe the Duolingo English Test as “playful” since the test’s structure, which she says covers topics ranging from music to science, encourages that attitude and in turn calms test-related anxiety. “This differs from most conventional English tests that require students to write long essays on a single topic that may not be in their interest,” she says.
The questions on the exam are mostly fill-in-the-blanks or word recognition, she says, plus questions where an item is displayed on the screen and the test-taker needs to quickly identify it. The question types vary from one to five minutes. “Therefore, the test itself is more dynamic, the reason I named it ‘playful,'” Bileska says.
In comparison, the TOEFL focuses on scenarios students might come across in real life, especially in academia, and formulates questions based on separate sections on reading, writing, speaking and listening, while the Duolingo English Test combines all question types into one exam. The IELTS measures language ability through a mix of multiple-choice, short answer and essay questions.
Yoon took both the TOEFL and the Duolingo English Test since two of the nine U.S. schools she applied to did not accept the latter exam, and she says she received similar scores. For the schools that accepted both tests, she says she sent her Duolingo English Test score.
“I thought that TOEFL proves my fluency in academic English, which can be shown through my SAT, ACT, AP scores, while Duolingo focuses more on conversational, real-life English,” Yoon says.
Which Schools Accept the Duolingo English Test
Since the global pandemic began, more than 1,000 new programs have started to accept the Duolingo English Test, von Ahn says, with more than 2,000 institutions now using it as part of their admissions process — 70% of which are based in the U.S. The test is accepted at institutions like Stanford University in California, Washington University in St. Louis, Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, Vanderbilt University in Tennessee and New York University.
“Northeastern fully accepts the Duolingo English Test and any nonnative English-speaking applicants who submit DET results will satisfy our English language proficiency requirement,” says Beau Benson, senior associate director for international recruitment at Northeastern University in Massachusetts.
Benson says in the school’s admissions process, all results are considered equally, whether they are from the Cambridge English exams, Duolingo English Test, IELTS Academic, PTE Academic or TOEFL iBT.
While some schools accept the Duolingo English Test, prospective international students should be aware that other schools like the University of California–Los Angeles and the University of Richmond only accept the test as an optional supplement to the TOEFL and IELTS.
In addition, other schools are only temporarily accepting the Duolingo English Test. For instance, the University of Colorado–Boulder is accepting the test as an approved examination for English proficiency through July 15, 2021, and will evaluate scores on a case-by-case basis.
Clark Brigger, executive director of admissions at CU–Boulder, says during the COVID-19 pandemic, the school has expanded the accepted English language proficiency tests to include the Duolingo English Test. “We see this as an access imperative, as many students are unable to travel to an available testing site for the other English language proficiency exams, while Duolingo can be taken from one’s own device wherever they have connectivity across the world,” Brigger says.
International students should research their university choices to see which language tests are required. Even if a target school does not accept the Duolingo English Test, Bileska says trying it can be beneficial and “can prove a good practice for any proficiency test.”
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