Duolingo English Test Explained


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Duolingo’s mission is to make education free for all through its software that teaches people how to learn English with an interactive game format. Duolingo has been praised as one of the most effective tools available because it’s so easy to use.

The Duolingo English Test can help certify your English proficiency entirely online. It was the first fully digital secure English language test.

What makes the Duolingo English Test unique

The test measures English language proficiency, giving a score in the same way as other popular tests such as IELTS via The British Council or the Cambridge English Test. However, several differences make the Duolingo test unique.

Here are the main ones

  • The test only takes one hour to complete. Most other tests take between 3 and 4 hours.
  • The test is adaptive. This means that there is only one section where the next question is based on your previous answers.
  • You get the results within two days. This is much quicker than other tests.
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History of the Duolingo test

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

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. They published their finding in peer-reviewed journals to demonstrate the accuracy and value of their fully online tests.

The impact of the global pandemic in 2020 means there was an even greater need for fully online tests. As a result, more and more institutions agreed to accept the Duolingo English test for proof of English.

Now the test is recognised and used by thousands of universities worldwide for admissions. In addition, in 2021, Duolingo partnered with the UNHCR to support refugees in gaining access to higher education.

Who accepts the test?

Thousands of universities around the world now accept Duolingo English Test. In addition, most universities now recognise the test in the UK and accept them for undergraduate and postgraduate admissions.

Some examples of top 10 UK universities that accept the test are,

  • Imperial College London
  • London School of Economics
  • University of Bath


But there are still a few that do not. Duolingo English Test is relatively new and pioneering a digital-first approach to language assessment. As such, always ask your chosen university if they accept the test before you commit to practising and booking a test.

Test structure- How does the test work?

When you take the test, there are three phases. To take the test, all you need is a quiet, well-lit room and an internet-connected computer with a microphone, webcam and speaker. You do not need to travel to a test centre.

An introduction- 5 mins
Test your equipment and run through the rules

A service of computer-graded questions- 45 mins
A series of adaptive questions- there is no set number!

An ungraded video and writing session- 10 mins
You select the question in each section and have 3 mins for a spoken answer and 5 minutes for your written response.

You can book and take the test at any time that suits you. There is no need to book in advance or wait for specific exam dates. Once you have completed the test, you will get the results within 48 hours and be ready to share with your chosen universities.

Computer Adaptive test

An adaptive test is a system that changes the questions it asks you based on your previous answers. It is this algorithm that makes the Duolingo test unique.

If you answer a question correctly, the test will make the following questions more difficult until you make a mistake. The algorithm will then focus on that difficulty level to find a true reflection of your language ability. No two tests are the same.

It means that the test can accurately reflect someone’s language proficiency in a much shorter time than the traditional test.

Test accuracy

In 2019 there was scepticism about how a test with no human interaction could be accurate, which persists today in some circles. However, in peer-reviewed publications, research by Duolingo has shown a correlation between its test scores and that of the traditional SELT exams. The links below will open a new window to the papers.

Validity, Reliability, and Concordance of the Duolingo English Test

The Reliability of Duolingo English Test Scores

Test Security

The S in SELT stands for secure. Universities need to know that the person taking the test is who they say they are and that no cheating occurs. For in-person tests at an exam centre, this is achieved via identity checks and exam invigilators monitoring the test-takers during the exam.

The Duolingo English tests use an AI, and human check before certificates and a score is awarded. This process takes up most of the 48 hours between taking the test and getting your result.

You must follow the rules and not take any prohibited actions when taking the test. If you do not follow the rules, you will not be awarded a score or certificate.

During the test, you must follow the rules below.

  • Must be alone in a quiet, well-lit room
  • Ears must be visible and uncovered
  • Face must be visible and unobscured
  • No headphones or earphones
  • No outside materials, including mobile devices, notes, or textbooks
  • No communication with anyone else
  • No writing utensils or paper
  • Do not look away from the screen
  • Do not leave the test window on your web browser for any reason.

You can find full guidelines on the ID and test proctoring involved here. (opens a new window)

How is the test scored?

The Duolingo English Test has an overall score of 10 to 160. The overall score consists of 4 subscores that cover the following, each with 10 to 160.

  • Literacy – Ability to read and write
  • Comprehension – Ability to listen and read
  • Conversation – Ability to speak and listen
  • Production – Ability to write and speak

The overall score also includes a short description of your language ability on the certificate.

Overall duolingo score

Duolingo English test scores required by universities

As a general guideline, universities look for an overall score of 105 with no lower than 95 in any subscore. But, each university will have its own admissions policy, and this may even vary between courses within a university.

This table shows the IELTS equivalent scores.

Duolingo ScoreIELTS Score

As always, check with your chosen course provider what their exact requirements are before you book a test.

Test question types

Graded Section

During the main part of the adaptive test, there are 10 question types that you will get asked. Each question type counts towards two of the subscores.

Question typeSubscore category
1: Read and CompleteLiteracy, Comprehension
2: Read and SelectComprehension, Conversation
3: Listen and SelectComprehension, Conversation
4: Listen and TypeComprehension, Conversation
5: Read AloudProduction, Literacy
6: Write About the PhotoProduction, Conversation
7: Speak About the PhotoProduction, Literacy
8: Read, Then WriteConversation, Production
9: Read, Then SpeakConversation, Production
10: Listen, Then SpeakLiteracy, Comprehension

As each test is adaptive, no two tests have the same questions and are unique to that individual.

As the test has developed over time, two sample questions have been added. You take the Speaking Sample and Writing Sample at the end of the exam. These final two questions are ungraded.

Ungraded Section

This last part of the exam is not graded but is sent out with your test results when you share your score with universities. This section is an excellent way for the admissions team to get a feel for an applicants language proficiency.

Speaking Sample

For this type of question, you will be given a choice between two written prompts. You’ll have to speak for 1-3 minutes on whichever prompt you think you will have the most to talk about.

You only have 30 seconds to read both the prompts and decide. You then have up to three minutes to speak.

The video is sent as a recording along with your test results.

Writing Sample

The Writing Sample asks you to “Write for 3-5 minutes about the topic below.” Remember, this does not count towards our score, but what you write will be sent with your test results. Therefore, you need to make sure what you write is relevant to the topic, as your writing here can impact your application.

How to practice for free

The best way to prepare for the test is by doing as many practice tests as possible. These practice tests will help you become family with the question types.

As Duiloings ethos is free to lean, they have excellent resources for test-takers. Here you can practice the tests and gain insights about areas of English you need to improve.

How to register

This English proficiency test is unique. You can take it at home at a time of your choice. Test takers simple need to register with Duolingo. Once you are registered, you can practice as many times as you want.

How to book the Duolingo test

You can then purchase the test to take when you choose. The only prerequisite is completing a short survey before starting the test.

University offers

As this exam is unique, you should confirm with your chosen university that they accept the Duolingo English Test for admissions before you practice or book the exam. If they accept the exam, it is recommended that you apply before you sit the test.

Doing this means that if your application is successful, the university will provide a conditional offer on passing a language proficiency test. You will know that you are guaranteed a place pending your exam results.

University Rankings