IELTS, TOEFL, PTE or Duolingo? Your guide to English language proficiency tests

IELTS, TOEFL, PTE or Duolingo? Your guide to English language proficiency testsSource: Times Higher Education THE – Student

Author: Joy Hunter, Student content curator

If you’re applying to an English-speaking university as a non-native speaker, it’s highly likely you’ll have to take an English language proficiency test. The most commonly accepted tests include the IELTS Academic, TOEFL, PTE and Duolingo English Test (DET).

These tests help to show your chosen institution that you have a sufficient grasp of English to excel in an academic setting. Often, they’ll also be needed as part of your separate student visa application once you receive your university offer to study abroad.

The below guide takes you through each test, including costs, how to book, how to compare scores between tests, which institutions recognise each test and how soon you’ll get your results.


IELTS Academic

The IELTs Academic is one of the most widely accepted English language proficiency tests for non-native English speakers looking to study abroad. It includes sections on listening, speaking, academic reading and academic writing. You may want to take an IELTS preparation course, many of which are available online.

The test was specifically designed to assess how proficient you are in speaking English in an academic setting, where the language will often be highly specialised.  The cost of the IELTS Academic is between £175-£195 and you’ll get your results within 13 days.

The IELTS Academic is accepted by all universities in the UK and Australia, more than 3,400 institutions in the US, and the vast majority of academic institutions in Canada, Ireland and Europe. Use this search tool to find out if your chosen institution accepts the IELTS test. You can take your IELTS Academic at one of many registered test centres around the globe. You can book your IELTS test here.

IELTS Indicator

Created in response to Covid-19 restrictions, the IELTS Indicator is a version of the IELTS Academic test which can be taken from home instead of at a test centre. This test assesses all the same areas as the IELTS Academic, with the speaking element of the test taken via video call with a trained IELTS examiner. 

Because of Covid-19, many institutions currently accept the IELTS Indicator, and you can use this list to check if your chosen university is among them. 


The TOEFL iBT is an internet-based test provided by the assessment company ETS and is frequently used for university study, work and immigration purposes. It’s accepted by more than 11,000 universities in over 150 countries, and you can search on the ETS website to check whether your institution accepts it.  The cost depends on your location and results will usually take six to 10 days.

PTE Academic

The PTE Academic test is run by education company Pearson and uses artificial intelligence to provide an unbiased assessment of your English proficiency.

The PTE Academic can be taken at approved and Covid-secure Pearson test centres and is widely accepted by universities worldwide. Use the PTE Academic search tool to see if your institution accepts the PTE test. Costs depend on your location, and you can check the cost in your country on the PTE Academic site, along with a range of helpful preparation materials. 

Duolingo English Test

The Duolingo English Test is an online test that can be taken anywhere in the world at any time prior to booking, so it has become more widely accepted during the Covid-19 pandemic. Results are available within 48 hours and it costs about £40.

Many institutions are happy to accept DET scores, and you can use this search tool to check if your university accepts them. You can also use this tool to compare DET test scores with IELTS and TOEFL scores.

When should I take my English language test?

Not all universities require an English test to apply. If you haven’t completed a test upon application, it will often become a condition of your offer.

What is an accepted IELTS, TOEFL, PTE or Duolingo test score?

IELTS Academic: Lots of universities will ask for a minimum score of 6-6.5 on the IELTS test, and usually stipulate that you score at least 5.5 or more in each category. Particularly competitive courses at top universities such as the Ivy League colleges in the US may ask for a higher score, in some cases up to an 8.

TOEFL iBT: On average, a score of 90-100 is considered good for TOEFL iBT. Some universities will stipulate an additional minimum score across each category.

PTE: On average, a score of 58 or above is considered good for the PTE. Some top universities may stipulate a higher minimum, up to a score of 70 for very competitive courses.

Duolingo English Test: Most universities will expect a score of about 100, with some top universities asking for 120.

Do I need to take a separate English language test for my visa application?

Often the tests that your university accepts will be enough to prove your English-speaking abilities in your visa application, and in some cases your university will write a letter to verify your proficiency on your visa application as long as you have satisfied its conditions. Different countries will have different test requirements for the visa, so make sure you research your chosen destination for specific rules. 

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