You want to study abroad, but you need English skills. Now what? Your university will likely require you to take an English level test such as the IELTS, TOEFL, or DET. However, what are the differences and which one should you take? Here are the similarities and differences between the three:
DET (Duolingo English Test) - There is a new test in town! The DET is a general English proficiency exam developed by the creators of the popular Duolingo language learning app. It costs $49, is completely online, and you receive your scores within 48 hours. This is because your test is completely graded by an algorithm. You read that correctly. A human doesn’t determine your score and you can take the exam at home! Additionally, the DET is accepted at a wide variety of institutions (detailed list here) and is quickly becoming a popular English test, especially since it is affordable, convenient, and IELTS and TOEFL testing centers have closed due to the pandemic.
TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) - one of the most established tests on the market. TOEFL tests your ability to use academic English and is therefore widely accepted by colleges and universities. You take the test in a testing center and humans grade your speaking section, although you do speak into a microphone when taking the test. You need typing and note-taking skills, in addition to academic English knowledge.
IELTS (International English Language Testing System) - Like TOEFL, this test is well established. There are two versions: Academic and General. This article describes the academic test, which is used to get into universities. The General is used for immigration and work purposes. IELTS is taken at a testing center; the speaking section is usually on one day and the remaining sections are on another day. During the speaking section you will have a conversation with a person in front of you, which some people find is more comfortable than speaking into a microphone.
|Length||Less than 1 hour||3 hours long||2 hours and 45 minutes long, often on two separate days|
|Test Location||Online at a location of your choice (your home, office, dorm, etc.)||Over 500 locations in the US, over 4,500 worldwide||59 locations in the US and about 900 worldwide|
|Price||$49||Cost is usually between $160 and $200||Cost varies significantly, even within the same country; usually is around $200|
|Who accepts the test?||Universities||Universities and Immigration||Universities and Immigration|
|English skills?||General||Academic||Academic and General|
|Who scores the speaking part?||An algorithm scores all sections.||You speak into a microphone and a person scores your answers.||You have a conversation with a person during your test and then others score your test.|
It is difficult to know precisely which test you should take, but the following questions should help you decide. Answer yes/no to the questions:
- I am comfortable with computers.
- I can type quickly.
- I am comfortable speaking into a microphone without a human present.
- I am comfortable with American English.
- I am good at discussing general topics, such as current events, environmental issues, and hobbies.
- I need an inexpensive test.
- I don’t have easy access to a physical testing center.
If you answered YES to these questions, the Duolingo English Test is the test you should take. Check with your desired institution to see if they accept it.
Answer YES or NO to the following questions:
- I am comfortable speaking into a microphone.
- I can type quickly.
- I prefer standard American English.
- I am good at answering multiple-choice questions.
- It is easy for me to take notes from a recording.
- The authentic English sources I read/watch/listen to are usually intended to inform (such as documentaries) rather than entertain (TV series).
If you answered YES, to these questions, the TOEFL is a good fit for you. If you answered NO, then you should take IELTS.
Before signing up for a test, make sure to check with your study abroad program as to which tests they accept. Some accept all tests and some accept only certain tests. Once you sign up for a test, begin preparing as soon as possible. It is important to study your English skills AND how to take the test, as you don’t want to take the test over and over again when you could have been prepared the first time.
Need test prep help? Shelley R teaches students how to succeed on all three test types and also has academic English lessons so you can prepare even more for your studies abroad.