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IELTS, TOEFL, Duolingo: What are the differences?

6 Min Read
November 03, 2022

If you're planning to study at an English-speaking university as a non-native speaker, chances are you'll have to sit for an English language proficiency test. Lately, there have been various options available including IELTS, TOEFL, and Duolingo. While all serve the same goal in mind, namely to evaluate English language skill level in an academic setting, there are key differences to know. 

Curious about the differences and the special features of each English proficiency test? Continue reading to find out!


Berkas:IELTS logo.svg - Wikipedia bahasa Indonesia, ensiklopedia bebas

For non-native English speakers, the International English Language Test (IELTS) is one of the most widely accepted and well-recognized English language proficiency tests. IELTS tests are divided into two categories: IELTS Academic and IELTS General Training. The IELTS Academic test is for those applying for higher education or professional registration in an English-speaking environment, while the IELTS General Training test is for those who are going for secondary education, work experience, or training programs in English-speaking countries.

The IELTS test includes four different sections:

  • Listening (30-40 minutes)
  • Reading (60 minutes)
  • Writing (60 minutes) 
  • Speaking (11-14 minutes)

Questions found in the IELTS test consist of a mix of multiple choice, diagram labelling, matching, short answer, and sentence completion. The IELTS test takes about 2 hours and 45 minutes to complete, with the first three sections always completed immediately after each other and with no break. The Speaking test, on the other hand, is commonly done on a separate date. 

IELTS Grading System

The IELTS is graded on a 9-point scale including half scores, with four subsection scores averaging out to give an overall band score. IELTS scores are accepted as proof of English language proficiency by almost all universities in the United Kingdom and Australia, more than 3,400 institutions in the United States, and the majority of academic institutions in Europe, Ireland, and Canada. 

In response to COVID-19, IELTS Indicator was created, which is an online test that allows test takers to take the test in the comfort and safety of their own homes. This 2 hours 45 minutes test is similar to the IELTS test taken in a test center in terms of questions and difficulty. It spans all four sections: 

  • Listening (30 minutes) - 40 questions
  • Reading (60 minutes) - 40 questions
  • Writing (60 minutes) - 2 tasks
  • Speaking (11 to 14 minutes) - 3 tasks over Video Call

The IELTS Indicator test must be completed in one session for the Listening, Reading, and Writing sections, with the Speaking test conducted via video call with a fully qualified and trained examiner a few days before or after the other sections. Within seven days of taking the test, test takers will receive an indicative score for each section as well as an overall band score. The IELTS Indicator is not a substitute for the in-person IELTS test as it only provides an indicative score. Therefore, not all organisations accept it, and once testing resumes, university or education providers may require the in-person IELTS test to be taken. 

Find out which organisations accept IELTS Indicator at 


File:TOEFL Logo.svg - Wikimedia Commons

The TOEFL is available in two formats: an internet-based test (iBT) and a paper-based test (PBT), both of which are widely used for university admissions, employment, and immigration. Over 11,000 universities in over 150 countries recognize the test, which is graded on a scale of 120 points. The format of the test may vary based on the location of the test takers.

The TOEFL iBT has four components: 

  • Listening Comprehension (54-72 minutes)
  • Structure and Written Expression (41-57 minutes)
  • Reading Comprehension (17 minutes)
  • Written expression (50 minutes)

Between the listening and speaking sections, there is a 10-minute break, making the test about 3 hours and 30 minutes long. Each section is graded on a scale of 0 to 30, with 120 as the maximum score. It usually takes six to ten days for the TOEFL iBT scores to be released. Both the iBT and PBT versions of the TOEFL test have the same four sections, but the scoring scales and timing are different.

Duolingo English Test

The Duolingo English Test is an online test that can be taken from anywhere and at any given time. As it does not require an appointment, this test has become more widely accepted, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 2,000 universities already use this test for admissions, with 70% of them based in the United States. Even the most prestigious educational institutions have accepted it!

Just like the TOEFL and IELTS, it tests all four language skills:

  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Listening
  • Speaking

Duolingo Test Format

Duolingo offers a variety of questions in formats that may be unfamiliar to you. The tests includes:

  • Listening to spoken words and selecting the real ones
  • Reviewing written words and selecting the real ones
  • Completing missing letters from a text
  • Describing an image in writing or aloud
  • Recording yourself saying a written sentence
  • Verbally answering a spoken question
  • Responding in writing to a written question (writing samples have a maximum of 500 words but are usually much shorter)
  • Typing out a statement that you hear
  • Video interview - speak for 1-3 minutes on a chosen topic
    • Ungraded but goes along with the test results 


Within 60 minutes, the Duolingo English Test is divided into three parts:

  • Quick setup (5 minutes)
  • Adaptive test (45 minutes) - Evaluates Listening, Reading, Speaking, and Writing
  • Video interview (10 minutes) 

The test is adaptive in nature, which means that if a test taker answers correctly, the next question will be more difficult than the previous one. Conversely, if a wrong response is provided, the next question will be easier. As the Duolingo English Test blends all questions into a single exam, you can get a writing question following a reading question, for instance. The test lasts between 45 and 60 minutes, and is graded on a scale of 160 points, with 5-points increment. The test score will usually be released in 48 hours

To check which institutions accept the Duolingo English Test, head over to  

The Comparison

Score comparison charts for all three - IELTS, TOEFL iBT, and Duolingo

Proficiency Level IELTS TOEFL iBT Duolingo
Expert 9 118 - 120 155 - 160
Very good 8 - 8.5 110 - 117 135 - 150
Good 7 - 7.5 94 - 109 115 - 130
Competent 6 - 6.5 60 - 93 95 - 110
Modest 5 - 5.5 35 - 59 75 - 90
Limited  4.5 32 - 34 65 - 70
Extremely limited  4 0 - 31 55 - 60


Key differences

  Where do I take the test? Test duration  Test Structure How long would it take to get the results? Validity of scores
IELTS Academic  Test center 2 hours and 45 minutes Four sections: Listening, Reading, Speaking, Writing  Computer-delivered IELTS: 3-5 days
Paper-based: 13 days
2 years
IELTS Indicator  Online  2 hours 45 minutes  Four sections: Listening, Reading, Speaking, Writing  7 days Only provides indicative score for each section along with an overall indicative score
TOEFL iBT Online about 3 hours and 30 minutes Four sections: Listening, Reading, Speaking, Writing  6 to 10 days  2 years
Duolingo  Online Between 45 minutes and 1 hour Three parts: Quick Set up, Adaptive Test, Video Interview  48 hours  2 years 


Now you've known the differences between these three English language proficiency tests! Regardless of your choice, make sure to practice consistently and double-check with your university requirements. Best of luck!

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