TOEFL or Duolingo?

Due to the COVID-19 outbreak many TOEFL exams are being cancelled or postponed. The following blog post details an online English test, which can be taken from your home. This exam might be a good option for many of you. If you have any further questions please contact us. Thank you and stay safe.

TOEFL or Duolingo?

Often a source of anxiety and fear, English tests are a necessary step in the university admissions process. While some might dread test day, these exams can be a great opportunity to show your abilities to the school of your dreams or to expand your list of options. Even more, a good test score can shine brightly on your CV when applying for an internship or an additional scholarship.

For American universities the TOEFL English test is the current gold standard. It is accepted by virtually all universities and has been taken by more than 35 million people all over the world. However, a new test provided by the well-known App Duolingo has become increasingly popular. Duolingo promises to be fast, convenient, and affordable but can it compete with TOEFL? Lets compare the exams so that you can have a better idea of which one is right for you.

Which institutions recognize it

TOEFL is the preferred English-language test of most universities in the United States. More than 11,000 universities and other institutions worldwide accept the TOEFL, including universities in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the U.K., as well as across Europe and Asia.

The Duolingo English test is now accepted at 500+ of the worlds leading institutions including Yale University, Arizona State University, University of Alabama and Stanford University. It is even recognized at some Spanish institutions such as IE University and TBS Barcelona Toulouse Business School. While the current list of institutions accepting the Duolingo test is far less than the TOEFL, this number has been growing fast and will surely continue to increase.

Where and when can I take the test?

The TOEFL is offered as a paper test but most students take it in the iBT form, (internet based test). Although the iBT is taken completely on a computer, you need to go to an official exam center in order to do it. There are more than 50 test dates per year at test centers around the world.

Duolingo offers a major advantage here as you can take the exam at any time, any day from the comfort of your own home.

What is on the test?

The TOEFL has reading, writing, listening and speaking sections, as you would expect but each section integrates more than one skill. For example in the speaking section you might need to read a text, listen to a conversation then speak about both. TOEFL boasts that this method better prepares you for studying in English and gives universities a better idea of what your level will be in a classroom situation.

Duolingo consists of two parts. First, there is the graded section, which lasts 45 minutes. You will find integrated tasks mixing reading, writing, listening and speaking. This section is adaptive, meaning that questions are adjusted to your level as you move through the exam. Next, there is a 10-minute live interview where you will answer open-ended questions and provide a writing sample. This section is ungraded but is used by institutions to get a better feel for your conversational and writing abilities.

Preparing for the test

Since the TOEFL test is so popular, there are almost unlimited study materials and practice tests available both online and in print.

As the Duolingo test is adaptive, they say that no specific preparation is needed. You only need to improve your general English level in order to improve your score. They do provide a free sample test once you have created an account and logged in.

How long is the test?

TOEFL = 3 hours on average
Duolingo = 1 hour

Results and sending scores

The TOEFL has a total of 120 points, 30 points for each section. A nice feature of the TOEFL is that if you take it more than once, they compile your best scores from each section to show your highest possible score. Your score will be available within 7-10 days. You have 4 free score sends when signing up, otherwise it is $20 to send your official score to each university.

Duolingo is out of 160 points and can be taken twice within a 30-day period. Some positives for this test are that you will get your results within 48 hours and your score can be sent directly to the universities for free.


TOEFL = $245
Duolingo = $49

Overall, TOEFL still has the advantage simply due to the amount of institutions that recognize it, but Duolingo is definitely faster, more convenient and far more affordable. As the Duolingo test becomes more popular it could become the top option. In the end, deciding whether to take the TOEFL or Duolingo really depends on which universities you are trying to attend. Personally, I might suggest taking both: the Duolingo to get an initial score that can be used for recruiting purposes and then (if necessary) the TOEFL for admission into the school of your choice.