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Duolingo English Test gaining in US admissions

More than 60 higher education institutions are now using the English language proficiency exam developed by leading language learning app, Duolingo, to test applicants’ English language skills.

Duolingo English TestAs of December 2019, more than 600 US colleges and universities were working with Duolingo. By late February, that number had surged to more than 1,000. Image: Duolingo

The exam can be taken on demand on a mobile phone or personal computer for $50

The Duolingo English Test (formerly called Duolingo Test Center) has been adopted by universities across the US and South America including Colgate, UCLA and the University of Notre Dame as a cheaper and more convenient alternative to traditional exams.

The exam can be taken on demand on a mobile phone or personal computer for $50. Students’ exam results, including a 90-second video interview, are sent to admissions offices within 48 hours of completion.

“It’s something students could arrange to do from their iPhone at a cost that is a fraction of the other tests”

According to the company, institutions are using Duolingo to make decisions on waitlisted candidates, but around 40 are also using it as a direct alternative to TOEFL and IELTS exams, including Yale University.

“For many years they were the only shows in town and this year we were persuaded to use DET and compared the characteristics,” said Keith Light, director of international admissions at Yale.

“We found it appealing because of its portability. Students don’t have to go to a test centre. To take the TOEFL or IELTS, they tend to have to travel some distance at a relatively high cost.

“It’s something students could arrange to do from their iPhone at a cost that is a fraction of the other tests.”

To ensure results are authentic, the exam is moderated by human proctors who verify the student’s identity and guard against cheating.

“I have a feeling test security is going to be a perpetual challenge – as it is for other standardised tests – but we feel pretty good about DET’s setup,” said Light.

Since giving applicants the option to submit DET scores in November 2016, dozens of prospective Yale students have used it, he said.

“It’s not widely known but I have a feeling interest will accelerate. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a surge as counsellors around the world promote it.”

The exam launched in 2014 and finished pilot trials before the 2016/17 admissions period.

Jeff Brenzel, university admissions liaison at Duolingo, said the company now aims to grow partnerships and introduce enhancements to the test this summer.

“Now that we’ve been through a full admissions cycle with a significant group of partners, we’re having schools contact us because the word is getting out about how this functions in a real admissions environment,” he said.

“On the current pace that we’re taking queries from schools and also reaching out to additional schools, we’re expecting about 400-500 schools in the US to be using the DET by the end of this coming fall.”

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