TOEFL and IELTS have for long been the premier tests of academic English communication, i.e. you need to clear these tests for taking admission in most universities where the medium of communication is English. It applies to most subjects you’re studying — for example, even if you want to study mathematics at an American university, you will need to clear either TOEFL or IELTS because the teacher will teach mathematics in English. Basically, these tests measure how good you are at English reading, listening, speaking and writing.
Short for Test of English as a Foreign Language, TOEFL is the oldest such exam — it was started in 1964. It is accepted worldwide by more than 11,500 universities. The TOEFL exam fee is about Rs 14,000 ($190). Results are valid for two years from the test date.
Short for International English Language Testing System, IELTS is claimed by IDP Education (which administers the test) to be the world’s most popular English language test for work, study and migration, trusted by more than 10,000 organisations. Also valid for two years, IELTS costs about Rs 15,500.
Duolingo English Test (DET)
Started in 2016 by the language-learning platform Duolingo, DET is currently accepted by over 4,200 higher education programmes worldwide as a proof of English proficiency. Following universal recognition by its universities, most recently the Irish government decided to recognise DET for its study visas (in 2021).
“Students interested in studying abroad can certify their English with DET, in place of other standardised tests,” Jennifer Dewar, senior director of Strategic Engagement for DET, told FE.
In India to attend the GSV Emeritus summit, Dewar said that DET is radically more accessible and affordable. “We believe DET will be a game-changer for the current and next generation of study-abroad students,” she said. “You can take DET online anywhere, anytime — there is no need for travelling to a test centre or appointment needed. It is fast — results come within 48 hours of completing the test — and it is affordable (a fraction of the cost of other proficiency exams).”Taking DET, she said, costs only $49 (about Rs 4,000 in India).
“The cost of English proficiency tests has been a barrier,” she said. “For example, on average, a student in India must pay over a month’s median family income to take a standardised English test through one of the main existing providers. In contrast, DET costs a fraction, or about 25% of the price of other tests.” In 2022, DET was taken by students from 213 countries and regions.
Globally, seven cities had more than 4,000 test takers — Ahmedabad, Beijing, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Dhaka and Shanghai. Nineteen cities had more than 2,000 tests takers, including Hong Kong, Chennai, Delhi NCR, Istanbul, Kathmandu, Lahore, Surat, Toronto and Vijayawada.
The Indian market
While DET is taken by a lot less students globally than TEOFL and IELTS (millions), India has emerged as the largest market for DET. “India is the largest market for DET, with people taking the test from over 1,200 cities and towns over the last year. DET taken from India grew nearly 80% year-over-year in 2022. While DET takers applied to universities in more than 76 countries, most students were looking to study in the US, the UK and Canada — these markets together account for about 75% of DET takers,” Dewar said. “The most popular degree programmes were computer science & math, business & management, and engineering — collectively accounting for 57% of DET takers in India.”
Dewar added that in India, DET’s top 10 largest cities account for 76% of overall test volume. “We have seen particularly strong adoption in Hyderabad (and surrounding areas), where the demand for studying in the US is most pronounced. We also saw 50-100% year-over-year growth in key metros — Mumbai, Bengaluru, Delhi, Chennai — where student destinations are more diversified,” she said.
In addition to serving test takers in key metros, data shows that DET is a crucial enabler for test takers who live outside urban areas, who have a pressing need for a radically more accessible and affordable testing option. “Last year, we saw over 100% year-over-year growth in cities such as Kochi, Nellore, Bharuch, Malappuram and Eluru,” Dewar said. “Students from smaller cities and towns are likely to have a harder time accessing traditional test centres.”