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Changes to the IELTS, TOEFL and Duolingo tests under Covid-19

Was your English language test disrupted by the pandemic? Here's what's changed and which tests can now be taken from home

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Joy Hunter

Student content curator
February 11 2021
english language tests can be taken from home because of Covid-19


Before the pandemic, it was standard practice that all aspiring international students would sit an in-person exam to meet English language requirements to enrol in English-speaking universities.

But as Covid-19 has taken hold, English language test providers have shut down centres around the world in line with local restrictions. As with all aspects of higher education, there was a scramble to get an online alternative in place. Though some test centres are slowly reopening, most English-speaking universities are accepting online and alternative versions of proficiency tests while in-person exams remain largely unavailable.

Find out more about the Duolingo English Language test today

So, which new English language tests are widely accepted and how do they work?

IELTS Indicator

IELTS (International English Language Testing System), provider of the commonly recommended IELTS Academic proficiency test, has launched the IELTS Indicator test in response to the pandemic.

IELTS Indicator is a timed online test assessing English language skills in listening, reading, writing and speaking; students take it online from home. The speaking element of the test is taken via video call with a trained IELTS examiner.

Many institutions around the world are accepting IELTS Indicator, and you can use this list to check if your chosen university is among them. Since this is a new test, few universities have announced a minimum score requirement. It’s best to contact your institution’s international office directly for more information.

This test is only offered in some countries, and even though it’s taken online from home, you still need to book a place on the test at a specific time. You can check if your home country is offering IELTS Indicator and book your test appointment here.

IELTS Indicator is intended to be a temporary alternative to face-to-face exams while test centres are shut and may well be discontinued or updated once Covid-19 restrictions are lifted.

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Duolingo English Test

Another test that has become widely accepted by universities is the Duolingo English Test (DET). This test can be taken anywhere in the world at any time, without needing to book a slot, making it a convenient option. Results are available within 48 hours.

The test includes a graded section to evaluate reading, speaking and listening skills, and a recorded video section where you answer open-ended questions. The test lasts for an hour.

More institutions are happy to accept DET scores, and you can use this search tool to check if your university accepts them.

Since the test has only become widely accepted in 2021, most universities haven’t stated a minimum required score. However, many of the Ivy League universities in the US have indicated that they expect a score of around 120,  which is a good general indicator of what to aim for. You can see how the DET test scores compare to traditional proficiency exams such as the TOEFL iBT here.

TOEFL iBT Home Edition and TOEFL ETP Plus for China

ETS TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) is a widely recognised English language test provider and prior to the pandemic, its TOEFL internet-based test (iBT) was a common choice to non-native speakers applying to English-speaking universities. This test is known for being among the best for assessing students’ English skills as they would use them in a university setting.

The iBT was designed to be taken at physical test centres, so the company has since released the TOEFL iBT Home Edition and TOEFL ITP Plus for China as alternatives that can be taken at home while Covid-19 restrictions are in place.

These alternative tests mimic the original iBT in content, format, onscreen experience, scoring and pricing. The TOEFL ITP Plus for China also includes a video interview conducted by a Chinese firm called Vericant. Results are available 10 days after the test date.

You can use this search tool to check if your institution accepts these tests.

The TOEFL iBT Home Edition and the TOEFL ETP Plus for China are both modelled on the well-established TOEFL iBT, so most universities ask for the same test scores for these new tests as they have previously for the iBT. These are usually available on university websites. Note that some universities will stipulate a minimum overall score as well as minimum sub-scores in the separate competencies of speaking, listening, reading and writing.

Where it is not made explicitly clear, contact your university directly to double-check that they expect the same scores for the TOEFL iBT Home Edition and the TOEFL ETP Plus for China as they do for the iBT.


Find out more about the Duolingo English Language test today

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