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Top Strategies for Effective Duolingo English Test Preparation

The Duolingo English Test (DET) is a global assessment that evaluates your English skills. The test was introduced in 2016 as a more affordable alternative to the existing English language proficiency tests like the IELTS, TOEFL and PTE Exam Academic. Despite its late introduction, the DET has gained immense popularity worldwide. In addition to affordability, convenience and testing accuracy are major factors.

Unlike the IELTS or the TOEFL, the DET is an AI-powered computer-adaptive test. That means the exam adapts to your expertise level. For example, if you answer one question correctly, the next question will be more challenging. But if you answer incorrectly, the test will lower the difficulty level. There is no predetermined number of questions you might get on the test. The exam ends when the AI has gathered enough data to accurately assess your English skills.

Since there’s no set pattern to the questions, you can’t afford to let your guard down. Furthermore, the total number of questions you answer correctly does not determine your overall score. That’s why you must prepare for the DET thoroughly if you want to achieve top scores. Since the DET assesses your English reading, writing, speaking and listening skills, you cannot afford to skip any of these categories during your preparation.

Therefore, the primary aim of this blog is to guide you as you prepare for the DET. It will cover everything you must know about the exam, crucial preparatory tips and strategies that will guarantee an excellent score. Read on to learn more.

Understanding the Duolingo English Test (DET)

The Duolingo English Test (DET) is quite different from the other English language proficiency tests in terms of exam pattern and duration. While the ETS has changed the duration of the TOEFL to just under 2 hours, the IELTS goes on for 2 hours and 45 minutes. Even the PTE Academic is more than 2 hours in duration. However, the DET is the only proficiency test that is over within an hour.

Format of the Duolingo English Test:



Introduction & Onboarding

5 minutes

Graded Adaptive Exam

45 minutes

Writing & Speaking Samples

10 minutes

Keep in mind that the duration for the graded adaptive test and the writing & speaking samples are not to the dot. That's because the exam might end a few minutes earlier or later, depending on the AI.

Different Sections of the Duolingo English Test:

Introduction & Onboarding (5 minutes)

Before you can begin, the test checks whether your equipment and environment meet the required standards. Want to breeze through this step? Then follow these tips –

  1. Ensure your speakers and microphone works properly.
  2. Your computer should have a front-facing camera.
  3. You must be in a well-lit room alone for an hour.
  4. Your computer must run on Windows or macOS.
  5. You must have a strong internet connection.
  6. Carry your Passport/government-issued ID/driver's license for identity verification.

Graded Adaptive Exam (approx. 45 minutes)

The graded section of the adaptive test poses a wide range of questions that test your English skills. These are completely random and don’t follow a set pattern. However, you can expect the following kinds of questions – 

  • Read and select
  • Read then speak
  • Read and complete
  • Read aloud
  • Read then write
  • Listen and type
  • Interactive listening
  • Listen then speak
  • Complete sentences
  • Complete passages
  • Write about a photo
  • Speak about a photo
  • Identify an idea
  • Provide the title of the passage
  • Highlight an answer

The questions appear randomly in the test at different difficulty levels.

Writing & Speaking Samples (approx. 10 minutes)

While this section was initially under the ungraded part of the test, the DET has undergone certain updates. One of these is to include the speaking sample grade in the overall score.

In this section, you must –

  1. Choose a prompt within 30 seconds.
  2. Answer open-ended questions for 1-3 minutes.
  3. Write answers to open-ended questions on the topic for 3-5 minutes.

Scoring System of the Duolingo English Test:

The Duolingo English test scores fall within the range of 10 to 160. After you've completed the exam, the computer-adaptive test evaluates your performance and provides you with two score categories –

  • Overall scores
  • Subscores
  • Overall scores 

The score you obtain in this section is a general overview of your English skills. The score range is 10-160, and most academic institutions accept these overall scores for admission purposes.

  • Subscores

Subscore ranges are also within 10 to 160. These scores showcase your English skills in four specific areas, such as –

  • Literacy – Assesses reading & writing ability 
  • Comprehension - Assesses reading & listening ability
  • Conversation - Assesses speaking & listening ability
  • Production - Assesses speaking & writing ability

Important to note – Your overall score is NOT an average of the subscores.

Adaptive Nature of the Duolingo English Test:

One of the defining characteristics of the DET is its adaptive nature. The test uses the latest AI technology to adapt itself to your skills and provide a fair assessment. Here’s how this works:

Suppose you answer a question correctly. The test checks its difficulty level and increases it slightly for the next question. If you answer it correctly as well, the next question will be more difficult. Like this, the test keeps increasing the levels until you answer incorrectly. The moment it detects an incorrect answer, it lowers the complexity of the next question. This adaptive nature of the exam is perfect for providing students with a fair assessment of their skills.

Acceptability of the Duolingo English Test

The DET might be a new addition to the existing English language proficiency tests. But it has been widely accepted in over 50 countries and in 4000+ educational institutions. In the USA, more than 90 institutes that are considered the Top 100 institutes accept the DET as valid proof of English proficiency. Some of these institutions are –

  • Boston University
  • Dartmouth College
  • New York University
  • University of California
  • University of Virginia
  • Columbia University
  • Harvard Business School
  • Vanderbilt University
  • Cornell University

The list goes on! Check out the official website to access the complete list of colleges and universities accepting the DET.

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Familiarize Yourself with the DET Test Format

The DET test format is quite simple. The exam is divided into three main sections –

  • Introduction
  • Adaptive test
  • Writing & speaking sample

Your primary concern is with the adaptive test, which is graded, and the writing and speaking samples. The kinds of questions you will encounter will test your English reading, writing, listening and speaking skills.

Scroll down for more details on these question types.

DET: Reading Section

The questions that come under this section are designed to assess your comprehension, literacy, conversation, vocabulary and production skills. Usually, you’ll encounter five types of questions under reading:

Read and select

You have to select real English words out of a mixture of real and pseudo words. This tests your vocabulary.

Read then speak

You must speak on a particular subject. The question will give you hints about what you should discuss. This tests your fluency in the language.

Read and complete

You must read a passage and complete the words that are incomplete. This task tests your ability to comprehend sentences and your knowledge of grammatical rules.

Read aloud

The test will provide you with 1-2 sentences that you must read aloud. This tests your pronunciation and intonation.

Read then write

You will receive a prompt (no options for prompts) for which you have to write approximately 50 words.

Preparation tips to ace the Reading section:

  • Identify the theme of passages.
  • Try to come up with connections between ideas.
  • Increase your reading scope.
  • Enrich your vocabulary by reading articles, journals, etc.

DET: Writing Section

Unlike the IELTS or the TOEFL, the DET does not have a separate writing section. You’ll find two kinds of writing tasks in the graded adaptive section in addition to the ungraded writing sample.

Read and write

You will receive a prompt for which you have to write 50 words.

Write about a photo

You must write one or two sentences about the photo provided in the question.

Writing sample

The test will provide you with two writing prompts. Select your preferred prompt within 30 seconds. Once selected, you will get 3-5 minutes to write on the provided theme.

Preparation tips to ace the Writing section:

  • Revise fundamental grammatical rules.
  • Practice writing in the formal style.
  • Use descriptive words when describing the photo.
  • Read extensively to upgrade your vocabulary.

DET: Speaking Section

The speaking section of the DET checks your fluency in English, sentence construction, comprehension and language skills. You'll find a variety of questions that put your skills to the test.

Speak about photo

The test allows 20 seconds for you to check the picture prompt. Following this, you will have to manually record your answer.

Listen, then speak

You must listen to a prompt before proceeding to speak your answer out loud. The test allows 20 seconds for you to listen to the prompt. You also get 2 replay chances.

Read aloud

The test will provide you with a written sentence on display. You will have 20 seconds to prepare for it and 30 seconds to read the sentence out loud.

Speaking sample

You will get two written prompts on the screen and 30 seconds to choose between them and prepare to speak. Once the recording begins, you must speak on the prompt for 1-3 minutes.

The speaking section was ungraded before. However, in a recent update, the DET has begun to count the scores of the speaking sample in the overall score.

Preparation tips to ace the Speaking section:

  • Practice conversing with friends and family.
  • Sign up for spoken English classes.
  • Work on your pronunciation and ability to speak clearly.
  • Choose topics to speak on for at least 3 minutes.

DET: Listening Section

The DET has included three types of listening questions to test your skills. Some of these questions will overlap ones that you have covered already.

Listen and type

In this type of question, you will have to type out what you hear within 1 minute. The audio is usually a sentence or a short paragraph. You also have the option to replay it. Such questions assess your retention capacity and comprehension ability.

Listen, then speak

The test will play an audio question. Once you are done listening, you have 30 seconds to record your answer. Make sure you speak clearly and answer the question to the best of your ability.

Interacting listening (previously Listen and Select)

DET has introduced the Interactive Listening section after scrapping the Listen and Select type of question. This has two components – 

  1. You must participate in an academic conversation as a student.
  2. You must summarize the conversation in the previous interaction.

The primary objective of this type of question is to test a student's proficiency level in educational settings.

Preparation tips to ace the Listening section:

  • Listen to English podcasts, academic lectures, etc.
  • Note down the crucial points of what you hear.
  • Summarize what you’ve heard.
  • Engage in conversations with native English speakers.

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Create a Study Plan

The Duolingo English Test might just be an hour long. But you can't just wing it. You might have excellent English scores on your school tests. However, there is no guarantee that you'll be able to get excellent results in the DET too. That’s why a study plan is a NECESSITY.

As a non-native English speaker, you might have excellent English writing and reading skills. But you don’t get to hear English conversations daily. The chances of speaking in English are also low. That’s where your confidence falters. But with a structured study plan, you can allocate time to improve in every section.

Break it down

When creating a study plan, remember to focus on your daily activities too. It’s not only about studying. Make sure you add enough time to take a break. A draconian study plan will only tire you out. So, think about the sections that you need to focus on more. Dedicate more time to those and create a balance between studying and other activities.

Set small goals

Something should motivate you to stick to your study plan. That's where small goals come into use. You can't expect to score 120+ in your Duolingo English practice tests the moment you start preparation. If you aim so high from the get-go, you'll be dejected when you fail to achieve the goals. So, focus on the small things. Try to take less time to form your answers. Learn at least 10 new vocabulary words daily. These small goals will help you a lot in the long run.

Track your progress

Your progress should follow an upward curve. There’s no use following study plans if you don’t see any changes for the better. So follow your plan for a week or two and solve practice tests regularly. Track your score pattern. If you don’t see any improvement, figure out which sections you’re struggling with the most. Then, modify your study plan to focus on those sections.

Improve Reading and Listening Skills

The DET does not have separate reading and listening sections. Even so, the test incorporates different types of reading and listening questions that assess your skills. Academicians have conducted various studies to check whether non-native English speakers are as good as native ones. But the results are not in favor of non-native speakers.

One study suggests that non-native speakers struggle with reading speed and quick comprehension. This can become a problem in a timed test like the DET. You won't get forever to read/listen and comprehend the prompts. That’s why you must prepare well for these sections.

Strategies for enhancing reading skills:

  1. Break up the chunk of text into smaller sections.
  2. Keep an eye out for context clues.
  3. Use flashcards to learn unfamiliar vocabulary.
  4. Identify the main theme or idea of a passage.
  5. Summarize what you read in 1-2 sentences.
  6. Highlight important sentences when you read.
  7. Come up with critical questions about the text while reading.

Strategies for improving listening skills:

  1. Listen to all kinds of media – podcasts, Ted Talks, movies, drama, academic lectures, etc.
  2. Summarize what you have listened to in 1-2 sentences.
  3. Keep track of the things you have listened to.
  4. Listen to people of different accents.
  5. Listen to a sentence and write it down after a few seconds to improve retention.
  6. Enroll in a DET tutoring centre where you can access audio files.
  7. Converse with friends and family members in English.

Once you start following these tips, test your reading and listening skills regularly to assess your progress. If you don’t see quick improvement, you can consult authentic study materials. There are hundreds of books that can help you overcome the challenges in your way. Check the next section for recommendations.

Duolingo Test Preparation Materials - Books for Preparation

The DET doesn’t have any official preparation guides or materials that you can review. However, several authors have compiled crucial preparation suggestions, Duolingo sample papers, exam day guides and more. While you can find such resources online as well, you might prefer the more traditional format. In that case, you can explore the following books –

  1. The Duolingo English Test by Ashok Kumar
  2. 15 Days Practice of Duolingo English Test by Pirah Kamal

In addition to these DET-specific books, you should review reliable English grammar books. These will help you brush up on your skills.

  1. Cobuild English Grammar by Collin Corpus
  2. Gain Control Over English Writing by Prof. Shrikant Prasoon
  3. Practice English Usage by Michael Swan
  4. Oxford Practice Grammar with Answers by J. Eastwood
  5. McGraw-Hill Handbook of English Grammar and Usage by Larry Beason & Mark Lester

Tips for DET Preparation

Want to ace your DET on the first try? It's not as impossible as it seems. Just follow these tips, and you'll be able to achieve a good score without fail.

  1. Being your DET preparations at least 3-6 months before the exam.
  2. Revise the fundamental English grammar rules.
  3. Give mock tests every week or month to track progress.
  4. Create an effective study plan to stay on track.
  5. Identify your weak sections.
  6. Learn at least 5-10 new vocabulary words daily.
  7. Listen to podcasts, academic lectures, presentations, etc.
  8. Watch English movies without relying on subtitles.
  9. Include academic papers, newspapers, journals, business articles, etc., in your reading list.

Read More About - 7 Effective Tips to Succeed in PTE Exam Preparation

In Conclusion,

The Duolingo English Test is one of the most affordable English language proficiency tests in existence. That’s why it is very popular. The test is also an hour long and computer-adaptive in nature. This means that you can't predict which questions you might get or how many you have to attempt. Thus improving your English listening, reading, writing and speaking skills is your only option.

You can gain confidence in your speech by practicing speaking with your friends and family members. Preparation books are also helpful. There are many grammar books that can help you revise grammatical rules. But the most important factor is consistency. You can't be dedicated one day and lose motivation on the other. Even if progress seems slow, never give up. You must persevere. Assign at least an hour or two to DET preparation daily. As long as you keep it up for months, you'll surely see good progress.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long should I prepare for the Duolingo English Test (DET)?

It is best to begin your preparations for the DET as early as possible. You need plenty of time to ensure your English reading, speaking, listening and writing skills are at par with any native speaker. Therefore, start your preparations at least a month or two before the exam. This will give you enough time to enhance your skills.

Does the Duolingo English Test have a specific syllabus to study?

The Duolingo English Test does not have a specific syllabus. The exam assesses your English skills through a variety of questions. These can be based on any topic. However, the questions won’t be too complex that you won’t be able to attempt them. As long as you have a good sense of English grammar, comprehension skills and critical thinking ability, you can ace the DET.

How can I improve my typing speed for the DET?

The DET doesn’t allow more than 30-60 seconds to type answers in the adaptive test. So, if you want to improve your typing speed, check out these tips –

  1. Familiarize yourself with the keyboard.
  2. Arrange your fingers on the keyboard correctly.
  3. Keep your eyes on the screen while typing.
  4. Remain in a comfortable sitting position.
  5. Type at least 1000 words daily and time yourself.

What is the validity of Duolingo scores?

Duolingo English Test scores are accepted in 4000+ institutions across the world. Therefore, if you want to apply to any institute for study abroad, the DET is a valid English language proficiency test. However, the scores are valid for 2 years only. Once two years are over, you must appear for the test again to apply to educational institutes abroad.

Can I take the Duolingo test multiple times?

You can appear for the DET as many times as your want. However, there are some slight restrictions. For example, you can take a new test only after the results of your earlier test have been published. Additionally, you can purchase only three tests within a 30-day period.

If I fail the Duolingo test, what happens?

There is no concept of failing the Duolingo English Test. You will receive a score between 10 and 160 based on the accuracy of your answers. If you score below 90, you can retake the exam as soon as your results are out. But it’s best to prepare thoroughly and improve the sections you’re weak in before taking the exam again.

  • Diksha Shikhawat
  • July 4,2023
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