8 Ways to Improve Your Production Score (2024)

8 Ways to Improve Your Production Score (2024)
Photo by Hannah Busing / Unsplash

If you’re trying to improve your Production subscore on the Duolingo English Test, you’re not alone. Most people score lowest on Production. The good news is that this subscore is probably the easiest one to improve!

In this blog post, we’re going to look at some simple tips and tricks that will boost your score immediately. By the end, you’re going to be completely familiar with every Production question. Most importantly, you’ll know exactly how to do well on each one.

Let’s jump in!

Table of Contents

Understand the Production Subscore

The Production subscore is 1 of the 4 subscores on the Duolingo English Test (DET), so it counts for 25% of your overall score.

The official Duolingo diagram that explains the 4 subscores of the Duolingo English Test
The official Duolingo diagram that explains the 4 subscores of the Duolingo English Test

But what does “Production” mean exactly? Duolingo defines it as: “The ability to write and speak.” In other words, it’s your ability to produce English, through both writing and speaking.

👉 Do you also want to improve your Conversation subscore? Check out our article: 6 Ways to Improve Your Conversation Score

How Duolingo Scores Production

In the official technical manual for the DET, Duolingo says that they evaluate Production along the following features. I’ve added a brief description to each one.

  1. Grammatical accuracyHow many grammar mistakes are you making?
  2. Grammatical complexityAre you using complex grammatical structures and not just simple sentences?
  3. Lexical sophisticationAre you using sophisticated words?
  4. Lexical diversityAre you not repeating the same words?
  5. Task relevanceCan your responses stay focused on the prompt provided?
  6. LengthAre you able to produce enough writing in the time allotted?
  7. Fluency & acoustic features (speaking only) ⇒ How easy are you to understand when you speak?

If this list is intimidating, don’t worry! Next, we’re going to look at the top 8 tips for Production questions in general. Then we’ll look at specific tips for each kind of Production question.

Top 8 Tips for Production Questions

1. Have a strategy for each type of question

Production questions are the hardest because you have to figure out what to talk about. But you also have to make sure that you don’t make grammar mistakes. That’s a lot to do in a very short time!

Having a strategy for each question type is helpful because it allows you to come up with what you’re going to talk about. This frees up your mind to focus on choosing the right words and avoiding grammar mistakes while you’re writing or speaking. You can’t memorize responses, but you absolutely should memorize the strategy for each question type. (When we look at each question type below, I will give you a specific strategy for each one.)

Also, “task relevance” is one of the features that Duolingo is grading you on. A solid strategy for each question helps you stay on topic in your responses.

2. Focus on grammar

Duolingo cares more about features higher in the list above than features lower down.

Grammar is most important, followed by word choice, and then the other features.

3. But also make sure you write enough

Although grammar and word choice are most important, Duolingo still cares about the length of your response.

In 2023, Duolingo stopped specifying a word minimum for responses. This means that it isn’t obvious how much you should produce. Based on the experience of test takers, here is what we recommend at Arno.

  • Write About the Photo => Minimum 30, ideally over 50
  • Read, Then Write => Minimum 100, ideally over 150
  • Writing Sample => Minimum 150, ideally over 200
  • Summarize the Conversation => Minimum 30, ideally over 50

4. Vary your sentence structure

This helps with features 2 and 3: “Grammatical complexity” and “Lexical sophistication.”

You need to be sure that not all of your sentences are “simple sentences.” Simple sentences start with the subject and the verb. For example:

  • I like dogs.
  • My school is far.
  • My favorite team won the championship.

The best way to use fewer simple sentences is to use connecting words. These are words that connect one idea to another and naturally result in more complex sentences. Here are examples.

  • And: I like football, and I like basketball.
  • But: I like football, but I don’t like handball.
  • So: I want to be healthy, so I run every morning.
  • Yet: The test was difficult, yet I passed.
  • However: We want to go for a walk. However, it is raining.
  • Which: We are getting pizza for dinner, which is my favorite food.
  • Because: I’m tired because I hiked a mountain yesterday.
  • Therefore: I didn’t sleep last night. Therefore, I’m tired today.
  • Moreover: I like going to the gym because it makes me feel healthy. Moreover, I see many friends there.
  • In fact: I love my house. In fact, it’s my favorite place in the world.
  • For example: There are many ways to raise your DET score. For example, you can make sure you have a plan for each question.
  • First, second, third: I prefer the beach to the mountains. First, the beach is warmer. Second, it never snows at the beach. Third, the beach is closer to my house.
  • In addition to: Cooking at home helps you eat more healthily, in addition to saving your money.

It’s important that you understand how to use these connecting words correctly. Otherwise, your writing will get worse, not better.

We recommend finding the translation of connecting words in your native language. This will enable you to immediately know how to use each one. With that knowledge, it’s just a matter of practicing with them so that you can use them confidently in the test.

Link to Arno, the Fastest Way to Raise Your Duolingo English Test Score

5. Use synonyms

This helps you do better for the feature “Lexical diversity.”

An easy way to use a greater diversity of words is to spot words that you use a lot and find different words that have a similar meaning. It’s best if you understand the subtle differences between words; using exactly the right word is a strong indicator of your English skills.

Below is a list of words that are often overused and some of their synonyms.

Good

  • Great: Stronger than “good”
  • Terrific: Stronger than “great”
  • Tasty: Use “tasty” instead of “good” when describing food
  • Enjoyable: Use “enjoyable” instead of “good” when describing an experience or place

Bad

  • Terrible: Stronger than “bad”
  • Miserable: Stronger than “terrible”
  • Unpleasant: Use “unpleasant” instead of “bad” when describing an experience

Important

  • Noteworthy: Use “noteworthy” to describe a detail or person worth knowing about
  • Prominent: Use “prominent” to describe a person, company, or some entity that is well-known or powerful
  • Crucial, essential, critical: These all convey the idea that something is necessary

Like

  • Love: Stronger than “like”
  • Adore: Stronger than “love”
  • Enjoy: Use “enjoy” to describe food, places, or experiences

Small

  • Tiny: Smaller than “small”
  • Insignificant: Use “insignificant” to describe something that doesn’t matter

Large

  • Huge: Larger than “large”
  • Enormous: Larger than “large”
  • Sizable: An almost direct synonym for “large”

6. For writing questions, save time to review your response

You should think of writing and editing as 2 separate processes.

While you are writing, you are getting your ideas out. While you are editing, you are cleaning up your writing.

If you try to do both at the same time, you won’t do either well! On writing questions, for each minute, you should spend 50 seconds writing and 10 seconds editing.

For the 1-minute questions, you should spend 50 seconds writing and 10 seconds editing.

For the 5-minute Writing Sample, you should spend around 4 minutes writing and around 1 minute editing.

For the 75-second Summarize the Conversation question, you should spend 1 minute writing 15 seconds editing. (We’re going to look at this question in-depth later on.)

While you are editing, look for typos and other obvious mistakes. Don’t get stuck trying to make one thing perfect. Focus on fixing the obvious, easy things.

7. For speaking questions, speak the entire time

In the speaking sections, there is no way to re-record your response or edit it. This is why most people dislike speaking questions the most!

A mistake that a lot of test takers make is that they don’t say enough. To avoid that, we recommend that you speak for the entire time. If you develop this habit as you prepare for the test, then you will also get more practice speaking.

If you think you won’t have enough to talk about, don’t worry. Once you master the strategies for these questions and you follow the final tip below, you’ll be fine 🙂

8. For speaking questions, slow down and enunciate

When you get stressed or nervous, you will naturally speak more quickly. You need to train yourself to slow down. This will allow you to really focus on pronouncing words well, which is called “enunciation” in English.

Slowing down also means that it’s easier to speak for the entire time!

Production Questions on the Duolingo English Test

Now we’re going to look more closely at the 7 kinds of Production questions that you will see in the test.

  1. Write About the Photo
  2. Speak About the Photo
  3. Read, Then Write
  4. Writing Sample
  5. Read, Then Speak
  6. Listen, Then Speak
  7. Summarize the Conversation
  8. Speaking Sample

Write About the Photo

Example of a "Write About the Photo" question from the Duolingo English Test
Example of a "Write About the Photo" question from the Duolingo English Test

This question appears 3 times on the test.

You should aim to write at least 50 words but 75 is better.

To answer this question well, Duolingo recommends that you, “Try to describe the image as if explaining it to someone who can’t see it.” This is actually great advice. You should pretend like a friend is sitting across the room and you are describing to them the image.

The strategy we recommend for this question is: The 5 W’s: What, Who, Where, When, Why.

In your response, all you need to do is answer the following questions:

  1. What is happening in this photo?
  2. Who is doing what?
  3. Where are they doing it?
  4. When are they doing it?
  5. Why are they doing it?

For the image in the example above, here is an example response:

Example of an image from the "Write About the Photo" question from the Duolingo English Test
Example of an image from the "Write About the Photo" question from the Duolingo English Test

Two people are walking down the street and talking. One person is a man and the other is a boy. There is also a woman, but she isn’t with them. The man looks like the boy’s father. Both of them have bags, so maybe the boy is walking to school and the man is going to work. There are leaves on the ground and they are wearing sweaters, so it is likely autumn.

By answering each question, you can easily find things to talk about.

☝️ Remember! After 40 seconds, you should stop writing and spend the remaining 20 seconds editing.

Speak About the Photo

Example of a "Speak About the Photo" question from the Duolingo English Test
Example of a "Speak About the Photo" question from the Duolingo English Test

This question appears 1 time on the test.

You will have 20 seconds to look at the image and then 90 seconds to record yourself.

You can use those 20 seconds to go through The 5 W’s (⬆️) and figure out what you’re going to talk about.

You have a lot more time for this question than for Write About the Photo. Therefore, you should produce more words for this question. This means it is especially important to remember The 5 W’s.

Read, Then Write

Example of a "Read, Then Write" question from the Duolingo English Test
Example of a "Read, Then Write" question from the Duolingo English Test

This question appears 1 time on the test.

You have 5 minutes to read the prompt and write your response.

You will see your word count beneath your response. You have to write at least 50 words. We recommend you write at least 150 words, but 200 is better.

The strategy for this question is: I LAST

  1. Identify: Identify the topic
  2. List: List out the tasks Duolingo wants you to perform
  3. Answer: Answer the question or state your viewpoint directly
  4. Support: Support your answer
  5. Three: Provide three examples

We recommend spending 30 seconds thinking through I LAST and then starting to write. You will find it much easier to write once you know what you want to say. It is especially important that you carefully read the question and make sure you understand what you’re being asked to do. This sounds obvious, but during the exam, when you’re nervous and stressed, it is easy to read the prompt too quickly and misunderstand it!

Let’s use I LAST to respond to the prompt above.

Artists and scientists both benefit society. Compare the contributions of artists and scientists. Which type of contribution do you think is valued more in your culture? Give examples.

  • Topic ⇒ The contributions that artists and scientists make to society
  • Tasks ⇒ Duolingo wants us to:
  1. Compare the contributions of artists and scientists
  2. Answer the question, “Which type of contribution do you think is valued more in your culture?”
  3. Speak about which one is more valued in my culture not to me personally
  4. Give examples
  • Answer ⇒ When Duolingo asks you a specific question in the prompt, answer it directly. I will start my response with, “I think that in my culture the contributions of scientists are valued more.”
  • Support & Three ⇒ Now, I need to defend my answer. This is best done by providing examples. Three examples is the perfect amount. I can follow my first sentence with something like, “First, in the United States, the government spends a lot more on scientific research than it spends on cultural institutions like museums or concert halls.”

☝️ Remember! After about 3.5 minutes, you should stop writing and spend the remaining time editing what you have written. But if you have less than 150 words, then keep writing until you get to 150 and then start editing.

Writing Sample

Example of a Writing Sample question from the Duolingo English Test
Example of a Writing Sample question from the Duolingo English Test

This question appears 1 time on the test.

There are just slight differences between this question and Read, Then Write.

Most importantly, for the Writing Sample, you will have 30 seconds to read the prompt and prepare your answer before the 5-minute timer begins. This means that this question is actually easier.

Another, much smaller, difference is that there is no word count minimum for this question. But this doesn't matter, because we recommend you write at least 150 words, but 200 is better.

Note that when you send your DET scores somewhere, your response to the Writing Sample is also sent. This is so that the recipients can see your writing for themselves. Don't worry – just focus on getting a good score and your writing will be strong 🙂

Your strategy for this question is the same strategy you will use for the Read, Then Write question:

I LAST

  1. Identify: Identify the topic
  2. List: List out the tasks Duolingo wants you to perform
  3. Answer: Answer the question or state your viewpoint directly
  4. Support: Support your answer
  5. Three: Provide three examples

Read, Then Speak

Example of a "Read, Then Speak" Question from the Duolingo English Test
Example of a "Read, Then Speak" Question from the Duolingo English Test

This question appears 1 time on the test.

You have 20 seconds to read the prompt and then 90 seconds to record your response. The prompt will be visible while you record yourself.

The strategy for this question is easy: Answer the Questions!

Duolingo provides you with specific instructions. All you have to do is and go down the list and answer each one.

☝️ Remember! Speak for the entire time. Slow down and enunciate.

Listen, Then Speak

Example of a "Listen, Then Speak" question from the Duolingo English Test
Example of a "Listen, Then Speak" question from the Duolingo English Test

This question appears 2 times on the test.

You have 20 seconds to listen to the prompt and then 90 seconds to record your response.

☝️ The prompt will play automatically when the question appears. Make sure you are already listening because you can only replay the prompt twice.

The strategy for this question is: I LAST. Remember, this stands for:

  1. Identify: Identify the topic
  2. List: List out the tasks Duolingo wants you to perform
  3. Answer: Answer the question or state your viewpoint directly
  4. Support: Support your answer
  5. Three: Provide three examples

☝️ Because you only have 90 seconds to respond, you may not have time to provide as many examples.

Summarize the Conversation

Example of a "Summarize the Conversation" question from the Duolingo English Test
Example of a "Summarize the Conversation" question from the Duolingo English Test

This question appears 1 time on the test.

You should aim to write at least 50 words but 75 is better.

It comes after the Interactive Reading or Interactive Listening portion of the test. These portions simulate a conversation with another person.

In this question, you have 75 seconds to summarize that conversation.

The strategy for this question is: BE + The 5 W’s

BE stands for Beginning and End. In your response, be sure to talk about how the conversation began and how things were different at the end.

In addition, you should work through the 5 W’s:

  1. What was the conversation about?
  2. Who was in the conversation?
  3. Where did the conversation take place?
  4. When did the conversation take place?
  5. Why did the conversation take place?

☝️ Note that not all of the W’s will apply to every question. For example, if the conversation did not occur in a specific location, then you won’t be able to talk about Where. But remembering all 5 W’s means that you won’t overlook anything you should talk about.

Conclusion

Now you are familiar with every Production question that you will see on the test. You know what you will be asked, how long you will have to respond, and you have strategies that will enable you to produce a great answer for every single one!

The best way to master the techniques you learned in this post is to practice them. That's why we built Arno 🙂 Just click the link below to get started!

Link to Arno, the Fastest Way to Improve Your Score on the Duolingo English Test