DET v. PTE v. IELTS v. TOEFL: Which test is right for you?

There are a lot of English proficiency tests, and it can be hard to chose with one to take. In this blog post, we are going to look at 4 of the most popular and compare their advantages and disadvantages so that it is easy for you to decide which one to take.

Table of Contents

Which countries accept which tests?

This is a bit of a complicated question to answer. When thinking about which countries accept an English proficiency test, you have to think about two aspects: governments and universities. In other words, there are 2 questions you need to ask yourself:

  1. Which governments accept a test for visa purposes?
  2. Which universities accept a test for admissions purposes?

The United States (USA)

The US government does not require you to submit an English proficiency test score to get a visa. Rather, they make universities responsible for a student's English level. This means that you just need to worry about meeting the universities' English proficiency requirements. This makes your life a lot easier.

In the US, the Duolingo English Test (DET) and TOEFL are by far the most popular. This is because these 2 tests are made by American companies. There are universities that accept IELTS and the Pearson Test of English (PTE), but don't be surprised if there are American universities you are applying to that don't accept them.


The United Kingdom (UK)

In the UK, IELTS and the PTE are the most widely accepted. Most importantly, these 2 tests are among the 6 accepted by the UK government for visa purposes. So even if the university you're applying to accepts TOEFL or the DET, you will likely need to take the IELTS, PTE, or another one of the "secure English language test (SELTs)" accepted by the UK government.


The Canadian government currently accepts 3 English proficiency tests:

  1. Canadian English Language Proficiency Index Program (CELPIP)
  2. IELTS
  3. PTE

Different exams are required for workers versus students, but all the exams that are accepted come from these 3 providers.

However, if you don't need a visa – for example, if you are a Canadian citizen – then many Canadian universities accept TOEFL and the DET.

To see all these universities, check out our article: Canadian Universities Accepting the Duolingo English Test


For visas, the Australian government accepts the following English proficiency tests:

  1. IETLS
  2. PTE
  3. Cambridge Test of English (CTE)
  4. Occupational English Test (OET)
  5. TOEFL

Australia explicitly says that they do not currently accept tests taken at home, which rules out tests like the DET.

Which test is the easiest?

This is also a tricky question to answer because "easy" means different things.

Many people want to know: "Which test is easiest to get a high score on?" The makers of the different tests work hard to make sure that the scores of their test align with the others. If one test was much easier than the others, then universities and governments would stop recognizing it! This is also why your performance on one test does generally predict how you will do on the other tests.

A chart comparing scores on the Duolingo English Test (DET) to TOEFL and IELTS.
Duolingo publishes a score comparison chart (source). The other makers of English proficiency tests publish similar charts.

However, the scores on the different tests are not perfectly correlated. Duolingo publishes these detailed comparisons:

Charts showing people who took the TOEFL / IELTS and the DET
Charts showing people who took the TOEFL / IELTS and the DET
Correlations between DET scores and TOEFL / IELTS scores
Correlations between DET scores and TOEFL / IELTS scores 

A correlation of 1 would mean that your DET scores would perfectly predict how you would do on the other tests. However, you can see that all of the values in the table are less than 1! This means that some people do better on the DET than the other tests and vice-versa.

Unfortunately, it's not clear who does better on which test and why. A lot of the difference is due to random variation. Even if you take the same test twice, you can get quite different scores!

There are other ways to think about what makes a test easier. For example: Is the test less stressful? Is it less tiring? Does it require less studying?

In this sense of easier, there is a clear winner: The Duolingo English Test (DET). Unlike the PTE, TOEFL, and IELTS, the DET is taken from home. You can take it anytime, anywhere. It also only lasts 1 hour.

Let me repeat that: You can take the DET anytime you want and from anywhere you want. It only lasts one hour. Contrast that experience with the other tests, which you require you to travel to a testing center and sit for several hours as you take the test. Taking the DET takes just one hour, whereas the other English proficiency tests take an entire day, if not more if you have to travel a far distance!

Many students find that the more convenient nature of the DET enables them to perform better. They can be relaxed and comfortable taking the test from home. They can also take the test when their brains work the best.

Another factor that makes the DET more convenient is that you receive your results within 48 hours! You don't have to spend days and weeks nervously waiting to know if you got the score that you needed like you do for the other tests. And if you don't get the score that you need on the DET, you can take it again right away. You don't have to wait for another test date.

Many students also find the questions on the DET more approachable. They do not require you to memorize specific structures that the graders are looking for in order to get a high score. Rather, the DET does a better job testing your general English ability. If you can generally write and speak English well, as well as listen to it and read it well, you will do well on the DET.

This means that preparing for the DET is more about improving your actual English skills as opposed to learning things that are only useful for an English proficiency test.

To get a sense of what the DET is like, check out this overview of all the question types on the test:

What does each test cost?

The price of the PTE, TOEFL, and IELTS depends on the country; they are cheaper in some countries than others. In general, though, they all cost around $250 USD.

The DET is different. It costs just $65 USD in every country. This makes the DET much cheaper than the other tests. You can also purchase 2 attempts for the DET at one time for $110, which makes each test just $55.

The Duolingo English Test (DET) costs just $65 USD in every country, and just $55 USD if you purchase the two-test package. 

Which test is right for you?

When deciding which English proficiency test to take, you need to ask yourself the following questions:

Do I need to submit an English proficiency test score for visa purposes?

If you are applying to universities in the UK, Canada, or Australia, the answer is likely, "Yes." This means that you should consider IELTS, TOEFL, or the PTE.

If you are only applying to schools in the US, the answer is, "No." The DET should be your top choice.

Which tests are accepted by the schools I'm applying to?

You should be sure to check which tests are accepted by each of the schools you are applying to, as well as their specific requirements. Ideally, you take a test that is accepted at all of the universities you're applying to. But, you may have to take multiple tests. In that case, it makes sense to prioritize cost and convenience.

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