Duolingo vs IELTS: which should I take?

Over the past few years, Duolingo has become popular not only for language learning, but also for its English exam for entrance into university. The big question is: how does it measure up to IELTS?

Overall, Duolingo is proving itself to be a better option than IELTS in terms of cost, test preparation time, time required to take the test, and test location. It is accepted by most of the top US universities, and just under half of the top universities in the UK and the rest of the world.

In this article, we will pit the two tests against each other in detail, as well as examine some of the cases in which the IELTS might end up being a better option.

How do Duolingo and IELTS compare?

Before we get into the nitty-gritty, here is a quick overview of how the tests compare:

Cost$200+ (depends on country where you take the test)$49 (plus tax, where applicable)
Duration of test2 hrs 45 mins1 hour
FormatListening (30 mins), Reading (60 mins), Speaking (on another day, up to one week before or after other sections – 11-14 mins), Writing (60 mins)5 mins instructions, 45 mins computer-adaptive questions, 10 mins open-ended speaking and writing prompts
Test locationOne of 1600 test centers (IELTS will launch IELTS Online in 2022)Online
Average preparation time90-120 hours20-30 hours
Waiting time for results3-5 days (computer test), 13 days (paper test)2 days
Cost to send to universities of choice5 for free Free (unlimited number of institutions)
Percentage of top US universities that accept it100%90%
Percentage of top UK universities that accept it100%40%
Percentage of top universities worldwide that accept it100%40%
Percentage of top US universities for Indian students that accept it100%100%

Cost comparison

When it comes to cost, Duolingo takes the cake. It costs about 25% of what it costs to take the IELTS when you are just talking about the fee. Since you have to take the IELTS in person, it will also cost money transportation-wise. In fact, you will need to go to the IELTS center twice, as speaking is done another day.

When it comes to cost of preparation materials, Duolingo is also cheaper. Duolingo doesn’t recommend spending a lot of time preparing so they don’t have any prep materials per se, other than the free practice material they have on their website.

On the other hand, while you can find a lot of free IELTS prep materials out there, there are also many resources that are not free, especially the official IELTS test prep resources.

Winner: Duolingo

Test duration

IELTS takes a whopping 2 hr 45 mins to do the test. Given that your speaking test is on a different day, that means extra travel between your home and the test center. That’s a lot of time!

The Duolingo English Test, on the other hand, takes just an hour, including set-up. That is a really quick test, and you take it at home, so no travel time!

Winner: Duolingo

Test format

IELTS has four separate sections: listening, reading, speaking, and writing. You have a fixed amount of time for each section:

  • Listening – 30 minutes
  • Reading – 60 minutes
  • Speaking – 11-14 minutes
  • Writing – 60 minutes

Duolingo on the other hand doesn’t distinguish between sections – there is only one section! During the test, your proficiency in the various language skills is tested randomly. The test is computer-adaptive, so it gives you questions based on your level.

Winner: Duolingo

Test location

If you take the IELTS, you will need to travel to one of the 1300 test centers, either the one nearest you or the one that has the most suitable test date for you. As I mentioned above, since speaking is on a different day you will have to go to the test center twice.

Duolingo, on the other hand is only offered online, so you can take it from the comfort of your own home.

Winner: Duolingo

Preparation time

While cost is an important factor to consider, time is also a very important one to keep in mind as you discern which test could be the best one for you to take.

IELTS recommends you take between 90 and 120 hours to prepare for the test, which means just under an hour and a half a day, every day for three months, or about 4 hours a day, every day, for a month. That is a lot of time!

On the other hand, Duolingo doesn’t require as much preparation time. Duolingo takes a very different approach altogether – they speak about “test readiness” rather than “test preparation.” The Duolingo test analyzes your actual proficiency in the English language, so memorization isn’t going to help you do better!

This is actually a good thing because Duolingo measures your “real-world proficiency,” so as you become more proficient in English, your score will automatically improve.

Winner: Duolingo


If you take the computer-based IELTS, your results will be available in 3-5 days, and you will be able to send them to up to 5 universities free of charge. After that, each additional score report you ask to have sent incurs an additional fee, depending on the country.

Your Duolingo results, on the other hand, are available 2 days after you take the test, and you are able to send them to as many institutions as you would like for free!

Winner: Duolingo

Who accepts Duolingo?

Since IELTS is accepted by most universities worldwide, and all of the top universities worldwide, we will take a look at which of the top universities around the world accept Duolingo. This is probably the most important question for test-takers because Duolingo can be the option you want to go with, but if the university you want to apply to doesn’t accept it, well, you really don’t have a choice!

I have done the work for you for some universities in the US. If your university of choice is not listed here, you can check on Duolingo’s web page to see if it is accepted where you want to go. If you see that your university doesn’t accept Duolingo, I would recommend you check out my post that compares TOEFL and IELTS so that you can evaluate other options.

Winner: IELTS

Top universities in the US that accept Duolingo

Here’s a list of the top universities in the US, according to the ranking of QS TopUniversities, and whether they accept Duolingo:

UniversityAccepts Duolingo?
University of California BerkeleyYes
University of PennsylvaniaYes
University of ChicagoYes
Johns HopkinsYes
Carnegie MellonYes
University of MichiganYes
Brown UniversityYes
Boston UniversityYes

Top Universities in the UK that accept Duolingo

About 40% of the top 10 universities in the UK, according to QS TopUniversities, accept Duolingo:

UniversityAccepts Duolingo?
Cambridge No
Imperial College LondonYes
University College LondonNo
University of EdinburghNo
University of ManchesterNo
King’s College LondonNo

Top Universities in the world that accept Duolingo

Here is a list of the top 20 universities in the world (according to QS TopUniversities) and whether they accept Duolingo as proof of English language proficiency:

UniversityAccepts Duolingo?
Imperial College LondonYes
ETH ZurichN/A
University of Chicago Yes
NU of SingaporeNo
University of PennsylvaniaYes

Top Universities for Indian Students that accept Duolingo

Finally, we will take a look at the top 10 US universities for Indian students according to College Factual, and whether or not they accept Duolingo:

UniversityAccepts Duolingo?
Carnegie MellonYes
Illinois Institute of TechnologyYes
University of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignYes
University of Texas at DallasYes
Cornell UniversityYes
University of Michigan at Ann ArborYes


If your university of choice accepts Duolingo, go for Duolingo! It beats IELTS in every way, except for the number of universities that accepts it as proof of proficiency: cost, preparation time, the amount of time it takes to take the test (including the element of travel), and the time to receive your results.

If your university of choice doesn’t accept Duolingo, I would suggest you check out my article that compares IELTS and TOEFL so you can see which one is best for you out of the two!


Hey English Learners! I'm Ryan and I have over 4000 hours of English teaching experience. Even though I am now a management consultant in Ireland by day, I have created this blog because I am a teacher at heart and am passionate about the English language! Look forward to help you get your English Exam Passport. Cheers!

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