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The Ultimate Guide to English Proficiency Tests: Duolingo, TOEFL, IELTS, and Cambridge English Exams Compared

When it comes to proving your English proficiency for academic or professional purposes, several exams are widely recognized: Duolingo English Test, TOEFL, IELTS, and Cambridge English Exams. Each of these tests has unique features, grading scales, and applications, making it important to choose the right one for your needs. In this post, we will compare these exams to help you make an informed decision.

Duolingo English Test

The Duolingo English Test is a modern and accessible English proficiency exam that can be taken online from anywhere in the world. It is known for its convenience and affordability.

Grading Scale

The Duolingo English Test uses a scoring range from 10 to 160, with scores mapped to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR).

  • 10-55: Basic (A1-A2)

  • 60-85: Intermediate (B1)

  • 90-115: Upper-Intermediate (B2)

  • 120-160: Advanced (C1-C2)


  • Academic: Accepted by over 3,000 institutions worldwide, including universities in the USA, Canada, and the UK.

  • Professional: Increasingly recognized by employers who value a cost-effective and quick assessment of English proficiency.

TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language)

TOEFL is one of the most established English proficiency tests, widely recognized by academic institutions, particularly in North America.

Grading Scale

The TOEFL iBT (Internet-based Test) scores range from 0 to 120, divided into four sections: Reading, Listening, Speaking, and Writing, each scored out of 30.

  • 0-31: Low

  • 32-86: Intermediate

  • 87-109: High

  • 110-120: Advanced


  • Academic: Preferred by over 11,000 universities and other institutions in more than 150 countries, especially in the USA and Canada.

  • Professional: Accepted by many professional organizations and certification bodies.

IELTS (International English Language Testing System)

IELTS is a popular English proficiency test, recognized globally and known for its comprehensive assessment of all language skills.

Grading Scale

IELTS scores range from 1 to 9, with each section (Listening, Reading, Writing, Speaking) receiving a separate band score. The overall score is the average of these four sections.

  • 1: Non-User

  • 2-3: Limited User

  • 4-5: Modest User

  • 6-7: Competent User

  • 8-9: Very Good to Expert User


  • Academic: Widely accepted by universities in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and increasingly in the USA and Canada.

  • Professional: Recognized by employers, professional bodies, and immigration authorities in many English-speaking countries.

Cambridge English Exams

Cambridge English Exams, including the Cambridge English First (FCE), Advanced (CAE), and Proficiency (CPE), are respected qualifications that cover a wide range of language skills.

Grading Scale

Cambridge exams use the CEFR scale, with scores converted to Cambridge English Scale scores.

  • FCE: B2 (160-179)

  • CAE: C1 (180-199)

  • CPE: C2 (200-230)


  • Academic: Accepted by many universities worldwide, particularly in Europe.

  • Professional: Highly regarded by employers and often required for professional registration in fields such as healthcare and engineering.

Choosing the Right Exam

Academic Purposes

  • Duolingo: Best for students looking for a cost-effective and flexible option, widely accepted by a growing number of institutions.

  • TOEFL: Ideal for those applying to universities in North America.

  • IELTS: Suitable for students targeting universities in the UK, Australia, and other Commonwealth countries.

  • Cambridge: Perfect for those seeking a well-regarded certification that is accepted globally, especially in Europe.

Professional Purposes

  • Duolingo: A convenient option for quick assessments.

  • TOEFL: Recognized by many professional organizations.

  • IELTS: Useful for immigration and professional registration in English-speaking countries.

  • Cambridge: Valued by employers and professional bodies for its rigor and detailed assessment.

In conclusion, the choice of an English proficiency exam depends on your specific needs, whether academic or professional. Each test has its strengths and is recognized by different institutions and organizations worldwide. Evaluate your goals, preferred testing format, and recognition requirements to select the best exam for you.

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