English Proficiency Test – The Ultimate Guide

A boy sitting in a classroom looking down at a paper

If English isn’t your first language, then you probably need to take an English proficiency test to study abroad to prove your language abilities.

There are many standardized tests widely recognized around the world, so if you find yourself confused and asking “which proficiency test should I take?”, that is completely normal and we are here to help!

Today, we will discuss the four most common ones: TOEFL, IELTS, Duolingo, and Cambridge.

Let’s compare them together! 

You will find in this text:

  1. TOEFL
  2. IELTS
  3. Duolingo English Test
  4. Cambridge


There are three types of TOEFL tests: iBT (computer-based), PBT (paper-based), and iBT Home Edition. The iBT is the most common; 97% of the students prefer it! 

  • Duration: 3-4 hours – depending on the type of test you choose
  • Where to take it: The iBT Home Edition can be taken at any time you want, it is available 24 hours a day! Check the requirements here.
  • Validity: The scores are valid for 2 years.
  • Where to register: You can register at TOEFL’s official website.

Where to take it: The iBT Home Edition can be taken at any time you want, it is available 24 hours a day! Check the requirements here.

The iBT and PBT need to be scheduled at a test center that you can choose after paying

The test consists of four parts: there are Reading, Listening, Speaking, and Writing sections. 

How much does the TOEFL test cost?

The fee depends on the country in which you are taking the exam. The TOEFL iBT range falls anywhere between $160 – $300, while the TOEFL PBT costs $180. 

For example, the TOEFL IBT cost in India is $180 and in Peru, it is $220.

Where is TOEFL accepted?

It is accepted almost everywhere in the world and by ALL the universities in the US, and also 10,000 universities in countries such as the UK, Australia, and Canada. 

How to prepare for TOEFL?

Don’t forget to enjoy the process! Here are the best TOEFL study tips: 

  • Understand the structure and type of questions expected.
  • Know the minimum score you need to get accepted in the university you’re applying to. 
  • Get a study guide to find practice tests and exercises.
  • Take practice tests as much as you can until you reach the score in mind. Go over your mistakes and practice the areas you’re struggling with.


While IELTS has Reading, Writing, Listening, and Speaking sections just like TOEFL, the timing to complete each section and order differs. 

The speaking section is done on a separate day, either before or after the test.

  • Duration: The IELTS test duration is 2 hours and 45 minutes.
  • Where to take it: You can find the closest test center near you to book an appointment. Check out the locations here
  • Validity: IELTS scores are valid for 2 years
  • Where to register: At the IELTS official website.
  • Costs: Varies depending on the country.

Where is IELTS accepted?

IELTS is accepted worldwide by more than 9,000 institutions and 140 countries including the UK, Australia, New Zealand, USA, and Canada.

How to prepare for IELTS?

Similar to the TOEFL test, you need to familiarize yourself with the questions, keep taking practice tests and get a study guide to test yourself. Other IELTS study tips include:

  • See those English textbooks on your shelf? It’s time to read them and improve your grammar and vocabulary!
  • Record yourself speaking in English to practice for the Speaking section.

3. Duolingo English Test

A new alternative to TOEFL and IELTS, the Duolingo English Test consists of Reading, Listening, Writing, and Speaking sections. 

Not only that, it has a 10-minute interview video to showcase your personality and English skills to the universities you’re applying to.

  • Duration: 45 minutes
  • Where to take it: From home – there are no appointments or test centers. 
  • Validity: The results are valid for two years.
  • Where to register: At Duolingo’s official website.

How much does the Duolingo English Test cost?

Guess what? This is the most affordable option! The cost is only $49 USD.

Where is the Duolingo English Test accepted?

While it is not as widely accepted as TOEFL and IELTS because it is relatively new, it is still recognized by over 3,000 institutions around the world. Check the full list here.

How to prepare for Duolingo?

Here are some tips for passing the Duolingo exam

  • Take sample tests, available on its website, to evaluate your score;
  • Get your government-issued photo ID ready
  • Make sure you have a computer that is equipped with a front-facing camera
  • Check your internet connection and use a compatible browser

4. Cambridge Tests 

Cambridge tests are similar to the IELTS in terms of sections, but they are more level-oriented. There are five Cambridge exams, the three common ones between students are:

  • FCE = First Certificate in English
  • CAE = Certificate in Advanced English
  • CPE = Certificate of Proficiency in English (the most complex)

You have to take the Cambridge placement test online which will tell you which of the Cambridge English exams is best suited for your level.

  • Duration: The FCE is 3 hours 29 minutes, the CAE is 3 hours 55 minutes and the CPE is 3 hours 56 minutes.
  • Where to take it: You can find an authorized exam center in your country. Check out the locations here
  • Validity: The exam is valid forever! 
  • How to register: At Cambridge’s exam official website.
  • Price: Varies depending on the country. Contact your exam center for details.

Where is Cambridge accepted?

Cambridge English exams are recognized by over 25,000 universities around the world, including MIT, Harvard, and Cambridge University! Find out the full list here.

How to prepare for the Cambridge exams?

Yes, it might be one of the most difficult exams on the list, but the official website has a FULL exam preparation for Cambridge exams. Oh, and they’re all free materials! 😉 

Check it out at Cambridge’s official website.

Which English profiency test will you choose? Let us know in the comments! Share this content with your friends who want to study abroad. 😉

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