International students pivot to Duolingo English Test during pandemic


During the COVID-19 pandemic, international students enrolling at Pitt chose to take Duolingo’s English proficiency test more often than other widely used proficiency tests.

Pitt is among 3,000 universities that accept Duolingo English Test scores for admission into its schools. Since 2016, the Pittsburgh-based language company has offered its test as an alternative to the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) and the International English Language Testing System (IELTS).

For $49, students can take the test at any time online as long as they download Duolingo’s app and have an internet connection, a self-facing camera and a microphone.

The camera is necessary for security while the microphone is used for certain parts of the test, which adapts its questions based on the student’s responses. Test results come two days after someone takes it.

Jeremy Matula, the company’s lead strategic engagement manager, declined to give specific figures on how many more students took the test in 2020, but said there were “hundreds of thousands of tests administered.” The company saw a 2,000 percent year-over-year increase in test-takers in 2020, according to a company blog post.

Lauren Panetti, the associate director of international and transfer admissions at the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid, said the test was more convenient for students as the pandemic forced testing centers to close their doors and students no longer had to make potentially challenging trips to the centers.

Duolingo’s goal is to make the test as accessible as possible, Matula said, which contributed to the increase in test-takers.

“The pandemic certainly sparked a growth period for us at Duolingo with the English test, because the test was designed to be digital-first online access available anytime, anywhere,” Matula said.

Pitt has partnered with the company since 2018, said Kellie Kane, associate vice provost for enrollment and executive director of Admissions. Pitt’s Office of International Services staff visited Duolingo’s headquarters in February 2018, and the undergraduate admissions team visited in September 2019.

Kane and Panetti said they were happy that students were able to take Duolingo’s test while the world struggled with the pandemic. Kane said Duolingo was well-positioned to take advantage of the shift to online learning in 2020.

“I think that pandemic really just kind of sped up a process that probably was already working its way to the forefront,” Kane said.

Donovan Harrell is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at or 412-383-9905.


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