Published: 30th October 2023
Beyond IELTS and TOEFL for English proficiency tests, check out DET and PTE
The two tests have had a duopoly in the English proficiency test sector for decades. However, the gaining popularity of alternative proficiency tests have changed the way these tests are conducted
The overseas education sector has grown significantly in recent times. According to the Ministry of External Affairs, more than 1.3 million Indian students currently study abroad and the numbers are only expected to go up.
The popularity of English proficiency tests like the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) and the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) runs parallel to the increasing popularity of education abroad. As most students moving abroad prefer to study in an English-speaking country that requires an English proficiency test, the tool has gained popularity in the last decade in India. Not only students but people looking to move for work-related opportunities also rely on these tests.
For years, IELTS and TOEFL have had a duopoly on the English proficiency test market, being the most widely accepted and recognised tests across all global universities. However, the last decade has seen few changes as many alternative tests have started coming up.
These alternative English
We reached out to representatives of two popular alternative English proficiency tests, Duolingo English Test (DET) and the Pearson Test of English (PTE) to understand what makes these tests stand out.
Accessibility and affordability
Recently, both 'traditional' IELTS and TOEFL have introduced their versions of digital and self-paced English proficiency tests. This transformation from paper-based assessments to computer-based evaluations has made the process more flexible and hassle-free for the test takers.
Jennifer Dewar, Senior Director of Strategic Engagement, Duolingo English Test (DET), explained how the newly launched alternative tests like DET provide a solution to the time-consuming process of English proficiency tests.
“The access to the test is simpler as it is available on-demand online, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, which is very different from conventional tests where you have to travel and sit for three or four hours to take the test and then you have to wait for weeks for the results,” she said.
Moreover, in India and other developing countries, only a few cities offer physical test centres for English proficiency tests, limiting the option for test-takers.
“I spent a lot of time in India and it was my personal view that traditional tests were not serving students well. There were students in smaller cities in India who had no access to test centres so did not have the opportunities. I saw this opportunity to democratise the access to education through the digital platform,” Jennifer added.
Apart from accessibility, these alternative digital testing methods are much more affordable and pocket-friendly for students.
Evolved testing methods
The alternative proficiency tests use an evolved method to test students’ skills as compared to the conventional tests hence, gaining more popularity among parents as well as students.
Prabhul Ravindran, Director, English Language Learning, Pearson India, explained, “While conventional evaluations once centred on grammar and vocabulary prowess, contemporary tests like PTE appraise not just reading, writing, listening, and speaking proficiencies, but also encompass critical thinking, problem-solving, and communication aptitudes. PTE brings together human expertise and the latest AI (Artificial Intelligence) technology to deliver an English language proficiency test that is both impartial and highly accurate.”
AI technology is being used for scoring and biometric data collection provides enhanced security measures. The AI technology also allows more specific and need-based test taking, explained the companies.
“We use AI for the test process and types of questions asked. The questionnaire for each individual is formed in a completely different way based on their requirements and that is what makes us stand out,” said Jennifer Dewar.
Increasing recognition by universities
One of the major challenges that these up-and-coming alternative tests face is gaining recognition from universities worldwide who accept their scores. In recent years, more and more universities have also started to move towards these new tests.
Jennifer Dewar, Director of Strategic Engagement, DET, said that the test is accepted by more than 4,500 universities across the world including very famous ones like Stanford and Columbia University.
“Universities appreciate how the DET helps them to meet their enrollment goals by giving them access to a wider range of applicants. DET brings value to universities by broadening the kinds of students who take this proficiency test as we do not rely on test centres,” she opined.
Similarly, the PTE Academic test is accepted by 3,300+ institutions worldwide, including Oxford University, Harvard Business School and Yale University. It is also accepted by the Australian, UK, and New Zealand governments for visa and study purposes. Recently, the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has recognised PTE-Core as proof of English language proficiency for Canadian permanent residency or citizenship.
Future for alternative tests
When asked about what the future of alternative tests in the English proficiency test sectors looks like, Pearson’s Prabhul Ravindran said that is evolving towards a technologically enriched, secure, and inclusive future.
“As the global economy experiences shifts, technology emerges as a pivotal force in enhancing accessibility for English-language testing. Our test centres are integrated with state-of-the-art and industry-leading security measures such as digital biometrics, palm-scanning, secure paperless results, and randomised test formats, we have already implemented stringent security protocols across our PTE Academic test centres worldwide,” he added.