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English Language Placement Exams

Much of your success in graduate study in the United States will rest on your ability to understand, read, write, and speak English. Therefore, international graduate students whose first language is not English are required to take oral and written English placement exams administered by the EIS program upon matriculation. Depending on your exam results, you are either exempted from or placed into one or more EIS courses.

The purpose of these exams is to assess your English-language skills in terms of readiness for graduate-level study. Your results indicate whether you would benefit from targeted instruction in academic speaking and writing for success at Duke and beyond.

Exam Schedule

The English language placement exam for fall matriculates takes place during or before Orientation Week. The exam for spring matriculates takes place in the week before classes begin. You must schedule your arrival at Duke in time to take the exam.

You will receive information about the date and time of the exams by email from EIS and your department. You will need to bring a picture ID to the exams.

Writing and Oral Exams
Date: Monday, January 6, 2020
Time: 9:00 am-12:00 pm
Duration: Approximately 2.5 hours (Writing- 90 minutes, break, Oral- 45 minutes)
Location: Old Chemistry 201 (computer lab)

You must bring your picture ID (DukeCard or passport) to both exams. Also bring a pen or pencil.

Who Has to Take the Exam

You are required to take a writing exam and a speaking exam administered by the EIS program if you meet all of the following criteria:

  • You are an admitted international student.
  • Your first language is something other than English.
  • You are pursuing one of the following degrees at Duke:
    • Ph.D.*
    • Master of Arts
    • Master of Science*
    • Master of Arts in Teaching
    • Master of Biostatistics (School of Medicine)
    • Master of Environmental Management (Nicholas School of the Environment)
    • Master of Public Policy (Sanford School of Public Policy)

*Note: Students admitted to the Pratt School of Engineering take placement exams administered by Pratt instead of EIS. 

Exemptions and Non-Exemptions

You are exempt if

  • You are a non-degree student.


  • You meet all of the following criteria:
    • Received a TOEFL waiver from The Graduate School
    • Completed a four-year undergraduate degree in an English-speaking institution in Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, or the United States
    • Scored above the 50th percentile on the GRE verbal (currently 151 or higher) and GRE writing (currently 4.0 or higher)

Please note that you will only be exempt if you receive official notification from EIS.

You are NOT exempt just because

  • You had a good TOEFL score,
  • You are a U.S. citizen,
  • You hold a master’s degree from a university in an English-speaking country, or
  • Your first language is not English but you have been instructed in the English language (e.g., in India, Singapore).

For questions, please contact Brad Teague (, 919-613-8129).

If you are exempt but are interested in taking EIS courses, you should take the placement exam so that we can advise you on which classes would be best for you. In this case, taking the exam does not obligate you to take classes.

Exam Format

In the written exam you will write a summary and response to a reading. The exam takes approximately one hour.

The oral exam consists of responses to spoken prompts delivered through headphones. Responses are spoken into a microphone and captured digitally. The exam takes approximately 45 minutes.

Exam Results

Your exam results will be sent to your Duke e-mail address before classes begin. The email will tell you which and how many EIS courses you are required to take. If you are placed into EIS courses, they are Graduate School requirements and you must complete them to receive your degree. EIS courses are intended to be taken early in your academic career. If you are placed into GS 720 and/or GS 721, you must complete these courses during the first year of graduate study.