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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 exams for fall matriculates take place before or during Orientation Week. The exams for spring matriculates take place in the week before classes begin.

In fall 2021, the exams will be administered online. You will need a picture ID and your Duke NetID and password. You must take your exams within the dates and times provided by EIS and your department or program. If you have any problems, you should immediately notify EIS at

Writing and Oral Exams
Date: January 3 & 4 (writing exam) | January 4 (oral exam)
Time: You will receive information about the specific times once your exams have been scheduled.
Duration: 1 hour (writing exam) | 20 minutes (oral exam)
Location: Duke Sakai (writing exam) | Zoom (oral exam)

You will need your Duke NetID/password and a picture ID to take the exams.

Who Has to Take the Exams

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

  • You are an admitted 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)

*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). Note: GRE scores are required for EIS exemption purposes even if your degree program did not require them for admission because they provide important information about your language abilities.  

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

You are NOT exempt because

  • You have a good TOEFL score,
  • You are a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, or
  • You hold a master’s degree from a university in an English-speaking country

For general questions, please contact Brad Teague, Assistant Dean and Director, at

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

Exam Format

In the written exam, you will write a summary and response to a reading. This exam will take approximately 1 hour.

The oral exam consists of a Zoom interview with one or more instructor(s); this interview will last approximately 20 minutes and will be recorded.

Exam Results

Your exam results will be sent to your Duke e-mail address before classes begin. The email will indicate which 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.