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FAQs: English Language Placement Exams

1. Why am I required to take the EIS placement exams? How will they benefit me?

According to Graduate School policy, in addition to submitting an acceptable IELTS or TOEFL score, you must demonstrate proficiency in academic English by taking oral and written exams before beginning your program at Duke. Depending on your exam results, you will be either exempted from or placed into one or more English for International Students (EIS) courses. You must complete all EIS courses you place into as a requirement for graduation.

Importantly, the purpose of the EIS exams is to assess your English-language skills in terms of readiness for graduate-level study. Your exam results help us determine whether you would benefit from additional support in academic speaking and writing. All EIS courses are specially designed to meet your communication needs at Duke and beyond.

2. What is the format of the exams? How long will they last? When will I get my results?

The exams will be administered online, meaning that you can take them from anywhere in the world. The writing exam lasts approximately one hour. For this exam, you will be asked to summarize and respond to a short text. The speaking exam lasts approximately 20 minutes and consists of a short interview with EIS instructors. You will receive your results by email several days after taking the exams. The results will state which EIS courses, if any, you need to take.  

3. How can I prepare for the exams?

No preparation is necessary. The EIS exams are placement exams, which means that they assess the language skills you have developed over time, as opposed to content knowledge. Thus, you only need to demonstrate your current writing and speaking abilities. As with any exams, getting good rest the night before, starting on time, and being in an area free of distractions can help to ensure a positive experience.

4. I did well on the TOEFL or IELTS. Do I still need to take the EIS exams?

Yes. The TOEFL and IELTS are general language-proficiency exams. They are used only for admission purposes and do not focus on the specific academic language skills required for graduate-level study. We have not seen a clear correlation between these test scores and placement into EIS courses.

5. I studied in an English-speaking institution. Do I still need to take the EIS exams?

Yes, unless you meet all of EIS’s exemption criteria – see question 8 below.

6. What EIS courses might I be required to take as part of my degree program?

EIS offers courses in academic writing and academic speaking, all of which have been carefully designed with input from Duke departments to meet the specific communication needs of graduate students.

Master’s students will be required to take up to two EIS courses (one writing, one speaking). Ph.D. students may be required to take up to three EIS courses (two writing, one speaking).

EIS courses are typically completed in the first two years of your program. The earlier you take them, the more you will be able to apply the language skills you learn to other Duke courses and activities for greater benefit.

7. I took English as a Second Language (ESL) classes during undergraduate study. Do I still need to take EIS courses at Duke?

Yes. Previous English courses you have taken have no doubt been beneficial. However, they likely did not focus on the communication skills required for graduate-level study. The language demands of undergraduate and graduate study are very different, and EIS courses are specially designed with input from Duke departments to support the latter.  

8. Can I be exempted from the exams? 

According to Graduate School policy, you may be exempt only if you meet ALL of the following criteria:

  • Received a TOEFL waiver from The Graduate School when you applied to Duke
  • 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)

You will only be exempt if you receive official notification from EIS.