Duolingo entry tests linked to Academic misconduct and poor student performance in UK universities

Duolingo entry tests linked to Academic misconduct and poor student performance in UK universities

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted education in many ways, including university admissions. As in-person test centres were forced to close, UK universities started adopting online language tests to assess the English language skills of potential international students. One of the most popular tests was the Duolingo English Test, which markets itself as a cheap, quick and convenient alternative to traditional proficiency tests. However, concerns have been raised about the accuracy and reliability of online language tests, particularly concerning academic misconduct and poor student performance.

Impact on Academic Integrity and Performance

According to the I news website, some foreign students who were admitted to UK universities using Duolingo tests were performing worse than their peers. This has led to concerns about the suitability of some new language tests for assessing language proficiency and their impact on academic integrity and performance. Professor John Heathershaw from the University of Exeter has linked the acceptance of tests like Duolingo to lower English language standards and described it as a "major issue". He also stated that students with weaker English language skills tend to plagiarise more often.

"I am an academic conduct officer at my institution and one of the types of students who tend to plagiarise are those with weaker English language skills. There is definitely a correlation there."

Professor John Heathershaw, University of Exeter

Impact on the Recruitment Market and University Admissions Process

The impact of language testing on the recruitment market and university admissions process cannot be overstated. International students are a significant source of revenue for UK universities, and many institutions rely on them to maintain their financial sustainability. However, having to submit a language test can deter potential students from applying, particularly if they are concerned about the difficulty or cost of the tests. This can lead to a decline in applications, affecting the diversity and quality of the student body.

In addition, language tests can also affect the job market. Language proficiency is an important factor for employers recruiting international students, and unreliable language tests can affect the perceived value of UK degrees. Graduates could then find it difficult to compete in the global job market, which could affect their career prospects and potential earnings. 


To address these challenges, universities have always had to adopt robust admissions processes that accurately assess the language skills of prospective international students. This should involve a combination of traditional proficiency tests and online language tests, with a focus on the accuracy, reliability and reputation of the assessments. It may also involve providing additional support and resources for international students, such as language classes and academic writing workshops.

Universities need to be transparent about their admissions processes and the limitations of some language tests. This includes providing information about the accuracy and reliability of the tests, as well as the depth in which they test a candidate's linguistic skills. By using reliable testing systems, they will then minimize the potential risks of academic misconduct and poor student performance. This can help to build trust and confidence among potential students, ensuring that they are making an informed decision when choosing a university.

The Future of Online Language Tests

The use of online language tests is likely to become more common in the future, particularly as universities, and candidates, look for more cost-effective and convenient ways to assess language proficiency. However, it is important to openly address concerns around the accuracy and reliability of these tests, particularly as regards academic integrity and student performance. This may involve working with test providers to improve the quality of the assessments and ensuring that universities have the necessary support and resources to provide accurate and reliable results.

Furthermore, online language tests should not be seen as a replacement for traditional proficiency tests, but rather as a complementary tool. Universities should continue to offer a range of assessment options, including in-person and online tests, to ensure that prospective international students have access to the best possible resources and support.

The use of quick-access online language tests for university admissions presents a significant challenge for higher education institutions. While they offer a convenient and cost-effective way to assess language proficiency, they may not be as accurate or reliable as traditional proficiency tests. Moreover, they may lead to academic misconduct and poor student performance, as well as affect the recruitment market and the perceived value of a UK degree. To address these challenges, universities need to adopt robust admissions processes that accurately assess the language skills of prospective international students and provide additional support and resources. Both universities and exam providers also need to be transparent about the limitations of online language tests and the potential risks of academic misconduct and poor student performance.

Ultimately, the goal of university admissions is to ensure that students have the necessary skills and knowledge to succeed in their academic and professional pursuits. By adopting a holistic approach to language proficiency assessment, universities can help to ensure that all students, regardless of their background or circumstances, have access to the best possible education and support.

Source: inews.co.uk

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