I found out about PTE academic from my colleagues. This test is newly acknowledged by the immigration body that I am applying for. PTE academic uses a modern way of assessing your language proficiency as there is no human intervention at all – from the test proper until the scoring.
I was intrigued.
I took the exam yesterday. And to my surprise, I already got my results today! That’s just awesome, right? And to note, in less than 24 hours! Aren’t you excited yet?
I am familiar with IELTS as I have taken up the exam 2 times in the past. And I could say that IELTS is a traditional way of assessment. The exam is handwritten. In Reading and Listening exams, you are either right or wrong in your answers. Your essay, which will assess your writing band, will be evaluated manually by a person and in speaking, a face to face interview with an expert evaluator is required.
Ok. In my last speaking exam in IELTS, I was full of nerves and hungry and sleepy and I can name a lot of factors (or excuses), it was my lowest score out of the 4. I didn’t want to repeat that embarrassment again.
Hence for this visa application, I braved PTE Academic.
(note that I am a Filipino and English is not my mother tongue)
So here it goes.
First point. In taking PTE Academic, or any English proficiency exam for that matter, no matter how ‘expert’ or ‘fluent’ you think you might be, you definitely need to practice.
Yes, practice. Especially for PTE Academic. The test has 4 components similar to IELTS - Speaking, Writing, Reading and Listening. The format of the tests for each band varies, and if you are not familiar with the format, you will be definitely shocked or confused by it. If you don’t get it, you have no opportunity to go back to the previous part and having this dilemma will bring a lot of panic for you.
Practice will give you an idea on how the exam goes. There are several review materials in YouTube and there are quite a few mock exams available in the internet. Search it in google. Make the most out of it. It helps – a lot. I did not avail of the paid mock exam as I have seen a few materials over the internet but if you think you need it, it’s a good buy for 35 dollars. It’s better than paying 300+ dollars again if you don’t get the score you are aiming for.
Note that even if you think that you are a master of the English language, if you can’t keep up with the exam format (as it is highly time constrained) – YOU ARE DOOMED.
The first part of the exam is Speaking. This part is quite tricky. Why? Because inside a room there will be with at least 10 other people. And all of you are speaking at the SAME TIME. Although you are wearing a headset, you can still hear them as it seems they didn’t invest on a noise cancelling headphone(hehe). As for my case, it slightly distracted me as I couldn’t clearly hear myself - but well, you really can’t do anything about it.
It started with READ ALOUD (around 5 paragraphs). There is a paragraph to be read and you can review it for 35-40 seconds. After that, you will hear a beep, need to read it aloud and it will get recorded. For me this is quite easy (except from the distraction from other people doing the same thing).
Next is REPEAT SENTENCE (around 10 sentences). Now this is challenging. You will hear a sentence that will be said only ONCE and you need to repeat it as accurately as possible. In this one, you need a CLEAR MIND. Just remember, it’s between YOU and the voice. Closing my eyes helped me. You don’t have any time to take notes. I surprisingly did well here as the practice tests that I have been taking in YouTube were way too complicated and compounded. The sentences I had to repeat in my actual exam are short and relatable so it was not hard for me to remember it. I think I did well here except for a minor booboo. In the first 2 items, I spoke before the ‘recording’ started. This is important to note here – before you speak, make sure that it is already in ‘recording mode’.
Next is DESCRIBE IMAGE (around 5 images). When I started practicing for PTE, this was the hardest for me. In this section, they will show you a graph, table, pie chart or a map with some data in it and you need to describe it for 40 seconds. I think you will be given 25 seconds to analyse the image and then immediately the recoding starts (you will hear a beep). As mentioned, when I practiced for this part, I was at loss for words, I was stuttering. But practice helped me. I probably described hundreds of images from the internet and it made me find a pattern that helped me describe the image properly in 40 seconds. Practice here is key. If you made a mistake, just continue.
Next is RETELL lecture (2 lectures). Here, you will hear a recorded voice that will discuss a topic. This is where your note taking skills will be tested. For me, writing down keywords helped. Note keywords only - do not attempt to write word per word as if you do that, you will not understand the lecture. Understanding the lecture as well is key for you to retell it. For my exam, the lecturer did have an accent and did not speak clear English so probably they are simulating a normal English speaker and not an expert one. You will notice that there is a progress button while the lecture is on-going. It might help you to gauge the content and length of the lecture.
Next is ANSWER A SHORT QUESTION (around 5-7 questions). A speaker will ask you a straightforward general question or show you a table or graph or chart then will ask you a question related to that. The answer here can only be 1 word (probably max of 3). You do not have to give a long answer or explain yourself. There were 2 questions I think which I was not sure if I answered correctly ex. What is the habitat of a ‘blowfish’, and I answered aquatic and I am not sure if its correct at all? For me this is the easiest part of the speaking test and also, to my relief, the last part of the speaking exam :)
Btw, I scored 78/90 in speaking band. 1 point short of a band 8 in IELTS. Oh well. And to note, I got a 60/90 in my pronunciation (I don’t know why it was that low) but I scored high on my oral fluency (80/90) and other factors.
This is the next part of the exam. Thank God, finally peace and quiet.
First part was SUMMARIZE WRITTEN TEXT. I don’t exactly remember how many items were there, but from my recollection probably about 2 or 3. There is a written text shown, around 2 to 3 paragraphs, you will be timed (10 mins) - and you need to summarize the text it in just ONE SENTENCE. Yes, people, one sentence. It was quite tough for me, this one, because I like to ‘write a lot’. In this part - find key points, key words and just let go of specific details - you are good to go.
Next part is the ESSAY. You will be timed again, if I remember it right, 20 mins each. There were 2 essay questions. You need to write a minimum of 200 and maximum of 300 words. I am at home with writing so I am quite in the zone on this part of the exam. Make sure to follow the number of words required as they may deduct some points if not followed. I consumed almost all the 20 minutes allotted to complete this part.
For me, writing part was the easiest part of the whole exam. First, because I love writing and secondly, its typewritten - compared to IELTS where you need to physically erase hand written texts if you change your mind or wrote something wrong.
I scored high in writing. It was my highest among the 4 bands actually. But based on ‘enabling skills’ assessment, I f*cking got a 67/90 in spelling. I type really fast and I am very lazy in proofreading so I may have neglected my spelling quite a bit. Good thing I scored high in Written Discourse (90/90) and Grammar and these probably pulled by grade up in the writing band (81/90). So, my tip on this, if you are a fast typist and is used to the auto-correction feature of your word processing software, you may want to be diligent in proof reading your essays.
There was an optional 10-minute break after the writing exam. I didn’t take it. I just breathed and regained my composure, and then I continued to the next part.
Unfortunately, I cannot remember the sequence of events that happened in reading but I do remember the formats. In reading and listening, unlike writing, you are free to use the time allotted as you wish. Take note of the content of the exam, it will say 1 out of 15 , 8 out of 15 etc by knowing how far along you are in the exam, you can estimate the time you should allot for every item. This is quite important to note else you might end up not being able to finish the exam.
FILL IN THE BLANKS
I think there are 2 parts of fill in the blanks, one is dropdown type per blank and one you will choose from a group of words shown at the bottom of the screen. Latter is harder.
You will see a paragraph with missing texts, probably around 3 to 5 items per paragraph and you need to find the particular word applicable to complete the whole thought. This is quite easy for me; key is understanding the whole theme of the text so you can appropriately choose the correct missing word.
MULTIPLE CHOICE QUESTIONS
There is a text shown, probably 2 to 3 paragraphs, and they will ask you a question. like for example, which best describes the text and you need to choose the correct answer. I do not really remember whether it is in this part or in listening part where there can be more than 1 correct answer but there are indeed cases where there is more than 1 correct answer.
There are blocks of text that you need to rearrange to build one paragraph. For me this is quite easy. I observed there are some important key words that denote sequences. Look out for them - and if you get it, this part would be easy for you.
I scored 78/90 in reading. Again, I missed 1 point :( and I blame it to time pressure haha.
Ok, when I took some practice exams, I thought that SPEAKING part will be the hardest for me but after the exam, for me, it was this part. Probably because of the time constraint involved as you need to budget your time appropriately. I almost did not finish the exam and had to cram at the end. This was my lowest out of the 4 bands – 77/90.
SUMMARIZE SPOKEN TEXT
There were 2 items. First was fine, topic was relatable to me. However, the second spoken text, it talked about some ear parts and scientific explanations – I got lost. I thought the speaker was about to say more details and was stunned that the spoken text ended. I did not have much at hand. Hence on the second spoken text, I was not able to put a comprehensive content.
Here, it’s important to take notes to provide correct sequences, take note of keywords as well and definitely listen to understand the spoken text. Also, take note of the indicator of the recording to gauge if the spoken text is about to end or if the speaker will say more. The speaker here also did not speak clearly (with a distinct accent) so it might be a bit difficult to understand.
MULTIPLE CHOICE QUESTIONS
Same as the reading part, but the difference is it is spoken. I am not sure if it was just me, but I did not have time to read the questions and multiple choices before the recording starts. You can take notes. After hearing the recording, a question will be asked and possible answers will be on a multiple-choice format (I think you can choose more than 1 answer, I do not remember).
FILL IN THE BLANKS
You will hear a recording; it is transcribed but with some 'blanks'. You need to fill up the missing words based on the spoken text. You can take down notes - but because I type quite fast, I didn’t need do. You have time to correct the text for spelling before you press the next button. This part was quite easy for me; you just need to focus well.
HIGHLIGHT THE CORRECT SUMMARY
You will hear a spoken text and based on it, you need to choose the best summary from a set of multiple choices.
SELECT MISSING WORD
You will hear a spoken text, and there will be a missing set of words (indicated by a beep sound) and you need to choose the correct words from a set of multiple choices that completes the whole thought of the text. The missing words usually are found at the end part of the spoken text.
HIGHLIGHT INCORRECT WORDS
You will hear a spoken text, transcribed with incorrect words. By listening to the speaker, you will find the incorrect word. Tip is just to listen and at the same time read the text. Once you hear the wrong text just point your mouse to the incorrect word, it will be highlighted in yellow, and that’s it. Quite simple.
WRITE FROM DICTATION
Same as repeat sentence in speaking, but this time you need to write it. It is just one sentence so it should be fine.
This blog is quite long already so to summarize, PTE ACADEMIC is actually harder than IELTS. But unlike IELTS where there can be external factors such as an interviewer or a human assessor for your written essay (and that can cause a lot of drama), here, there is only 1 thing that you need to face – and it is just YOURSELF. You will be subjected to different formats, time pressure, occasional distractions, and sometimes confusion but you just need to maintain your composure and let your skill shine through. I don’t recommend this exam, though, for people who are not tech savvy or are very slow with typing. But other than that, PTE Academic is fuss free – everybody will be graded the same way as you and you’ll get your results in less than 24 hours. BUT, as I mentioned earlier, you definitely need to practice and familiarize yourself with the format. I felt that if I practiced more I would’ve gotten a much higher grade as there were parts of the exam that I got lost - but given the short preparation I did, I felt that I got the score that I actually deserved. So, will I recommend this exam? a BIG YES. Give it a try. And also, apart from the scores on the 4 bands, it will also give you a breakdown of some specific areas (enabling skills) so you will know where you can improve as well.