What is PTE?

PTE stands for the Person Test of English and was invented in 2009. It is the first widely accepted proficiency test to be marked entirely by computer. Candidates take the exam on a computer at a registered test center. The PTE test lasts approximately three hours. Candidates may take a short break after the writing or reading sections.

PTE is still fairly new when compared to IELTS or other popular proficiency tests. Students can now take the PTE exam in over 50 countries. There are now over 250 official test centers around the world, and centralized marking by the person test engine prevents regional variation and increases reliability.

Students often find the structure of the PTE test confusing as the numbers of questions and timings in the different sections are all displayed as a range. This will become clear when you study the test structure table provided below.

The easier route to Australian immigration

Some students take PTE after struggling with the IELTS exam. It is fair to say that PTE provides a slightly easier route to Australian immigration. Certainly, the writing section seems significantly easier for most students. The speaking, listening, and reading sections also seem moderately easier than their IELTS or TOEFL counterparts.

Score comparison: IELTS versus PTE

Here are some of the score reports from our star students:

The PTE test is accepted for immigration or University admission to Australia and New Zealand. An increasing number of higher education institutions and professional organizations are starting to accept the PTE test. Canadian or UK immigration might start to accept PTE in the future according to rumors, but this seems unlikely due to these countries’ support for CELPIP and IELTS, respectively.

Taking PTE in Dubai involves finding a good exam center. Booking your test for a weekday is advisable as it will normally be quieter, and this will mean less background noise. The PTE test is available six days per week in Dubai, and there are different timeslots to choose from. The entire exam takes approximately three hours to complete and you may take a 10-minute comfort break between the sections.

Finding the best PTE Preparation course is key…

Most students only get the score they deserve if they take a good quality PTE preparation course. PTE classes should cover all 20 of the scored task types found in the exam. The majority of the audio recordings used in the exam are of native speakers from the USA, the UK, Australia, and Canada.

This means that native speaker teachers are the best choice for PTE test preparation courses. This is because students become accustomed to listening to these accents and pick out keywords or the gist of the recordings in the listening part of the test more easily.

Below is a screenshot of the PTE test:

Structure of the PTE Test

The PTE test is split into three sections. The first section assesses the speaking and writing skills, second is the reading section, and finally the listening part of the test. The following table shows the structure of the PTE test with some brief tips:

PTE Task Skills Scored Number of Tasks Time Time to Answer Brief Tips
Part 1: Speaking & Writing
Personal Introduction Unscored 1 30 seconds Prepare a brief introduction before the exam
Read Aloud Reading and speaking 6-7 30-35 minutes 30-40 seconds Focus on clarity, rhythm, and word stress
Repeat Sentence Listening and speaking 10-12 15 seconds Practice replaying sentences in your head
Describe Image Speaking 6-7 40 seconds Ask your teacher for a clear template to follow
Retell Lecture Listening and speaking 3-4 40 seconds Learn some useful lecture language to structure and your summary
Answer Short Question Listening and speaking 10-12 10 seconds Give specific answers and make multiple attempts
Summarise Written Text Reading and writing 2-3 50-60 minutes 10 minutes Review your use of conjunctions
Write Essay Writing 1-2 20 minutes Ask your teacher for an essay model to follow
Part 2: Reading
Multiple-choice: Single Answer Reading 2-3 32-41 minutes 2 minutes Read the question prompt carefully
Multiple-choice: Multiple Answer Reading 2-3 3-4 minutes Practice skimming and scanning
Re-order Paragraphs Reading 2-3 2 minutes Learn to recognise the clues
Reading: Fill in the Blanks Reading 4-5 1.5 minutes Practice your collocations
Reading & Writing: Fill in the Blanks Reading and writing 5-6 1.5 minutes Improve your AWL vocabulary
Part 3: Listening
Summarise Spoken Text Listening and writing 2-3 20-30 minutes 10 minutes Write short, concise sentences
Multiple-choice: Multiple Answers Listening 2-3 23-28 minutes Take notes of key points
Fill in the Blanks Listening and writing 2-3 Use your grammar to help with word endings and forms
Highlight Correct Summary Listening and reading 2-3 Take note of key statistics and what they refer to
Multiple-choice: Single Answer Listening 2-3 Read the question prompt carefully
Select Missing Word Listening 2-3 Focus on the meaning of the recording
Highlight Incorrect Words Listening and reading 2-3 Click on any different words quickly and move on
Write from Dictation Listening and writing 3-4 Use grammar and collocation to help complete the sentence correctly

How is PTE Scored?

The scoring of the speaking section involves the use of a speech processing system. Pearson developed this specifically for the purpose of grading human speech. This system is specially designed to analyze and assess native and non-native speakers of English, and its development involved the analysis of almost 400,000 spoken responses from 10,000 test takers. It can accurately assess syntax (word order), lexis (vocabulary), collocation, grammar, and pronunciation. Trained to analyze over 120 different accents, the speech processor should not be biased towards specific accents. Still, it remains to be seen whether PTE provides reliability, validity, and consistency as compared to more traditional English proficiency tests such as IELTS or TOEFL.

A Very Powerful Computer…

Pearson’s trademark Intelligent Essay Assessor (IEA), powered by their knowledge analysis technologies engine, is responsible for grading the writing. This powerful processor, over 20 years in development, is the first computer system that is widely trusted to assess English speaking and writing proficiency for immigration and university admissions.

Pearson claims that this automated approach to scoring speaking and writing for English proficiency tests more accurately measures the English language ability of non-native speakers than human examiners.

For anyone still confused as to how a computer can reliably score human speaking and writing exercises, there is an in-depth explanation of their automated scoring system here:

General Tips and Strategies:


  • During the speaking test, candidates should be sure to speak slowly and loudly. Speaking too quickly or too softly could lead to low marks for oral fluency and pronunciation. Do not worry about the other test-takers. It is Pearson’s responsibility to ensure that centers take noise cancellation precautions. You have paid a considerable amount of money to take the test, and speaking loudly, slowly, and clearly will help you to maximize your score.
  • In the PTE speaking test, do not remain silent for more than three seconds as the microphone will cut off and you will lose the chance to continue answering the question. If you haven’t finished answering, use a pause filler to keep the microphone open. Ask your teacher for a list of academic pause fillers to help you pass the PTE speaking section. These are particularly useful for the stressful Retell Lecture type questions.


  • Remember, this is not the IELTS exam! Use all the keyboard functions, delete, cut, copy, and paste, to maximize your writing time.
  • Proofreading is an essential part of the PTE writing test. Most people make mistakes and slips when typing under pressure. Failing to proofread your essays or summaries is likely to seriously reduce your chances of reaching your target score. Students should check for mistakes in grammar, punctuation, spelling, capital letters, paragraphing, and vocabulary.
  • Try to minimize the use of personal pronouns (I, me, my, etc.) as these are not formal enough. Exceptions can be made where the question specifically asks the candidate to talk about their own personal experiences.


  • The main challenge in the PTE reading section is time management. Students have 32 to 41 minutes to answer 15 to 20 screens of questions. Without thorough preparation, this really isn’t enough time for most students to achieve the mark they deserve. A good PTE preparation course will teach you skimming and scanning techniques. Candidates also benefit from knowing exactly which order to complete the tasks in. Specific question types such as Re-order Paragraphs involve learning the tips and clues to ensure timely completion. Once the candidate has learned all the tips and strategies, practice, practice, practice is the best way to improve.


  • Ask your teacher for specific notetaking strategies for each question type. In many of the shorter questions, you do not need to take notes and should focus on listening carefully. Longer question types such as Summarise Spoken Text require extensive notetaking. Students should practice notetaking strategies during their PTE preparation course.

PTE: Tips for the Test

  • Book your test on a day when you think there will be fewer test takers. The headphones used in the PTE test are not the most advanced in terms of microphone noise cancellation. Thus, it is difficult to imagine the background noise from other students having no effect on the test taker’s score. Pearson claims that this is not necessary. However, the sample recordings they include with their literature show that the microphone picks up background noise.
  • In addition, having many test takers around you, speaking with loud voices, can be distracting. This could be the difference between pass and fail. Taking PTE in Dubai involves choosing between one of only a few test centers, and we recommend booking your test on a weekday, if possible, as this tends to be the quietest time.


  • It is important that you are feeling fresh and prepared on the day of the test. Try to choose a test center close to your home and with convenient access and parking. Getting a good night’s sleep is also essential to performing well in a three-hour proficiency test. Try to remain calm and arrive at the test center with a good amount of time to sit and review your notes.
  • Make sure you adjust your microphone correctly before starting the speaking test. Positioning the microphone directly in front of your mouth is a mistake as the airflow from your mouth can cause distortion. Too much distortion will lead to a poor mark for pronunciation and oral fluency. The best place to put your microphone is just to the side of your mouth with the end of the boom about 1 inch (2.5 cm) from your face.

Things to be noted

  • Use your Pearson reusable notepad to note down keywords with the special marker provided. This is particularly useful in tasks where you have to listen to long passages. Check that your marker is working correctly before you start the test. Some of our students have complained that their marker has run out during the test. It is important to notify the proctor immediately. If this happens as you will need to take notes in many of the PTE task types.


  • One of the most common ways for students to fail the PTE exam is poor time management. This happens mainly in the reading where, just like in the IELTS exam, time pressure is a very real factor. Keeping one eye on the timer in the top right-hand side of the screen and counting how many screens of questions you have left to complete will enable you to pace yourself.
  • Do not spend too long on one task. When a question is too difficult for you, make sure you don’t allow it to affect your chance of finishing the test. Give it a little bit of extra time, but if you’re still not sure, have a guess and move on. In our experience, students who miss more than one screen of questions tend to score poorly.


Lastly, be confident. Believe in yourself, your ability, and the tips and strategies taught by your teacher. There is no restriction on the number of times you can take PTE and stress about your performance will only make things worse. Think positive, sit up straight, and give it your best shot!

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