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PTE 16 min read

Step-by-Step Guideline for the PTE Academic

UniSearch
UniSearchAuthor
Jul 19, 2022Date Published
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As a prospective international student, an English language proficiency test is likely on your to-do list already. Most study abroad universities will ask you to demonstrate that you have a working knowledge of academic English. Plus, the immigration officers of most English-speaking study abroad destinations want to know if you can get by in their main language of communication. But which English proficiency test should you go with? The long lists of qualifications some university programs accept might seem overwhelming. Nonetheless, there are a couple with such widespread recognition that sitting these tests qualify you not just for university applications, but visa applications, job prospects, and more! And yes – the PTE Academic is one of them.

What is PTE Academic?

The Pearson Test of English (PTE) Academic is a computer-delivered test of your ability in the English language! And what is the purpose of the PTE test? Your PTE test scores let schools and visa offices in study abroad countries know how your English compares to a native speaker’s. Three sections consisting of between 52 to 64 questions assess your reading, writing, speaking, and listening ability in English. This helps institutions understand if you’ll be able to learn, communicate, and go about daily life while studying at a university abroad!

 

This test is increasingly popular thanks to its accessibility and convenience. It takes place in a single session, either at a secure test centre or at home. Automated scoring removes human error from the grading. Plus, you usually get your test scores within two days of sitting the test! 

 

3,000 institutions – including universities and immigration offices – around the world accept PTE Academic scores. These universities include prominent names like the University of Oxford and Harvard University. 

Here’s an overview of the institutions in major study abroad countries that recognise PTE Academic scores!

 

Country
Institutions Accepting PTE Academic Scores
Australia
  • All Australian universities
  • Department of Home Affairs (DHA)
Canada
  • Most Canadian higher education providers
New Zealand
  • All New Zealand universities
  • Immigration New Zealand
UK
  • Up to 99% of UK universities
  • UK Home Office
USA
  • Thousands of academic programs across US universities, including Ivy League schools

Which Test Should I Sit For?

PTE assessments you might consider as an international student fall under two categories:

  • PTE Academic – the most commonly-accepted test for students who are planning to live, study and work in English-speaking study abroad destinations
  • PTE Academic UKVI – this is a Secure English Language Test (SELT) that the UK Home Office approves for UK visa applications

 

So which one should you take? In general, prospective international students apply for both universities and student visas with the PTE Academic test. This test applies to not just UK visa applications, but applications for other destinations too! Plus, good PTE Academic scores are requirements for programs at degree level and higher. You can only apply for programs below degree level, such as pathway or foundation programs, using PTE Academic UKVI scores.

 

Then comes the question of which PTE Academic test you want to take. Pearson offers options for test-takers both at test centres and at home. Both tests contain the same format, sections, and content. They also undergo the same scoring system! What determines which of these tests is right for you depends on accessibility and the purpose of the test. If possible, the in-person test at a centre works best. 

If you’re considering the PTE Academic Online test, here are the pros and cons to help you decide:

 

Pros:

  • Accessible to those who don’t have a centre nearby or in their country
  • Available when centres close by are not taking tests 
  • Accessible to those who may have difficulties sitting a test at a centre (e.g. mobility restrictions, visual impairments)

 

Cons:

  • Must have Windows/Mac desktops that meet specific systems requirements to run the test
  • The PTE Academic Online test is not eligible for visa applications

 

What Does the PTE Academic Cover?

The test covers 20 types of questions across three sections. These three sections evaluate your skills in listening, reading, writing, and speaking in English! Here’s a breakdown of the test and its different sections:

 

Part 1: Speaking & Writing

Duration 
Question Type
Description
54-67 minutes
1. Personal Information (ungraded)
Record a short introduction of yourself
2. Read Aloud
Read the text on the screen aloud
3. Repeat Sentence 
Listen to the audio and repeat what you hear
4. Describe Image
Look at the image (diagram, chart, graph, etc.) and describe it out loud
5. Re-tell Lecture
Listen to the lecture and summarize its main points
6. Answer Short Question
Answer the question you’ll hear in one or more words
7. Summarize Written Text
Read the text and summarize the key points in 75 words
8. Essay
Based on the prompt, write a 200-300 words essay

Part 2: Reading

Duration
Question Type
Description
29-30 minutes
1. Reading & Writing: Fill in the Blanks
Select the appropriate words for the blank spaces of the passage from a drop-down menu

2. Multiple Choice, Multiple Answer
Choose more than one answer after reading the text

3. Reorder Paragraphs
Organize the randomly shuffled paragraphs in the correct order

4. Fill in the Blanks
Drag and drop the correct words into the blank spaces of the text

5. Multiple Choice, Single Answer
Choose the appropriate answer after reading the text

Part 3: Listening

Duration
Question Type
Description
30-43 minutes
1. Summarise Spoken Test
Summarize the audio you hear in 50 to 70 words

2. Multiple Choice, Multiple Answer
Choose more than one answer based on the audio you’ll hear

3. Fill in the Blanks
Listen to the audio as you read the text on screen and type in the missing words

4. Highlight Correct Summary
Choose the summary that best describes the audio you’ll hear

5. Multiple Choice, Single Answer
Choose a single answer after listening to the audio

6. Select Missing Word
After hearing the audio with a word missing, choose the word that fits in the missing section

7. Highlight Incorrect Words
Mark the words that are different on your screen compared to the audio

8. Write from Dictation
Type what you hear in the audio recording

 

As you can see, the test integrates more than one skill for evaluation under each section. You’ll be using both your reading and writing skills for a specific question type, or your listening and speaking skills, and so on. This is because, of course, in everyday life and academic settings we use these four aspects of English language ability in conjunction with each other. 

 

To get a better idea of the look and feel of the test, we recommend checking out this PTE Academic Guide! The site includes a series of short clips demonstrating what the questions will look and sound like during a real test. 

How Do I Sit For the PTE Academic?

You take this test in a single, two-hour sitting on a computer. For the in-person test, you will book an available date and time at a centre near you. 

Here’s what to expect for an onsite test:

  • Once you arrive at the centre, you need to check in for the test. This involves:
    • Providing valid and up to date proof of identity, such as:
      • Passport
      • Driver’s license
      • National ID card
      • Military ID card
    • Taking a digital photo
    • Providing a digital signature
    • Scanning your palm
  • A Test Center Administrator will show you to a locker where you can put your personal belongings before entering the exam room
  • The Test Center Administrator will show you to a booth with a computer and headset where you will sit and take the test

 

If you sit for the PTE Academic Online version, there are a couple of specific steps you need to take: 

  • Before booking the test, check that the laptop or desktop you’re planning on using meets systems requirements
  • Run a systems check on the laptop or desktop to make sure it can run the test
  • Have a stable internet connection 
  • Have a headset with a microphone (wired) since you’ll need this for the listening and speaking portions of the test

 

On the day of the online test, you’ll go through the following steps:

  • When you log into your myPTE account, your dashboard will display your test details
  • When the check-in window for your test opens, you will see the Begin Exam option on your dashboard. Check-in begins about 30 minutes before the test
  • You will get a prompt to download the OnVUE application – make sure that this is the only application window open on your desktop
  • The application will prompt you with a series of steps to
    • Make sure that your headset, microphone, webcam, and internet connection are all working
    • Take a picture of yourself and the front and back of your proof of identification. The name on this ID must be the same name you used to sign up and book the test
    • Make sure your workspace does not have any notes or study materials. You will have to take photos of the front, back, and both sides of the room you’re in to prove that the room is a secure location
    • Once the items you upload undergo review, the check-in process is complete and you can begin the exam!
    • Once the test is underway, an online proctor will monitor you while you work through the sections
    • If you run into any difficulties or have questions (not to do with the contents of the test) you can use the Chat option at the top of the screen to seek help from a proctor!

Understanding PTE Academic Scores

PTE Academic scores fall within a range of 10 to 90. Here’s what the score bands say about your English proficiency level:

 

PTE Academic Score Band
Proficiency Level
85-90
  • Highest possible score band
  • Candidate is very proficient in English in both academic and professional settings
  • Candidate can:
    • Understand practically everything they read or hear in English
    • Summarise information they hear or read effectively in writing and speech, organising arguments and information clearly and concisely
    • Communicate naturally, with fluency and precision, and demonstrate close to native speaker grasp of figurative expressions and nuances in meaning
76-84
  • Very high level of English proficiency
  • Candidates can:
    • Easily grasp the meaning of complex texts and subtexts
    • Communicate naturally, with fluency and precision, without struggling to find ways to get themselves across
    • Conduct themselves in English naturally and flexibly in academic, professional, and everyday settings
    • Produce clear, concise, and well-structured text on complex topics, with sound grammar, vocabulary, and ease of expression
59-75
Candidates can:
  • Understand complex concepts, both concrete and abstract, in text, including technical terms specific to their fields of study
  • Communicate with a level of oral fluency and the ability to engage in conversation with native speakers without difficulty
  • Express themselves in writing on various topics with clarity and conciseness, with the ability to structure and get across for and against arguments
43-58
Candidates can:
  • Grasp the main points of text on familiar matters in academic, professional, and social contexts
  • Handle most situations in places where they need to communicate in English
  • Express themselves through simple, connected text on familiar topics or of personal interest
  • Describe experiences, events, goals, ambitions, dreams and provide explanations and reasons behind them; communicate opinions and plans 
30-42
Candidates can:
  • Grasp sentences and frequently used English expressions applying to areas immediately relevant to them (e.g. basic personal information)
  • Communicate in straightforward and routine exchanges which involve direct information exchange in a familiar context
  • Describe, through simple expressions, basic aspects of their identity and background, environment, and matters of immediate relevance
10-29
Candidates can:
  • Understand and use everyday English expressions and basic phrases, typically involving concrete or literal subjects
  • Introduce themselves and others; ask and answer questions about the personal details of oneself or others e.g. where they live, the people they know
  • Engage with another person in simple interactions provided the other person is speaking clearly and slowly to help their understanding

 

PTE Academic Score Comparison

The PTE Academic scores compare easily against other English proficiency test scores like the IELTS and TOEFL! You can see the relationship between these scores – known as concordance – below:

 

PTE A
23
29
36
46
56
66
76
84
89
N/A
IELTS
4.5
5.0
5.5
6.0
6.5
7.0
7.5
8.0
8.5
9.0

 

 

PTE A
38
42
46
50
53
59
64
68
72
78
84
TOEFL
40-44
54-56
65-66
74-75
79-80
87-88
94
99-100
105
113
120

 

What Score Bands Should I Aim For?

Each university and visa office has its own requirements for PTE Academic scores! Required scores may be an overall score for the whole test or an overall score along with minimum score requirements for each of the four skills. At times, programs within the same university might ask for different minimum scores. So, you should look into the target score you need to hit for your program and university of choice! Be sure to also look into the score requirements for your student visa, so you can target a score band that meets both sets of requirements. 

 

Here’s a general overview of the score bands education providers may ask for, depending on study level!

 

Foundation Programs: Between at least 36-50

Undergraduate Programs: Between at least 51-60

Postgraduate Programs: Between at least 57-67 

Getting Your PTE Score Report and Skills Profile

Typically within 48 hours of your test, you will be able to access your scores through your myPTE account. Your Score Report breaks down your overall score and individual scores for the four Communicative Skills: Listening, Speaking, Reading, and Writing. 

 

The Skills Profile breaks down how you performed across eight skill categories for the English language, including items like Short Writing and Multiple-Skills Comprehension. The profile comes with recommendations to help you improve your English skills tailored to your performance.

How to Prepare for PTE Academic

Now that you know all about what the PTE Academic entails, how do you prepare to sit for it? We recommend taking advantage of the range of preparation materials available to help you be test-ready! The PTE Academic has a very specific format and not everyone is familiar with fully computer-based tests. Since you’re working on a time limit during the test, it’s best to know how each of the sections works in advance. This way you go into the test knowing what to expect and don’t feel tripped up by new formats you’re seeing for the first time under time pressure. Here are a couple of resources to get you going:

An Introduction to PTE Academic

This free one-hour course introduces beginners to the PTE Academic! It’s a great place to start to get to know what the test consists of and how to approach each question type. 

Practice Your PTE Academic Speaking Skills

This course, offered in partnership with Macquarie University, spans three weeks with two-hour weekly study sessions. The course takes a deep dive into the Speaking section of the test. You’ll find out everything you need to know about question types in the section, how the scoring works, look at sample responses and what makes a good answer, develop the skills you need to do well in the test, and more!

PTE Academic Official Practice App

This free app, available through the Google Play store and the Apple App Store, comes packed with resources to practice on the go. You’ll find out more about the test’s format and contents, including the 20 question types. The app comes with practice questions following the PTE Academic format to help you polish up your testing skills for each section. You also have how-to guides to help you improve your skills for each section. A study planner helps you track your progress and the app sends practice recommendations based on your test date!

The Official Guide to PTE Academic

This complete coursebook comes in both digital and print formats! The guide covers all the different sections, the test format, and question types. You also have access to an online bank of practice questions and sample answers to refer to as you prep for the test! 

PTE Academic Practice Test Plus 

Put together by the test developers themselves, you can check whether you’re test-ready with this resource! 

Official Scored Practice Tests

These practice tests use actual questions from previous PTE Academic tests alongside the official scoring algorithm to let you see how you’d perform in the real thing. You can pinpoint the areas you need to improve in and practice as you work toward your test date.

PTE Academic Question Bank

This resource comes complete with 300 practice questions and sample answers, including samples for the Writing and Speaking sections.

Other Resources

Alongside the resources on offer by Pearson, you can also access other tools to help brush your English skills up to the level you desire. UniSearch offers a range of helpful options, from PTE exam guidelines and practice tests to online courses, eBooks, and workshops!

How Can I Register for the PTE Academic?

The Book a test option on the PTE Academic homepage kicks off your registration process! Choose the “Check the test availability & book” option to select your location and find the centres and available dates near you. Once you find the option that best suits you, you can go ahead and book your test! You do need to pay a fee to sit the test, with the amount depending on your location. 

 

Our Concluding Thoughts on Sitting for the PTE Academic

Short, convenient, and accessible, there’s a reason the PTE Academic is such a popular test among both test takers and institutions. Thanks to the entirely computer-based nature of the test, you can complete the whole thing in a single session. And you also have the option to sit the test at home, if you don’t have a centre nearby! Before opting for the online test, though, remember that immigration offices don’t accept the PTE Academic Online test scores for visa applications. Along with getting your scores within two days of sitting for the test, you can also send your scores to an unlimited number of institutions! 

 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Do my PTE results expire after a while? 

Yes! Your PTE Academic scores are valid for up to two years of your test date.

How do I get my PTE Academic results?

You will get an email letting you know that your scores are out. You can check your scores through your myPTE account! 

When do I get my PTE Academic results?

Typically, your scores will be out within 48 hours of sitting your test.

Can I redo my PTE test?

There’s no limit to how many times you can sit for the PTE Academic! You do, though, have to wait for the scores of one test before sitting for another.

Can I take the PTE test?

If you’re over the age of 16, yes you can! If you’re between 16 and 18 years of age, you do need parental consent to sit for the test.

Which PTE test should I take?

If you are exclusively aiming for a UK visa – and studying a program below degree level – you may sit for the PTE Academic UKVI test. However, for programs at or above degree-level, the PTE Academic test is the right option. 

Is the PTE difficult?

The difficulty level of the PTE is subjective, since what you find difficult may be different compared to other test-takers. To get a good idea of how well you may perform in this test, we recommend trying out practice papers of the PTE Academic – as well as other tests like the IELTS and TOEFL – to see which you may perform better in or feel more comfortable sitting.


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