Format of the PTE Academic
Like other English proficiency tests, the PTE Academic evaluates 4 core skills: Reading, Writing, Listening, and Speaking. What sets Pearson’s PTE apart is the focus on testing multiple skills simultaneously. That’s right; during some of the exam sections, multiple abilities will be tested at the same time.
When you think about it, this is an excellent approach, because, in real-life situations, you rarely use only one English skill. Language and communication are complex, and mastering all 4 core skills is essential to become a proficient and confident English speaker.
With that in mind, let’s look at the sections of the PTE Academic and what type of exercises you can expect during the exam:
First section: Speaking and Writing (takes between 77–93 minutes)
- Personal introduction – this section is not scored but represents a great opportunity to share a few things about yourself and overcome any initial anxiety or nervousness. The recording will be sent together with the test results when you share them with a university or other institutions.
- Read aloud – your voice will be recorded while reading a text. It’s important to read clearly, have a steady rhythm, stress important words — if necessary — and avoid sounding robotic.
- Repeat sentence – you’ll hear an audio recording. After it stops, repeat the sentence exactly as you heard it. Try to copy the same intonation or stress used by the original speaker.
- Describe image – after looking at an image on the screen, summarise the main message in a clear and coherent way. Similarly to the sections before this one, your answer will be recorded using a microphone.
- Re-tell lecture – you’ll hear a recording that might be accompanied by an image on the computer screen. Summarise the main ideas as well as you can.
- Answer short question – you’ll hear a short question that could be accompanied by an image. Provide a short answer — sometimes one or a few words will be enough.
- Summarize written text – after reading a short passage, you’ll have 10 minutes to summarise it using between 5–75 words. Don’t go over the word limit; a word counter will show you the number of words as you write.
- Essay (20 mins) – write an essay of 200–300 words based on a given topic. Don’t go over the word limit and don’t deviate from the topic.
Second section: Reading (takes between 32–40 minutes)
- Reading & writing: Fill in the blanks – read a text with several missing gaps. For each gap, there’s a drop-down menu with similar words. Choose the right missing word for each gap. Only one answer is correct.
- Multiple choice, choose multiple answers – after reading a text, you’ll need to answer a question about it. More than one option is correct, so select the ones you think are right.
- Re-order paragraphs – you’ve probably done this before. The paragraphs are randomly mixed, and your task is to order them correctly in the form of a coherent text.
- Reading: Fill in the blanks – after reading a text with missing gaps, select the words that best fit each gap from the available list. There are extra words on the list, so you don’t need to use all of them.
- Multiple choice, choose single answer – very similar to the second task in this section, but there’s a catch: only one answer is correct. Several might look like a good fit, but you need to pay attention to every detail to select the right one.
Third section: Listening (between 45–57 minutes)
- Summarize spoken text – listen to an audio recording and take notes (if you want). You have 10 minutes to summarise the main points in 50–70 words.
- Multiple choice, choose multiple answer – listen to an audio recording and answer a question by selecting from multiple answers; more than one option is correct. Taking notes while listening can help you remember important details about times, dates, places, etc.
- Fill in the blanks – after listening to a recording, fill in the missing gaps in the text. While listening, focus on hearing the missing words and writing them in your notes.
- Highlight correct summary – listen to an audio recording and then select the right summary from multiple options.
- Multiple choice, choose single answer – very similar to the second task, but this time there’s only one correct answer.
- Select missing word – you will hear a recording in which the last word or group of words are replaced by a beep sound. From a list of options, choose the right answer that would best fit the end of the audio.
- Highlight incorrect words – you’ll see a transcript of a recording on your computer screen. But some of the words are incorrect. After listening to the audio, highlight the words that are different from the ones you heard.
- Write from dictation – Listen to a short sentence and then write exactly what you heard in the answer box.
The PTE Academic takes around 3 hours to complete, with the advantage of a 10-minute optional break between Reading and Listening.
What to expect on the exam day?
- Remember you can only take the PTE Academic at specialised test centres. Currently, there are over 295 centres all over the world.
- You should arrive at least 30 minutes before the test. This allows test administrators to check your ID, and you can read and agree to the PTE Academic Test Taker Rules Agreement.
- You will also be informed about the rules of the test centre.
What to expect during the test?
- You will be assigned a computer and a set of headphones with a built-in microphone. Test takers also receive an erasable note board booklet and two pens. These will come in handy during the test sections where you’ll want to write down important details or ideas.
- Before the test begins, all the equipment is checked to ensure there aren’t any technical problems. If you have an issue at any point, simply raise your hand and inform the test administrator.
- To avoid being distracted by the other test takers in the room, you can keep the headphones on your ears for the whole time. This will help you to focus on your own audio recordings and answers.
- You’ll hear a wide range of accents and people with various nationalities. Remember that the audio and video recordings from the PTE Academic test are only played once, so pay close attention.
- You are only able to record your answers once. Focus on speaking clearly — not too loud, or too soft — and try to be natural, keeping a steady flow.
- Take the time to understand what each task expects from you and double-check your selections. Once you confirm the answer(s) to a question, you cannot go back and change them.
- You don’t need to worry about writing in British or American English — both are accepted. But the key is to be consistent. For example, if you start with “colour’ or “centre” don’t switch to “color” or “center” later on.