5 common PTE mistakes - and how your students can avoid them
Learning from our mistakes is one of the best ways to improve. This is also true for anyone who is preparing for an English language proficiency exam, like PTE Academic.
In this post, we’ll look at five common PTE Academic errors test takers make, and how you can help your students to avoid these mistakes when they are sitting their exam.
1. Reading: reordering paragraphs
In the PTE Academic reading section, test takers are asked to reorder paragraphs taken from an academic text. They see one panel on the screen with a number of sentences in the wrong order, and need to drag these sentences to a second panel in the correct order. This activity tests how well test-takers can understand the structure of a written text in English.
However, many people struggle with this. They don’t pay attention to language clues such as linking words or sentences that open with an introductory statement. These are all things that allow texts to follow a cohesive pattern.
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To help students avoid this mistake, it’s important to teach them about linking words, opening and concluding statements, and how to give opinions or examples in English. You can also have students practice reordering paragraphs in class. For example:
Bring in some news articles, blog posts, or short academic texts
Cut each one up into a number of paragraphs and mix up the order
Put students in groups and have them reorder the paragraphs
When complete, ask students to read the reordered text aloud and have them explain why they chose this order, focusing on the language clues.
2. Listening: summarize a spoken text
One of the listening tasks requires candidates to summarize a spoken text. The objective of this is to test how well students can understand the main ideas of a lecture and how well they can summarize those ideas.
Students listen to an audio recording, and can take notes while listening. They then have 10 minutes to write a 50-70 word summary of the audio. For this task, they’re judged on both the quality of their writing and how well their response presents the key points from the lecture.
However, test takers often simply copy what they heard in the audio, word for word. This shows they have recognized and understood the words within the audio. But it doesn’t represent their ability to summarize in their own words, using a range of vocabulary and grammatical structures.
In order to get a good score, candidates must paraphrase as much of the listening material as possible. To help them achieve this, you can try the following in class:
Choose a short video to watch, such as a Ted Talk. If it’s only a few minutes long, play it twice so they have a better understanding of the ideas.
Ask students to work in pairs to take notes and paraphrase the key points of the video. The pair that uses the most new vocabulary and synonyms in their summary will win.
Have the pairs present their summary to the rest of the class, give feedback, and select a winning pair.
3. Speaking: describe an image
One of the PTE Speaking tasks calls for candidates to describe a picture. The aim of this exercise is to test students’ ability to explain what they see - using their own words - in a graph, chart, map, table or picture.
Students have 25 seconds to look at an image on the screen and think about what they’re going to say. Then, they have 15 seconds more to describe the image out loud. The microphone automatically turns off after 40 seconds.
A common mistake that candidates make here is that they memorize a response to images they have seen when preparing for the exam. This often means they don’t actually describe the image they’ve seen in front of them. When this happens, they usually get a very low score, or even a zero.
Students may do this if they don’t feel confident with their level of vocabulary. To help them avoid making this mistake, practice describing a range of images in class. Have students record themselves doing the task. Then listen back and identify areas where students can improve and note down any gaps in vocabulary which can then be taught in future classes.
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4. Writing: writing an essay
There are two PTE writing tasks to complete in the exam. One of these involves writing an essay, which tests candidates’ ability to write a short, persuasive or argumentative piece.
Test-takers are given a short written prompt asking them to agree or disagree, state their opinion, or comment on a situation or problem. The response is judged on how well they’re able to develop a position, organize their ideas, present supporting details and write with a high level of academic English. They must write between 200 and 300 words in 20 minutes.
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One big mistake? Test-takers often do not follow the word count. The score guide states that if they write fewer than 120 words or more than 380 words, their answer will be scored a zero.
One way to help students prepare for this is by getting them to practice writing the essay under timed conditions. When finished, have them swap their essays with another student and ask them to total each other’s word counts before handing them in.
Read more tips for the Writing Essay task.
5. Not checking answers
Apart from the task-related mistakes, candidates can often make, the biggest problem that we see are simple errors in written answers. This may be because the candidate has not checked over their work before moving on to the next task.
Before moving on to a new question, it is vital that test-takers spend a few seconds proofreading their answers. By doing this, they may avoid simple errors in spelling, punctuation, vocabulary, or grammar. Furthermore, it gives them time to check that they’ve completed all the information set out in the question.
To help students get used to doing this, you could have them proofread each other’s written work in class. They can then provide feedback to the other student and work together to correct the errors. Another idea is to create your own short text with a number of spelling, punctuation, and grammar mistakes in it. Tell students that there are X amount of errors in the text, and that they need to work in pairs to find and correct them.
This way, they’ll train themselves to proofread their work for any small mistakes that could affect their overall PTE score.