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How are PTE Academic and IELTS different? Here’s what you need to know

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6 minutes

PTE Academic is a real-world English test. While it takes less preparation than other official English language exams, students still need to understand the timings of each section and know what they have to do to succeed on test day.

The good news is that if you’re already used to preparing candidates for IELTS, you’ll find preparing them for PTE Academic to be a walk in the park.

Let’s have a look at the similarities and differences between both tests and explore how you can adapt your exam preparation classes for success in PTE Academic.

The structure of the exams 

The structure of PTE Academic and IELTS is broadly similar. Both exams test students on all four language skills: speaking, writing, reading and listening. However, the order that skills are tested in, and the way the tasks are timed and organized are different:

However, the contents of the Speaking part of IELTS and the speaking section of PTE are quite different. Firstly, unlike IELTS, PTE Academic tests the integrated skills of speaking and writing. This is a more natural approach and reflects the way we use language in the real world.

Secondly, the PTE speaking section is completed on a computer (and assessed by artificial intelligence). This is in contrast to the IELTS speaking section, which is done face to face with a human examiner. As a result, many students report feeling less nervous about completing the speaking section in PTE Academic.

What’s more, because the PTE Academic speaking section is computer-based, the whole test can be completed on the same day. In IELTS, the speaking section is completed on a different day – up to a week later.

PTE Academic and IELTS tasks 

While some of the tasks within the tests might seem quite different, they often test the same skills. Let’s take a look:  

1. Writing 

In both PTE Academic and IELTS, the writing tasks are very similar. This means you won’t need to adapt your preparation techniques much at all.

The main point of difference is that PTE Academic asks students to summarize written texts, first in a short paragraph, then in a single sentence: 

There is also a great deal of overlap in the skills tested here. In order to score well in either test, students will need to: 

  • organize their sentences and paragraphs in a logical way;

  • synthesize information for writing a summary;

  • support an opinion with details, examples, and explanations;

  • use correct grammar, spelling, and mechanics;

  • use appropriate language for the context of their writing. 

2. Speaking  

In the Speaking part of PTE Academic, there are some challenging tasks. Describe Image is one that students find particularly tough, so make sure you get plenty of practice in class!

This task tests the same language abilities as the first writing task in IELTS, where students are asked to describe an image. You’ll be able to adapt your preparation technique for this task quite simple.  

Both exams require students to speak fluently and use correct pronunciation, stress, and intonation. They’ll need to be capable of organizing an oral presentation in a logical way, and supporting an opinion with details, examples, and explanations.


3. Reading 

The reading sections of IELTS and PTE Academic differ in terms of structure and timing. In PTE Academic, students answer fewer questions over a significantly shorter time. There are more individual texts, but they’re much shorter. Moreover, test takers are only asked one question per text. So, if they aren’t sure about the meaning of a text, they can move on to the next one. They won’t be asked five questions about one particular text.

Learners will need to focus on the meaning of the text and be able to identify the main theme, purpose, and tone of the text. Skimming and scanning for information are also important skills, as is the ability to infer meaning. The best way to ensure success in this section is to make sure your students are reading widely and regularly.

4. Listening  

The Listening sections in IELTS and PTE Academic are significantly different. 

IELTS has conversations and monologues set in social contexts. In contrast, the PTE recordings are all from authentic academic sources. Similar to the Reading section, IELTS has fewer recordings and more questions, which can make things challenging for test takers.

What’s more, the task types are quite different. IELTS requires students to complete the sentence, label a map or diagram, and match answers. PTE asks students to highlight incorrect summaries, incorrect words, and write from dictation.

Whether your students are working towards PTE or IELTS, you’ll be teaching them broadly similar skills. To score well in the Listening section, your learners will have to be able to listen for gist and for detail. They’ll need to identify words and phrases appropriate to the context. Note-taking skills are also a big part of doing well. Therefore it’s important to make sure your learners are getting plenty of practice at taking detailed, accurate notes.  

Available preparation resources 

There is a wide variety of resources available to help you prepare your students for the PTE Academic:  

  • Scored practice tests

Students can access four scored practice tests which will help them get a good idea of how they’ll perform in the exam.  

  • Question Bank 

The question bank features 300 test questions and sample answers for the Speaking and Writing parts of the exam.  

  • The Official Guide to PTE Academic  

Students can access in-depth information and robust, practical advice on sitting each part of the exam, along with extra online resources. 

  • PTE Academic English Booster

Students can sharpen their English skills with lots of practice activities.

Learn more 

Watch our webinar for a detailed discussion on the differences between IELTS and PTE Academic. You can also sign up for our monthly Teacher newsletter which shares tips and tricks for test preparation. And, if you think you’d benefit from some training on how to teach PTE preparation classes, there are six free course modules you can take, covering how each skill is tested, and how scoring works.