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PTE Exam Preparation: The last guide you'll ever need

Amelia Carruthers
Last Updated: 14 September 2021 • 5 min read

The PTE can be a daunting prospect for many learners. It’s a test that covers pretty much every aspect of English proficiency – designed to ensure students are ready to study in an English-speaking academic environment.

PTE exam preparation can be especially tricky if you’re not sure what to expect. Even with a strong level of English proficiency, understanding the question types and scoring system is key.

So if you want to know how to prepare for PTE then look no further. We’ve put together your ultimate guide. From what’s covered in the test to scoring, crucial advice and mistakes to avoid – this is the last PTE exam guide you’ll ever need.

PTE Exam Preparation

  1. What is the PTE exam?
  2. The PTE format
  3. Understanding what score you need
  4. PTE exam preparation tips
  5. Common PTE preparation mistakes
  6. Tips for test day

1. What is the PTE exam?

The PTE Academic (which stands for Pearson Test of English) is a three hour long, computer-based English language test. Primarily aimed at non-native English speakers studying abroad, it assesses your reading, listening, speaking and writing skills.

PTE scores are accepted not just by colleges and universities, but professional bodies, governments and migration services. As it’s assessed on the computer, results are usually available within 48 hours – so “results day nerves” aren’t prolonged.

2. The PTE format

For successful PTE preparation, one of the first things you need to understand is the test structure. The main components include:

Speaking and writing (77-93 minutes)

Consisting of seven different question types, covering the spoken and written English you might hear in an academic environment.

Reading (32-40 minutes)

Five different question types, assessing your ability to read academic English. One question type tests your writing and reading skills simultaneously.

Listening (45-57 minutes)

Eight different question types, testing your listening skills with audio and video clips.

All in all, there are 20 different question types in the test, ranging from essay-style responses to multiple choice.

There’s a super useful series of in-depth explanations on each section available from Pearson, which are well worth a read. If you’re looking for more of a PTE exam guide, there’s also a free official PTE Academic practice app that includes a useful study planner as well as personalised content depending on the time you have available.

3. Understanding what score you need

It’s important to know that PTE Academic doesn’t have a pass or fail grade. Each establishment has a different minimum admission score, so know what score you need. The most common requested scores are 50, 65 or 79. 

Knowing the score you need will determine (to some extent!) the amount of effort you’ll put into your PTE exam preparation. It’s much more difficult achieving a 79 than a 65, and the amount of preparation will also depend on your existing English proficiency. 

A word of caution: There’s never any harm in exceeding expectations! Aim high, and this way – you’ll be sure of meeting entrance requirements and improving your English language skills. A win, win.

To understand your current level, Pearson provide scored practice tests. Scores are broken-down for each of the main sections, so you’ll know where you’re excelling and where you need practice.

4. PTE exam preparation tips

This may be easier said than done, but try to make your PTE exam preparation as fun as possible.

There are a few PTE exam guides out there, for instance the Official Guide to PTE Academic and the PTE Student Pack with plenty of practice tests and digital resources. But whilst these are certainly useful – it’s all about real life practice.

Here’s some ideas on how to prepare for PTE, section by section…

Reading Practice

Read as widely as possible. It really is that simple! From newspapers, magazines, academic research and fictional books – just go for it. Don’t be scared to focus on topics you personally enjoy, it’s a great way to motivate your own studies.

Writing Practice

Practice by sending emails or letters to friends, writing short essays on subjects you’re passionate about, or keeping a personal journal. Ask English-speaking friends to give feedback. For PTE exam preparation, the more you practice structuring your thoughts in written form, the better.

Listening Practice

Listen to all sorts of media. Television, movies and radio are all fantastic ways of immersing yourself in a language and the many different accents and dialects. If you’re just getting started, subtitles are a great way to get used to speaking patterns.

Speaking Practice

Join English-speaking groups (or connect with any native-English speaking friends) to practice both speaking and listening. This is not only a fun way to meet people, but will improve your skills fast!

5. Common PTE preparation mistakes

We couldn’t end this ultimate PTE exam guide without mentioning some mistakes seen all too often. For anyone wanting to know how to prepare for PTE (and get the score you need), here’s four common mistakes to avoid…

  • Even if your English is pretty-much fluent, don’t think you don’t need to prepare! Know what’s expected, and try-out a few practice tests first.
  • Don’t just focus on specific skills (i.e. only speaking and listening). To pass the PTE exam, you’ll need to perform well across all sections.
  • Avoid “memorising” by wrote. The PTE assesses your ability to use academic English in “real” environments, so focus your PTE preparation on learning terms and phrases in context, rather than just lists of vocabulary.
  • Last but not least, don’t leave all of your preparation to a few days before the exam! There’s lots to do, from familiarising yourself with question types to working on your skills and vocabulary. Whilst the amount of time needed will differ from person to person, make sure to give yourself the best possible start.

6. Tips for test day

You’ve made it. The big day has arrived, now all that’s left for your PTE preparation is to manage those nerves and ace the test.

Before the test…

  • Make sure that you’ve eaten and rested well.
  • Plan your route and arrive early, to avoid last-minute panic.
  • Remember to bring the requested documentation and ID with you.
  • Go in with confidence – you’ve got this!

During the test…

  • Read every question carefully.
  • Directly answer each question, don’t talk “around” a topic.
  • Keep strictly within word limits and don’t spend too long on any individual questions.
  • Respond quickly during speaking tasks, as the microphone closes after three seconds of silence.

PTE preparation can be challenging, but with dedication and a thorough understanding of what’s expected – you can go into the exam with confidence. For anyone studying for the PTE, we wish you the very best of luck.

If you’re thinking of studying abroad, explore Edvoy for more advice and inspiration.

Whether it’s how to prepare for PTE to real-life student experiences or movies to see you through the semester, get your study journey off to the best possible start.

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Amelia Carruthers
Written By
Amelia Carruthers

With a background in academic publishing, education and digital marketing, Amelia Carruthers is a freelance writer with a love of history, philosophy and the written word.

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