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What is the PTE Test?

 This article covers:
  • What is the PTE test?
  • What is the format and structure of the PTE Academic test? What are the different sections of the PTE test?
  • How long is each section of the PTE test? How many questions are in each section of the PTE Academic test?
  • What kind of questions are in each section of the PTE test?

What is the Pearson PTE Academic Exam?

The Pearson Academic and Pearson Academic UKVI are English language exams. These exams are required by schools and governments to show that your student will be able to study in English. English language tests are required by most higher education institutions (HEIs) and governments for international students from non-English speaking countries. Many students looking to study abroad in the UK, US, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada will need to complete such an English test.

The Pearson Academic and Pearson Academic UKVI use the same questions and the tests are scored the same. However, the PTE UKVI is only for study abroad applications to the UK. The UKVI should be used when your student requires a SELT Unique Reference Number (URN) for their visa application.

While PTE now offer a PTE Academic Online exam, this article details in-person PTE exams.

Curious about the different types of PTE Tests & Vouchers? Click here to learn more about the similarities and differences between PTE Academic, PTE UKVI, PTE A1, PTE A2 and PTE B1.

Pearson PTE logo

Test Format

The PTE Academic exam measures your student’s English speaking, listening, reading, and writing skills. Testing of all these skills takes place in a single 2 hour session. The PTE Academic exam requires some security measures, so the test is administered at test centers run by Pearson worldwide. PTE test centers have no more than 15 seats per room, so your student will be able to take their test comfortably.

The test is taken on a computer, meaning your student will have to read and listen to prompts and enter their answers into a computer. The test integrates the different skills together (for example, speaking and writing) as much as possible.

The PTE Academic test measures what Pearson calls “real life English”. In other words, the test is designed to mimic what your student will encounter in the real world as closely as possible. To do this, the test includes speakers with accents and content from real lectures (instead of a fake lecture script). Students will have limited time for each question. However, always encourage your students to review their answers before they submit.

Discounted PTE Test Vouchers

For PTE tests, you can offer your students amazing discounts by partnering with ApplyBoard! ApplyBoard has partnered with Pearson to offer PTE test vouchers at up to 25% off. A test voucher is an alphanumeric code that you can buy and give to your student to enter during checkout in order to save money on PTE exams.

Ready to save up to 25% on PTE applications and simplify the application process for your student? Purchase vouchers now.

Three Sections of the PTE Academic Exam

Student at a desk

Section 1: Speaking & Writing

Time: 54–67 minutes

Questions: 7 different types of questions

  1. Intro (not scored): The intro section is a single question that is not scored. This helps students get ready to complete the rest of the PTE exam. There will be a prompt asking the student about themselves. Your student will have 25 seconds to read the prompt and prepare their answer, then they’ll have 30 seconds to respond.
  2. Read a prompt: A prompt of up to 60 words will appear, followed by a tone. After the tone, the student has to read the prompt out loud. They’ll be scored on three things: content, oral fluency, and pronunciation. For content, they’ll be looking to make sure your student only uses the exact words from the prompt. For oral fluency, they’ll look at the natural rate at which the student speaks and how smooth and effortless their reading sounds. Finally, for pronunciation, they’ll evaluate if the student pronounced words correctly. The PTE exam will not penalize a student’s accent, but they will check if a student stresses the right vowels and consonants.
  3. Repeat the sentence: The student will be asked to listen to a sentence and then repeat the sentence. Each ‘repeat the sentence’ question should only take 3–9 seconds.
  4. Describe an image: An image will appear on your student’s screen for 25 seconds. During this time, your student can prepare their answer with point-form notes. They’ll then have 15 seconds to describe the image in as much detail as they can.
  5. Re-give a lecture: Your student will be asked to listen to a recording of a real lecture lasting up to 90 seconds. They’ll then have 10 seconds to prepare before re-giving the lecture in their own words. Their answer can be up to 40 seconds long.
  6. Short Answer: Your student will listen to a short question (3–9 seconds long). Then, they will need to give a brief answer lasting no more than 10 seconds. When appropriate, your student’s answer can be as short as a single word for this section.
  7. Text summary: Your student will read a text that is no more than 300 words. Then they’ll have 10 minutes to create a single sentence summary of the text.
  8. Essay: Your student will have 20 minutes to write a 200–300 word essay on a prompted topic. They can use the cut, copy, and paste features to move text around to edit their response.

Pile of books

Section 2: Reading

Time: 30 mins

Questions: 5 questions

  1. Fill in the blank: Your student will see a sentence with blank lines where some words should be. They’ll also see a list of words on the screen. The student must drag and drop words from the list to fill the blanks in the sentence.
  2. Multiple choice (multiple answer): This question begins with a text up to 300 words long. Your student will be given a question about the text. They must then select all the correct answers to the question, not just the most right answer.
  3. Re-order paragraphs: A few text boxes with paragraphs in them will appear on the screen. These boxes will be in a random order. Your student will need to move the paragraphs around with their mouse so they are in the correct order.
  4. Fill in the gap: A text of up to 80 words will appear on the screen. This text will have gaps in a few places. Your student must drag words from the box below the prompt to the right gaps.
  5. Multiple choice (single answer): Your student will see a prompt up to 300 words long. They’ll then be asked a multiple choice question which has only one fully correct answer. This means several answers may seem correct, but one will be more correct than the others. This question could be about specific content in the prompt or it could be about the tone of the prompt.

People on a computer screen

Section 3: Listening

Time: 30–43 minutes

Questions: 8 questions consisting mostly of audio and video clips

  1. Summarize spoken text: Your student will listen to a 60–90 second prompt and then be expected to write a 50–70 word summary. They’ll have 10 minutes to write the summary. The key for this question is to take quick notes as the prompt plays to help remember all the points relevant to the summary.
  2. Multiple choice (multiple answer): A 40–90 second prompt will play, then the student will need to answer a multiple choice question which may have multiple answers. For this type of question, the student should select every answer which is correct, not just the one answer that seems the most correct.
  3. Fill in the blanks: Your student will see a transcript appear on the screen with words missing. They’ll also hear a 30–60 second audio prompt of the same text without words missing. The student will need to write the missing words in the correct blank.
  4. Highlight correct summary: After listening to a 30–60 prompt, the student must select the paragraph which best summarizes the prompt they just heard.
  5. Multiple choice (single answer): After listening to a 30–90 second long audio prompt, the student must choose the paragraph which best summarizes the prompt.
  6. Select the missing word: Your student must select the missing word after listening to a 20–70 second prompt. The word they select will come from a list of words available to them. Only one word is the correct choice.
  7. List incorrect words: In this question, your student will listen to a 15–20 second prompt. Then, they’ll need to identify words in the transcript which are different from what was actually said in the prompt.
  8. Write the sentence: Your student will listen to a one-sentence audio prompt and then be expected to write the sentence down exactly as they heard it. Spelling counts in this response.

Curious about other English Proficiency Tests and vouchers, such as TOEFL or IELTS, how they compare to PTE, and which is the right one for your students? Learn more about choosing an English Proficiency Test.

Additional Tips

During the PTE exam, audio and videos will only play once. They will not replay, so ensure your student knows to listen carefully and be prepared! You can suggest they take point-form notes as they listen or watch the prompt.

You should also advise your students to take any English language test a few months before the intake date of their chosen program. This allows them time to prepare and retake the test if needed. Be sure to provide your students with free online PTE practice tests and resources to help them prepare. This helps ensure your students can present their best score to prospective schools and maximize their success.

Lastly, always remember to always check which English Language Exams are accepted at the school your student wants to attend.

Interested in more resources to help your students succeed with their study permit application? Find out how why ApplyBoard students are 50% more likely to receive Canadian study permit approval.