I have met International Students with all the relevant points required for the permanent residency, but only fell short of the threshold because they are not able get the maximum scores for the English language requirement. While it is mentally draining not to achieve the score you desire, it is also a financial burden. I know there is a lot of resources out there on how to get the perfect score, but I thought there is nothing better than hearing straight from the horse’s mouth. By the strangest coincidence, I found a student who scored 90 for Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking in his first try. After a short conversation, I gathered some interesting tactics he used to get the perfect score – I want to share it, with the hopes it would help at least one individual.
Master PTE Exams series is dedicated to all students who are struggling or unable to get the desired score or sitting for the exam for the first time. As the title suggest, this article is all about the Speaking test.
Let’s get started…
What is PTE?
Before we jump in to the good stuff, if you are reading and wondering what in the world is PTE, let me get you on the same page. PTE, The Pearson Test of English Academic, is an online based exam to test your English language skills in four areas of Speaking, Reading, Writing and Listening. This is essentially required for International Students who are aiming to obtain their permanent residency (PR) in Australia. Majority of the candidates seek a score above 79 points for each band, which is equivalent to 20 points for the PR.
Speaking test format
This is the first section of the exam. You will be given a headphone to listen and respond to questions. You will be tested on scenarios you see and hear in real-life. This includes lectures, diagrams, conversations and accents from native and non native speakers. Speaking test is around 30 to 40 minutes. You don’t have to worry about the overall time, because it is highly unlikely you will run out of time.
This section is broken in to sub-sections, as shown below, in the given order. As one sub-section ends, the next begins without any indication. Just be sure to know exactly what is required for each sub-section so you don’t waste time reading instructions or worse, be confused.
You are required to read the sentence on the screen out loud. You have 30-40 seconds to prepare and as soon as the microphone opens, read the sentence. If you are silent for 3 seconds, the microphone will turn off and move on to the next question. There are 10 sentences in the Read Aloud section.
You will hear a sentence – about 10 words long. Once the microphone opens, you are required to repeat the sentence exactly as you heard it. There are 8-10 similar questions in this section.
You will be given an image, with 25 seconds to prepare and once the recording begins you have 40 seconds to describe the image. There are 6-8 Describe Image questions. Remember there is insufficient time to write down anything, so use the 25 seconds to study the image.
You will hear a short lecture, and you will be required retell the lecture in your own words in 40 seconds. You have less than 10 seconds prep time after the recording to start speaking, so make sure you jot down the points as you listen in a numbered order. There are 2-3 Retell Lecture questions.
Answer short questions
The computer will ask a question (which is usually general knowledge or common sense) and you have to provide the answer in a couple of words. You have about 10 of these questions, and generally is the easiest section to score full marks.
How to get 90 in PTE Speaking?
Many reckons PTE is the easiest English test, until they sit for the Speaking section. Based on the description above, the sub-sections may seem straightforward. However, as the entire exam is graded by a computer, there is (what we call) microphone-bias. If you do not understand the correct way to approach the Speaking section, it may be difficult to get the desired score.
1. Oral fluency and pronunciation
The grading for the Speaking section is primarily based on oral fluency and pronunciation. Understanding these two components will help you to score better in the overall Speaking test. Pronunciation is your ability to speak like a native speaker, and this DOES NOT mean you have to imitate the accent. The PTE system is designed to recognise various accents, but you as the candidate need to speak clearly.
Oral fluency is self-explanatory. The fluency is not dependant in how fast you speak. It is scored based your ability to speak at a natural consistent pace without unnecessary pauses or hesitations. The pauses at a full stop or comma must be around 1 second. If it is anything more than 3 seconds the microphone will turn off and you will automatically move on to the next question. Anything around 2 seconds, maybe misinterpreted as hesitation. Best way to understand your fluency is by recording your answer during practice sessions on your smart phone. When you playback check the voice pattern to ensure there are no spikes or long pauses.
2. Strategy for each question
During prep time, it is important to develop strategies that works for you and based on the marking structure for each question type. It is not about how well you are able to converse in English, but about understanding the grading and playing accordingly.
Describe Image, prepare a standard structure for every question.
- Introduction: This [pie / bar / line chart / image] [describes / illustrates / demonstrates] [insert title of the image] [insert description of x-axis and y-axis figures]. This bar chart illustrates the number of women in workforce between 2002 to 2014 given in percentages.
- Body: Describe the highest point and lowest point. The highest number of women in the workforce was present in 2014. A significant growth from 2002, where only 20% of the workforce were women.
- Conclusion: Provide a concluding a sentence to summaries the image. In conclusion it is evident that number of women in the workforce is increasing at a rapid rate.
- Predictions: You can add some additional information not present on the image. The reason for this increasing trend could be due to higher women are enrolling for higher education programmes.
You can apply the same principle for Retell Lecture.
Repeat Sentence, you don’t have time to write the sentence. Here are few tricks that you can attempt.
- Write the first letter of the word as you listen to the sentence or,
- Close your eyes and concentrate on what’s been said, or
- Repeat best as you can, and if you forget a word replace it with “something” naturally to ensure your fluency is not effected. You will be penalised on content, however, you will still score better on fluency.
3. Exam starts at self introduction
Many believe that the exam commences at Read Aloud (first section). This is incorrect, as the exam begins at the 30 second Personal Introduction. In the first couple of minutes you will given 30 seconds to give an introduction to yourself and this not graded, but yet highly crucial for the Speaking test. The introduction is designed for the computer to identify the baseline for your speaking. This way, computer is able to eliminate “noise” and identify your response during the course of Speaking test. During the Personal Introduction make sure you are fluent (avoid umm or ah) and keep at your regular pace of speaking. This pace must be maintained through out the Speaking test because at deviations might lose you points on fluency as it maybe misinterpreted by the computer as hesitation.
Do not place less importance to this area. Make sure to prepare and rehearse your personal introduction multiple times. Keep the introduction simple: name, age, what University, major, nationality, etc.
My name is Anna. I am 25 years old and I am from China. I graduated from Macquarie University after completing my two-year programme in Masters of Communication. In China, I worked for ABC Company for three years before receiving a scholarship to study in Australia. I have an older sister who is planning to follow my footsteps study journalism in Australia.
The headset you receive for the test are very sensitive. So lesson number one is, you don’t need to speak loudly and disturb others. Be considerate of the rest of exam takers. There is a section, prior to the Personal Introduction to test your microphone. Use that time wisely to speak and listen if it picks up your response. Rather than saying “Test, Test, 1, 2,3”, read out an actual sentence to get a better understanding. Secondly, as it is sensitive, your microphone is likely to pick up your breathing. That may disrupt your responses. Make sure your mouth piece is slightly below your chin level. Once again, test it out.
5. Practice, practice, practice
Now that you understand the tactics, all that is left is to practice, practice and more practice. There are abundance of resources on PTE Academics website, third-party sites or even on YouTube for you practice with timings. The more you practice, the more confident you will be. You can even practice while you read a novel or magazine by reading the sentences out loud as you would do at a PTE Speaking test. TED Talks are good practice for Retell Lecture, where you listen to a TED Talk for about three to four minutes and retell the lecture in 40 seconds.
How useful was this article? Let us know in the comment section. Remember this is one approach that worked, there might be plenty other successful ways to approach PTE Speaking. Please do share below any that had worked for you.
Until next time…