PTE General

The 5 W’s of the PTE General
( Pearson Test of English General)

WHO WHYWHATWHEREWHEN

Who takes the PTE General test?

The Pearson Test of English General (otherwise known as the PTE General exam) is an intermediate to advanced level English proficiency exam administered by Pearson Language Tests. The PTE General is designed to meet the needs of non-native English speakers who need to demonstrate or certify their English-language proficiency for higher education applications and admissions.

Why should you take the PTE General exam?

While the advantages of certified English proficiency in the modern world are obvious, the PTE General exam in particular offers many benefits to test takers. Widely accepted by language schools, universities, and even the UK Border Agency, the exam is offered at six distinct levels designed to correspond to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR).

These six levels allow prospective candidates to choose from the English assessment exam that best fits their needs and abilities over time without worrying about changing exam criteria or structure. For example, the A1 (or Foundation) level is for test takers whose English proficiency is sufficient for basic survival skills in everyday situations while the C2 (or Proficient) level, using a similar format but more challenging material, is for test takers pursuing English-language higher education programs. A complete list of the six options available is below:

PTE General Exam Targeted Communication Level CEFR Equivalence 
Level A1 Foundation A1
Level 1 Elementary A2
Level 2 Intermediate B1
Level 3 Upper Intermediate B2
Level 4 Advanced C1
Level 5 Proficient C2

Moreover, unlike other skills-specific exams that place an emphasis on candidates ability to use English in a purely commercial or academic situation, the “theme-based” PTE General exams are exams designed to place a premium on fluency and communicative skills – how well a learner can communicate in real world situations – rather than on formal accuracy – strict adherence to grammatical rules and advanced vocabulary. Because of this emphasis, the tests endeavor to use real-life scenarios rather than grammatical exercises to evaluate the four basic areas of English proficiency: reading, writing, listening, and speaking.

What exactly is the PTE General test like and what can I expect to see on it?

Regardless of the level of the exam, all PTE General tests are made up of two parts: a written exam and a speaking (or “spoken”) test. The written paper assesses test takers abilities in listening, reading comprehension, and writing and is evaluated by Pearson Language Tests in the United Kingdom. By contrast, the speaking test (which measures candidates ability to communicate clearly and effectively in English) is evaluated by local examiners and then sent to the UK for standardized moderation. The length any type of tasks asked by each section vary according to their level of difficulty in the following way:

PTE General Level Writing Test Time Speaking Test Time
Level A1 1 hour, 15 minutes 5 minutes
Level 1 1 hour, 35 minutes 5 minutes
Level 2 1 hour, 35 minutes 7 minutes
Level 3 2 hours 7 minutes
Level 4 2 hours, 30 minutes 8 minutes
Level 5 2 hours, 55 minutes 8 minutes

Writing Section

Although the PTE General is offered at six distinct levels whose level of difficulty increase over the course of the exam sequence, the exam’s general format does not. This gives prospective candidates the opportunity to self-select their level of mastery over time from a wide range of consistent assessment options. This keeps as many factors as possible as consistent as possible throughout the process. Accordingly, all six levels of the exam are made up of the same two parts: a written exam (which assesses listening, reading, and writing skills) and a speaking test (which assess speaking skills). Moreover, all six levels of the written exam, though unified by a common theme, are themselves further subdivided into the same nine sections:

  • Section 1, which evaluates Listening skills, requires students to answer multiple choice questions with 3 options.
  • Section 2, which evaluates Listening and Writing skills, requires students to transcribe spoken text.
  • Section 3, which evaluates Listening skills, requires students extract information from audio passages.
  • Section 4, which evaluates Reading skills, requires students to express their understanding of the purpose, structure and main idea of a passage using gap-fill multiple choice questions.
  • Section 5, which evaluates Reading skills requires students to express their understanding of the main idea of a passage using standard multiple choice questions.
  • Section 6, which evaluates Reading skills, requires students to express the main points of written passages using open-ended questions.
  • Section 7, which evaluates Reading skills, requires students to extract specific information from a passage using text completion and gap fill question.
  • Section 8, which evaluates Writing skills, requires students to write a short piece of correspondence.
  • Section 9, which which evaluates Writing skills, requires students to write a passage based on a given prompt or from their own experience.

Again, it is important to stress that although the overall structure of the exam remains consistent, the length and level of difficulty increase. For example, while the A1 level exam uses simple and routine themes related to everyday experiences like shopping, at higher levels the theme can touch on abstract concepts like pollution and conservation. Moreover, the length of written responses and the time given to complete each section increases with each level.

Speaking Section

Like with the writing section of the PTE General exam, there is six distinct difficulty levels. Because each of the six levels of the PTE general exam are designed to correspond to a distinct levels of English proficiency, the level of difficulty and time given for the various sections of the exam increases over time. These differences are especially apparent in the speaking test, which begins at 3 sections over 5 minutes at the A1 level but increases in difficulty to 4 sections over 8 minutes at the 5 level. Accordingly, here is a breakdown of the six levels of difficulty found in the test sequence:

  • The Level A1 and Level 1 Speaking tests are both five minutes long with three sections: 1) a 1.5 minute self-directed monologue, 2) a 2 minute description of a picture prompt, and 3) a 1.5 minute interactive role play.
  • The Level 2 Speaking test is seven minutes long and feature four sections: 1) a 1.5 minute self-directed monologue, 2) a 2 minute discussion of a concrete issue, 3) a 2 minute description of a picture prompt, and 4) a 2 minute interactive role play.
  • The Level 3 Speaking tests is similar to the Level 2 version with some slight difference: although both are seven minutes long and feature four sections, the the 2 minute discussion section may be on a concrete or abstract issue and the 2 minute picture description section will address a theme connected to two picture prompts.
  • The Level 4 and Level 5 Speaking tests continue this trend but devote a full eight minutes to their four sections: 1) a 2 minute self-directed monologue, 2) a 2 minute discussion of a concrete or abstract concept, 3) a 2 minute discussion a theme connects to two picture prompts, and 4) a 2 minute interactive role play section.

All exams, regardless of their level or the number of sections within them, are evaluated out a possible cumulative score of 25 points distributed across the entire speaking tests.

Grading

The PTE General exam does not have a formal pass score. Applicants are instead measured awarded for the tests at each level (in decreasing order) through recognition of Distinction, Merit, Pass or Fail.

Where and When can you take the PTE General exam?

The PTE General exam is offered in in May, June, November and December at Pearson Language Test certified test centers around the world.

>> Learn more about other English language exams