An introduction to the Pearson Test of English General

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Lots of teachers struggle to find the right English language exam for their students. Sometimes they are too academic, focused on one or two levels, or simply aren’t relevant to student needs.

We’d like to introduce you to the Pearson Test of English (PTE) General. Ideal for students who want to prove their English ability, PTE General is an accessible suite of communicative tests that span across all levels of proficiency.

You can confidently build a syllabus around this exam and rest assured that your students will have a range of solid objectives and be highly motivated to learn and improve their English language skills, while also receiving proof of their ability.

This guide will answer some the questions you might have about the exam and provide links to helpful resources.

What is PTE General?

PTE General is a qualification that is accredited by OFQUAL and demonstrates your students’ level of English. It is accepted by various educational ministries, employers and higher education institutions.  

The test can be taken across six levels, which are designed to be aligned to the levels in the CEFR. The first test is A1 (beginner) and they are then numbered by level from 1 – 5, with the PTE General Level 5 being the equivalent of a C2 or Proficiency exam.

You can download guides for each level on the PTE General website, as well as more information about dates and locations.

There are test dates throughout the year, offering more choice for students who need to prove their ability.

Who is it for?

The tests are for people learning English who use the language in their day-to-day lives, at work, during their leisure time, and at university. They are designed to allow self-motivated students to demonstrate their language learning achievements. The tasks examined in the tests are therefore designed to imitate the types of activities people do everyday, such as writing messages, taking part in conversations and understanding articles in the news.

All levels of PTE General are age-appropriate and will appeal to students from any country or region. The themes covered in the exam become more complex and sophisticated as the levels progress, yet remain accessible and relevant to the students.

If your students are thinking of studying at university abroad, levels 4 and 5 (C1 and C2 on the CEFR) will help them prepare for the challenge.

However, PTE General is not accepted for immigration purposes; if your students need a qualification for this purpose, they should take PTE Academic.

What skills does it test?

In the exam all four core skills are tested: Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking.

Each test begins with three listening tasks: a multiple choice, a dictation and a note completion. These three tasks test your students’ ability to understand both the general idea of the text as well as more specific details.

Following this, there are four reading tasks: two multiple choice activities, an open-ended question and another note completion. These again test students’ ability to understand and extract the main ideas and specific details from the texts.

The final part of the written test involves two writing tasks. At each level, the first is often a letter, email or blogpost in which students must use information from the final Reading activity to write the text. The second text is longer with a choice of two options at each level and the text types include writing a story, article, essay or diary entry. At lower levels, students are given images to provide support and a context for their writing, while at higher levels, they’ll be given the context in a short text.

The length of the written test varies, from an hour and fifteen minutes at Level A1 to almost three hours at Level 5. The written test, which includes the Listening, Reading and Writing papers, is taken on a computer, while the speaking test involves a series of face-to-face tasks with one of our trained PTE General examiners.

At levels A1 and 1, the speaking test lasts approximately five minutes and involves three tasks: a short monologue, a picture description and a roleplay. For levels 2-5, there is also a discussion task.

In the first part of the test, the students have to talk about themselves and the examiner will ask them questions related to things like their hobbies, family, attitude towards technology or important character qualities. The higher the level, the more sophisticated the topics become.

The picture description requires students at lower levels to use language to describe what is happening in the image, whereas at higher levels they have to compare two pictures and reach a conclusion about the theme. The discussion and roleplay tasks are designed to imitate real-life situations, such as buying clothes in a shop or defending and arguing a point of view.

What are the key features?

The tasks are grouped around topics referred to as themes. These themes may arise in multiple parts of the test, such as the Listening and Reading or the Reading and Writing. The higher the level, the more abstract the topics become.

Another key feature of PTE General is that the skills are integrated throughout the exam and test not only linguistic skills, but also imitate the types of tasks that people do in their everyday lives. For example, in the dictation task students make notes during a telephone conversation and there’s a writing task where they have to use information from the previous Reading exercise and select and paraphrase the relevant content.

Additionally, authentic material is used at each level – and more frequently from level 3 – so students will be exposed to audio and text types which they may be familiar with in everyday life, such as podcasts, websites or newspaper articles.

You can also visit the Pearson PTE General resources section to see how the test aligns with courses such as New Cutting Edge, Activate, Focus and many others. This can help you prepare your students for the PTE General test during your classes using the materials and courses you are already familiar with.

For more information about the test, visit the PTE General website.

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