PTE or IELTS? I needed to make a decision quick.
It was mid 2015. I made up my mind to migrate to Australia. Moving there is something that I had been thinking about for while, but I decided it was time to start taking it seriously and get the ball rolling. As part of the visa application process, I soon discovered I needed to pass a test of English. Not only that, I needed a really high score (Superior English) for my application to stand any chance of being accepted.
After taking a look at the Australia immigration website, they had about 5 different language tests to choose from. Most people were either taking either the IELTS or PTE as they were the most well known, so I decided to limit my decision to these two.
With the stakes so high, you need to ensure you pick the test that gives you the best chance of making it through. Like me, you too must be keen to achieve your score without spending money in reattempts.
In this article, we will look at 14 key parameters that you should consider before choosing a test. This article also includes experience and feedback from the numerous test takers I’ve been working with over the years.
Hopefully, this should help you take an informed decision on choosing between the IELTS and the PTE. Let’s get started.
1. Who runs the tests
The PTE Academic and IELTS are run by highly established organisations who specialize in Language Learning.
The PTE Academic test is run by Pearson PLC which is a British multinational publishing and education company headquartered in London. Pearson education group claims to be the world’s leading learning company.
IELTS is jointly owned by the British Council, IDP: IELTS Australia and Cambridge Assessment English.
Draw. Both the IELTS and PTE are run by credible institutions.
2. Who accepts the test:
IELTS is accepted for both study and migration by governments(UK, Canada, Australia, etc) in more countries than any other English language test. 10,000 organisations have listed their IELTS requirements on their website.
PTE Academic is accepted by thousands of universities worldwide, including prestigious institutions such as Harvard Business School, INSEAD and Yale. PTE Academic is also accepted for visa purposes by the Australian and New Zealand governments.
IELTS. While both are widely accepted, IELTS has been in existence for a longer period has a wider reach, thus winning in this department. Always check with the organisation(university or immigration department) on which English tests do they accept before picking a test.
3. The format
PTE is a computerized test. You take the test on a computer. According to the task, you may need to select correct options, type out your answer or speak your answer into a headset.
IELTS, on the other hand, is a standard pen and paper-based exam.
If you have a very slow typing speed, you may find related tasks in the PTE Academic to be challenging. For example, in the writing section, you need to write a 200-300 word essay in 20 minutes. Having a slow typing speed could go against you. Alternatively, if you aren’t used to writing on paper or have a doctors handwriting, the IELTS may not be best suited for you.
PTE. This can be subjective based on individual preferences. With most people today familiar with using a keyboard, the PTE Academic wins in this department. I don’t even remember the last time I wrote more than 200 words on paper!
4. Test structure/convenience
IELTS has four components:
1. Listening (30 minutes)
2. Reading (60 minutes)
3. Writing (60 minutes)
4, Speaking (11–14 minutes)
The total test time is 2 hours and 45 minutes.
The Listening, Reading and Writing tests are done in one sitting. The Speaking test may be on the same day or up to seven days before or after the other tests.
PTE Academic has three main parts:
1. Speaking and writing (77 to 93 minutes)
2. Reading (32 to 41 minutes)
3. Listening (45 to 57 minutes)
The PTE Academic test is completed within 3 hours in one sitting. A short optional break 10-minute break is included as well.
Both the PTE Academic and IELTS are tests meant to measure your English Language skills. While there are differences in terms the questions types within each section, some of the questions types they use are common and overlap with each other.
PTE. Although the general structure of the exam is similar. The PTE wins here as the entire test is done and over within 3 hours. The speaking section for the IELTS may not even be completed on the same day, which is highly inconvenient
5. Time to receive results
IELTS results are available 13 days after taking the test in a secure environment. Test centers will post your Test Report Form to you 13 days after the test or you can pick up in person.
PTE results are typically published within 5 business days. Most test-takers report receiving the results within 3 days(I got mine the next day!). In a small number of cases, it may take more than 5 days.
PTE. Being a computerized test the PTE is able to deliver results much quicker compared to the IELTS.
Both PTE and IELTS website state that their test scores are valid for up to two years from the date of the test.
However, the validity of the test is dependent on the organisation(university or government) that accepts the test. The Australian Department of Immigration, for example, states that tests conducted up to 3 years prior to lodgement of an application will be accepted.
Draw. Both tests are similar in terms of validity.
The price for the PTE and IELTS vary as per the country. However, the standard price for both the tests are the same. Below is the price for both test in India and Australia.
India– INR 12,100
Australia– AUD $330
Draw. Taking either test will make your wallet feel equally lighter.
8. Cancellation, rescheduling and refunds:
In certain situations, you may need to postpone or cancel your test. Both tests allow you to do so for a fee.
The IELTS allows cancellations or a request for transfers of the test date for up to five weeks prior to the scheduled test date. Charges vary per country, however, it’s approximately about 25% of the test fee. If you cancel your test or request a transfer within five weeks of the test date for medical reasons, you must provide supporting medical evidence. If you cancel your IELTS test within five weeks of the test date for any reason other than a medical issue, bereavement or hardship/trauma, you will not be eligible to receive a refund.
The PTE Academic exam gives you a partial refund if you cancel or reschedule more than 7 calendar days prior to the exam. If you cancel more than seven calendar days before your test date, you will be entitled to a 50% refund. If you reschedule more than seven calendar days before your test date, you will pay an additional 25% of the test fee.
PTE. The PTE Academic wins here as it is more flexible in case you need to cancel or reschedule your exam.
9. The Assessment mechanism
The assessment for the PTE is automated and done by a computer program. That means there is no person listening to you speak and there is no one physically analyzing your writing. In the PTE Academic, it’s all done by the automated software that Pearson has developed.
IELTS, on the other hand, has specialized examiners that conduct the speaking section of the exam. You need to interact and have conversations with them as part of the assessment. To assess your writing section, an examiner will read through your writing tasks and gives you a grade.
Which one is better? Both the PTE and IELTS scoring systems are fairly accurate when it comes to assessment. As the scoring in the PTE is done by a computer, there is no scope for any human bias in the scoring. That means if you choose the PTE over IETLS, impressing your examiner is not something you need to be concerned about. On the other hand, if you are more comfortable talking to a person rather than the computer, IELTS may be a better option.
Draw. In most instances, both the PTE and IELTS give accurate results.
10. Transparency in scoring
Although both institutions provide guidelines and scorecards on their scoring criteria, the IELTS is much more transparent and simple to understand.
For example, the IELTS Listening test contains 40 questions. Each correct answer is awarded one mark. Scores out of 40 are converted to the IELTS nine-band scale. Scores are reported in whole and half bands. Pretty straight-forward.
Pearson, for example, has 8 questions types within the listening section with each question having about 1-2 questions within them. How exactly does Pearson comes up with the final listening score is not clearly explained?
We reached out to Pearson on how the marks are given and the weightage for each question in the exam. They mentioned that they use complex algorithms to calculate the score and do not reveal this to anyone. The score guide will not teach you how to calculate the final score. It serves to give an understanding of what test takers need to demonstrate in their responses.
IELTS. The IELTS wins here as to how they come up with the final score is clearly defined.
11. Which one is easier?
Here’s the big question. The one that really mattered to me. I’m sure it’s as important to you as well. Overall both the
IELTS and PTE Academic are fairly equal in terms of scoring. There are however sections that are more difficult or easier than the others.
In my experience of working with test-takers, IELTS tends to be more difficult in the writing section. The standards for IETLS in the writing sections is very high. I have seen test-takers on average score 0.5 – 1 band higher in the PTE compared to IELTS in the writing section.
On the other hand, most people find the reading section of the PTE Academic to be slightly difficult than IELTS. Most people who face issues in the reading section for both exams generally struggle because they do not have a regular reading habit.
The speaking section is a mixed bag. The IELTS includes a real person that you are speaking to vs a computer in the PTE. Some people are more comfortable speaking talking to other people, some not. With the PTE however, as it’s an automated scoring system, if you understand what the system is looking for, even an average speaker can end up with a better grade with some speaking coaching.
The listening section is equal in terms of difficulty.
PTE. While both tests can be equally challenging, the PTE wins a small margin given the high standards of the writing section in the IELTS.
Both tests are highly accurate for the reading and listening section or the exam. Scoring parameters for the writing and speaking section of the IELTS are very well defined.
Although the PTE is highly accurate in the writing section, I have seen few instances were it has been inaccurate in the speaking section. A very small subset of the students gets lower pronunciation scores than expected in the PTE speaking module. Although many test-takers have been able to get good speaking scores with PTE speaking coaching, there are a few who we recommend switching to IELTS.
The IELTS, on the other hand, can have issues with the writing section as it is manually assessed which leaves room for human error. There have been a few instances where test-takers score have been revised upward in the writing section after doing a reassessment.
Draw. While both tests are accurate overall, they can be a few instances where accuracy is not 100%.
13. Preparation material
Back when I took the PTE exam there wasn’t much PTE preparation material available. That’s why I decided to make content that I wish I had back then. IELTS has plenty of free and paid resources available online that can help you with your preparation.
The best feature of the PTE Academic is their official online mock tests. Pearson has been kind enough to offer scored online mock tests for the PTE Academic. The official Pearson mock test need help with your preparation.can be taken from home over the internet. You receive scored results similar to what you would receive in the actual exam, which is the best part. This gives you a true picture of where you currently stand. Taking this test is highly recommended, as it is as close you can get to the actual PTE exam, at a fraction of the cost. Remember that each attempt for the real PTE Exam costs between $200 to $300. The best and most economical scenario is to pass the test on the first attempt. If this is not possible, you want to at least ensure you keep the number of attempts to the minimum. Taking the mock test helps you understand if you are ready to take the real exam or
IELTS, on the other hand, doesn’t have any such official mock test. They don’t give you an estimate of your score. You need to book the exam to know your score. This could lead to a reattempt and taking the test again, which means less money in your pocket and more time spent on taking the exam 🙁
PTE. The PTE official scored mock test give PTE the edge here.
14. Test Date –
Availability of test dates is a factor to consider as well. With high demand for both tests, some regions don’t have test dates available for up to two months. It’s a good idea to check the availability for each test on their websites beforehand.
Draw. Both tests can be in high demand and booked out in certain regions.
We’ve outlined most of the important factors to consider before choosing your exam. When I needed to take the exam, the PTE Academic was the choice for me. Your choice may be different give your individual preferences. Whatever test you choose, keep in mind that having a foundation of good English is something that everyone needs to do well, especially if you are aiming for a high score.
If you decide to go with the PTE, click the link below to receive some free preparatory material for the exam. I’ll also keep in touch and send you tips/updates via email!