Does taking a different test make a difference? IELTS: General v PTE: Academic

IELTS, having been the only test accepted by the DIBP up until the end of 2014, is the most widely known and taken English test. It is an integrated test with four modules – writing, reading, listening and speaking, and unlike the PTE, a fully computerised test, follows the regular school exam format which made the entire process translate as far more serious.

Booking the IELTS is done online through their portal which can be accessed here. Because the IELTS has long stood between visa applicants and their visas, security on this test is high and you will be required to upload a photo of your passport as part of the online registration process. Your login details pop up straight up away in the email you’ve used for registration and it’s all pretty easy from there. Like PTE, online payment is available.

As IELTS is very established, there are many test locations available throughout Australia and there are 12 centres within New South Wales alone, with 6 in the outer suburbs. I sat for my test at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) with a start time of 8:00am. All four modules were to take place within a single day, but I would only know my speaking test time at on the day of the test. Here is what you will need on your test day:

  • Bring your passport
  • Confirmation email
  • Arm yourself with a couple of pencils and an eraser for your test. You will not need and cannot use a pen
  • The theatre was very cold and by the end of the exam, I really could not feel my toes, so do bring something warm

Arriving at UTS early on Saturday Morning, I sought out the location as was given on my confirmation email, but noted the lack of signage which felt mildly unsettling. My journey ended when the lift doors opened to a huge crowd. Again, no signage. I joined the queue, eyeballing IELTS emails and pencils clutched in others hands, but wondered if they had, like me, joined the queue on assumption? It was not until nearly 8:30am that we heard from an IELTS representative. Candidates dribbled slowly into the exam area 10 to 20 at a time. We were instructed to leave our bags on a table and our passports were checked and fingerprints scanned at registration.

 I entered the hall to some 200 seats. Despite some no shows, the hall was still filled to its edges. At my assigned desk, I found a label with my speaking test time on it.

Here’s a tip: if you have a late speaking test time and you need to get an earlier slot, ask right away before the test begins.You will not be able to change this at a later point. There is a fair bit of downtime waiting and I first put pencil to paper at 9:15am. Toilet breaks are allowed but you will have to surrender your passport if you do go.

The invigilators were helpful and will provide you with pencils and an eraser if you forget to bring them. They even go around sharpening your pencils if they notice that yours has gone blunt, which amused me a great deal!

My speaking component was scheduled deep into the afternoon at 4:20pm, so you have to be prepared to give up your entire day for this test. Held in a different UTS building, I left my bag under IELTS care and went to have myself registered. Here your passport is checked and photo taken. The examiners come into the holding room to pick up their next examinee’s file and after a while I was crossing my fingers for which examiner would be calling my name.

My speaking examiner was something out of a story book, with coke bottle spectacles that made her eyes look enormous. She was a little, sweet older lady, who put my passport through another check as she sat me down for the test. As we are tested in individual rooms there were no distractions, save of course for my examiners moon sized eyes. I was asked to talk about myself and given topics to wax poetic on.

I was glad to be done with IELTS. Although I am a fan of its traditional format, it meant spending far more time than I expected to give up. The confirmation email stated that I would be able to collect my results 13 calendar days after my exam date (or available online from 5pm the evening before at  and I itched for the day I would get to compare them with my PTE results.

IELTS (General)        Listening 9.0         Reading 8.5          Speaking 9.0          Writing 7.5

*IELTS scores range from a minimum of 1.0 to a maximum of 9.0

 PTE (Academic)             Listening  90          Reading  90           Speaking  66          Writing  90

*PTE Scores range from a minimum of 10 to a maximum of 90

Although I had felt that IELTS was a little easier, I did poorly for my writing section. We were given 2 questions, one to test your casual writing and one more academic. Unlike the PTE which had a series of short answer questions, you’ll have less opportunity to show off your writing skills and if you have a case of writer’s block, you’ll be in a bit of trouble. I have a feeling that I wrote far too casually for that “write a letter to your friend” question. Best to not get too deep into character! More notably my scores for the speaking module in the two tests gave a quite different view on my verbal skills.

English Proficiency table
(Taken from the Pearson PTE website)


Minimum scores to receive ‘Competent English’

(Minimum Score)
(Minimum Score)
(Minimum Score)
(Minimum Score)
PTE Academic

According to the infographic from the Pearson PTE site and the guide to different English proficiency levels by immigration department, the PTE scoring is a little stricter on the scale against the IELTS. My test scores cannot prove this. What it can prove is that how one’s proficiency in the language is assessed can be subjective and that a person’s performance can fluctuate with different test formats.

I took IELTS: General Training at University of Technology Sydney, paid $330, and spent 5 hours (excluding waiting time) and 9 hours (including waiting time).

Ease of booking                                     4.5

Test date/time options                       4.0

Convenience of test centres              5.0

Clarity in instructions                         4.5

Test result lead time                            3.5

The next review will be on TOEFL iBT, so look out for that one!


Emma Natalie H.