We have previously written about how the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) assesses one’s English proficiency, with briefs on all the acceptable tests and minimum score requirements. If you missed that article, you can find it here.

The English language ability requirement plays a rather large role in one’s skills assessment or visa application. Whether you are looking to meet a minimum requirement or to gain extra points for your points test, every little bit helps. That is why we are going to do a series of reviews on the PTE Academic, IELTS, Cambridge English: Advanced (CAE) and TOEFL iBT tests. We are hoping that these will give you more of a feel on what to expect for tests and that that would help you decide on the test you will be able to perform the best in. There is nothing more frustrating than having to sit for the same test over and over, and we’ve met people who’ve done some tests up to 30 times! Besides, this is pretty fun. It’s going to be very interesting to see how my scores vary between the 4 different tests. As the OET is mainly for those in specific professions such as healthcare, we’ll be skipping that one.

In each review, I’ll start off with my personal experience and end off with a rating on the booking experience, accessibility (of test dates, time and locations), clarity in test instructions and how long I waited for test results. These were the things that mattered to me and I believe will to many on a time crunch or whose visas depend heavily on the results from these tests.


IELTS is no longer the only option, but does it make a difference?

Excited to get started on the reviews, I searched for the soonest test that would be available to me. With IELTS two weeks away and TOEFL iBT and CAE even further, PTE impressed with multiple exam dates and so here we are our first review.

The Pearson PTE site is modern, graphic and littered with bits that flash and bob. You book your test through their website through creating an account, after which you are notified that you will only receive your login details in the following 24 hours and can only then book a test date. Not having instant access was a little shocking to me. I did not plan for it and it created some unexpected and slightly frustrating downtime. Gratefully, the rest of the booking process was easy and I got myself a test time at the PLT at Cliftons test centre, making the payment online. The PTE test is available in a number of locations across the world. In Sydney, where I am, there are 3 test centres in the city that offer the test through the week with 2-3 timings a day. I received a confirmation email, which I did not read through (yes, I’m silly like that) so let me list a few main things to note:

  1.        Bring your Passport
  2.        Be there 30 minutes before your test time (I did not read this bit)

Turning up at the test centre, I was directed to a registration room. There, I was to place my belongings in a locker. No personal belongings are to be with you and I was even asked to remove my watch. You then provide your passport for verification and are given a sheet with a few rules and other notices to look over. As I arrived exactly at my test time, I did not read past the first line. Your palms, both left and right are scanned, and a photo is taken. No way to pay someone to sit this test for you.

I should have done a little research, but I bounced straight into booking a test. If I had looked through the site, I would have discovered that the test is fully computerised. I was curious when I discovered this at the test centre; as all the English tests accepted by the DIBP measure four main components of your skill in the use of English – speaking, reading, writing and listening – how could the speaking component be computerised?

The small group of 8 or so candidates entered the test room where computers sat separated by boards. Don’t lean, they are not that sturdy! I was assigned to the cubicle that I would spend my next 3 hours in and made myself comfortable whilst I listened carefully to the instructions given. There were a couple that were slightly alarming to me: do not click the “next” button twice as you will skip questions and will not be able to return, do not speak into your microphone too loudly as it will distract others. Our speaking ability was going to be assessed through recordings?

There is a computer and headset at every seat and you are given the opportunity to adjust the volume and microphone sensitivity before the test begins. That’s great, but I hear everyone speaking at the same time, and that’s only in testing! Everyone is eager and everyone is loud. I am already anxious.

The computer is a little dated and fuzzy but it does not prove to be an issue. You are also given a breakdown of the test and various components before the test begins. A little nervous, I get started. The questions within each section vary, attempting to build a full idea of your comprehension and ability to express yourself. These questions are quite specific in how you should answer, which is helpful, and each question is timed. Recordings are only played once, so pay attention. You are given a notepad for note taking, but I did not feel it helped. With speaking answers you are given a buffer time of around 30 seconds to have a think.

Thankfully, at no point during the test did I experience any lag in the system and was never tempted to press the “next” button twice. I did, as I had expected, struggle with the speaking section. Hearing everyone speaking loudly at the same time unnerved me greatly, and as I floated along rattling confused nonsense and accenting my answers with “err”s, my heart grew depressingly heavy. Everyone else seemed confident and able to focus, but I found the situation personally quite stressful. You also get to take a short break if you want to around 2 hours into the test.

The website says to expect your results in 5 business days but I received my results via email in a day. It is, after all, a fully computerised test.  I achieved a full score on reading, writing and listening, but received a low score for speaking.


Listening  90         Reading 90          Speaking 66         Writing  90

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


Another individual may not feel quite as distracted as I was, but the PTE was not entirely suited to me. The PTE excelled on many other fronts with its fast results, being greatly accessible, being reasonably priced as compared to the OET, having multiple options in test dates and times, and allows you to finish your test on time or early as being computerised, it eliminates waiting.

The PTE site, which I only dug through post exam, states;


“Our automated scoring system is based on complex algorithms that were trained by testing a data sample of over 10,000 students with over 120 native languages. We fed thousands of human marks into our system and now find that the standard error measurement between our system and a human rater is less than between one human rater to another. “


Even your speaking is fully assessed by a computer. I hope that their algorithms include how people sound with the flu.


I took Pearson’s PTE Academic Test at PLT at Cliftons test centre, paid $330, and spent 3 hours.

Ease of booking                                    4.0

Test date/time options                       5.0

Convenience of test centres             4.5

Clarity of instructions                        4.5

Test result lead time                           5.0

*These ratings are personal and relative to the other tests. They are scored out of 5 

Psst, look out for the next review! It’s on IELTS!


Emma Natalie H.