IELTS – word of warning!

Word of warning to you all, IELTS and Person PTE are exams which should be approached with deadly caution!   Far too often English-speaking candidates under-estimate the complexity of their exam, whilst over-estimating their own language ability.

IELTS and PTE exams are primarily designed to test candidates for whom English is not their first language, non-native speakers.  Therefore, candidates for whom English is their first language, native speakers, are tested on  language acquired from birth rather than language learnt, level by level. In this respect, native speakers are disadvantaged because they do not ‘tick the boxes’ of vocabulary, grammar and skills acquired as you would when you are learning a new language. This is apparent in a failure to understand the criteria assessed, particularly in writing and speaking sections of the exam.

In contrast, native speakers are required to adopt a ‘top-down’ approach in order to better understand which language components score marks, and which do not. This technique is particularly important in the writing paper when each task is marked on 4 distinct criteria.  Subsequently, the overall score is an average of 8 individual marks where one slip-up can result in a lower mark overall. 

Therefore, try not to fall into the familiar trap and simple turn up on the day of the exam expecting to achieve your target scores. IELTS is not designed to be easy and those that succeed do so because of the time and effort spent preparing, in advance of exam day.


What do English Languge Exams test?

IELTS, and similar exams, used by governments and institutions to grade peoples’ abilities in the use of the English language, are often mistakenly understood to be multi-faceted exams on the subject of English. Whereas, these types of exams, simply focus on the candidates’ abilities to use the English language, in a range of different ways. Therefore, these exams are literal exams with no reading between the lines called for.  As a result, what is required, as the basic building blocks of exam success:

Good grammar which involves, correct use of tenses, prepositions, and all the other aspects of English grammar, which for non-English speaking exam candidates have to be learnt.  In contrast, native English speakers, who learn English from childhood, are unaware of these grammar ‘rules’ and therefore have a tendency to make some grammar errors, which impacts on their level of achievement in exam writing and speaking.

Accurate Spelling is frequently not considered necessary nowadays, since the advent of predictive text and spell check. However, it is critical in exam listening and contributes to the overall mark for writing. In the same way, the use of punctuation is very often sadly lacking in people’s everyday life which also impacts on the score for exam writing.

Paraphrasing, rephrasing vocabulary to avoid repetition, is however, the most important skill when using English language, to achieve success in an English language exam. In exam reading, it is absolutely necessary to be able to recognise words with similar meanings, within both the text and the questions. In writing, avoiding repetition is rewarded by higher scores in the vocabulary component of the marking system.


CAPTIAL LETTERS – when to use and when NOT to use?

Capital letters are used for ‘proper’ nouns, names, places, titles etc. They are also used, at the beginning of each sentence. Therefore be very careful that they don’t ‘crop up’ anywhere else, during your IELTS or Pearson PTE exams, as these extra capitals will cost you marks!

Listening and Reading:  answer sheets are examples of where you need to be particularly careful as, like misspelt words, incorrect use of capital letters also counts as a mistake. In reading, there is NO excuse for this type of error as you are simple required to copy the word over. During the listening, the rules above, apply.

Writing: capital letters ‘appearing’ in the middle of sentences or the lack of them with a proper noun, is considered a punctuation error and therefore reduces the score for the grammar component of the writing. In addition, if your writing doesn’t clearly differentiate between the ‘big and small’ letters, make sure they look different in the exam. Of course, if you prefer you can write totally in CAPITAL LETTERS!

Capital letters

Pearson PTE Exam

Like an IELTS exam, Pearson PTE can be used to gain extra language points, for your visa application.

Points Gained Pearson PTE IELTS equivalent
10 Overall 65 Band Score 7s
20 Overall 79 Band Score 8s


Pearson PTE is computer delivered and is also marked by computer.   Keyboard skills and speed are therefore a critical factor in time management and accuracy, which contributes to your grammar and spelling marks. However, beware that the delivery of this exam generally takes place in a noisy room with everyone else speaking into microphones, while trying to listen through headphones, at the same time as you!

The exam is primarily designed to test the listening and note-taking skills of potential university students and therefore uses academic vocabulary and questions, throughout.  The exam is split into four sections, Speaking (30 -35 minutes), Writing (40 minutes – 1 hour), Listening (45 minutes – 1 hour) and Reading (30 – 40 minutes).  Across these sections, marks are awarded for Communicative Skills, corresponding to the four sections above, and also Enabling Skills which include grammar and spelling.

Results are received within 5 working days, from sitting the exam.


For more information visit:

What to expect in Pearson PTE


PART 1: SPEAKING & WRITING (77 – 93 minutes)

·         Personal Introduction

·         Read aloud

·         Repeat sentence

·         Describe image

·         Re-tell lecture

·         Answer short question

·         Summarize written text

·         Essay (20mins)



PART 2: READING (32 – 41 minutes)

·         Fill in the blanks

·         Multiple choice questions  

·         Re-order paragraphs

·         Fill in the blanks

·         Multiple choice questions 

A ten minute break is optional



PART 3: LISTENING (45 – 57 minutes)

·         Summarize spoken text

·         Multiple choice questions

·         Fill the blanks

·         Highlight the correct summary

·         Multiple choice questions 

·         Select missing word

·         Highlight incorrect words

·         Write from dictation

Pearson PTE Academic FAQ

As an English exam tutor, I’m often asked about the difference between the exams which offer successful candidates language points for visa applications. Recently, what I’m explaining, more and more, is how to ‘pass’ the Pearson PTE Academic exam. So here are a the most interesting points to be aware of when sitting this exam.

First of all, the PTE exam is delivered, and marked, solely by computers unlike IELTS which is a paper exam, marked by people.  Although, this may sound appealing to those struggling with IELTS, what needs to be considered is that unlike IELTS, the computer exam is not delivered in ‘exam conditions’.  Please be aware that during PTE, answers are spoken and recorded for marking, which results in a noisy ‘babble’ throughout the exam room, making listening to the actual exam more difficult!

Secondly, the PTE exam is designed to test the English skills of candidates striving to study at university.  Therefore, unlike IELTS it is weighted towards listening and note taking with 8 listening sections and an emphasis on note taking throughout the exam.

Finally, in certain sections of the PTE Listening and Reading papers, questions are negatively marked which does not occur in any of the IELTS papers.


For more information on Pearson PTE Academic exam, contact

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Score High in Task 2 Essay Writing

IELTS examiners score your writing from a matrix, covering 4 different elements within the writing. Therefore, an increased awareness of which ‘ingredients’ need to go into your writing, in order to score well, is essential.

First, the absolute MUSTS are:

No repetition of the Question Words in the introduction and a good range of vocabulary throughout the essay.

Use of Paragraphs to ‘organise’ your writing and make it effortless for the reader. in this case the IELTS examiner!

Clear Topic Sentences at the start of your paragraphs.

Linking Words to ‘join’ your paragraphs, logically.

Good Punctuation

After all of the above, you can include a counter-argument at the end of your paragraph, but be careful that you don’t confuse this tactic with the ‘other side of the argument’. In addition, make sure that the lengths of your paragraphs are similar so that the essay is balanced in content.

If you have any questions, related to any of the points in this blog, please have a look at previously written blogs on the same topics or alternatively, contact me on:




 Founder & owner Marian Anderson

Who We Are

English for Emigration, founded by Marian Andersen, helps you identify the problems which prevent you achieving your target scores in IELTS or Pearson PTE exams, to speed up your visa application process.

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