Overall, both IELTS and Pearson PTE test the same basic, core language skills but with IELTS, you have the option to sit General or Academic whereas in Pearson PTE only academic is available in the UK. The difference between academic and general vocabulary is as the name suggests, academic for use in the context of a further education scenario, compared to general vocabulary which is everyday language, although not colloquial. The one similarity between the two exams is essay writing which is marked the same way in both. On the other hand, the design, delivery method and the scoring systems of IELTS and Pearson PTE are completely different.
Design of exam papers vary widely. IELTS papers are skills-based which means that grammar and vocabulary are not tested, as such. In contrast, Pearson PTE is designed as a listening and note-taking exam which tests the candidate’s ability to understand a lecture well enough to make notes which can then be explained, both verbally and in writing. What this means in practice is that in IELTS listening, you are listening for the answers to the questions on the question paper, compared to Pearson PTE listening which tests grammar, vocabulary, spelling in the context of listening. In the same way, IELTS speaking is based on general discussion topics whereas, Pearson PTE involves re-telling a lecture as well summarising graphs, or other types of visuals.
Delivery of these two exams is either by computers or paper-based with IELTS being the paper-based exam and Pearson PTE computer delivered. Consequently, in an IELTS exam room, question papers are handed out, which you then make notes on, as you work through the paper. Pearson PTE exams are sat in the equivalent of language labs with everyone sitting at computers, wearing headphones, speaking into microphones while typing on keyboards. Therefore, as you can imagine, Pearson PTE exam rooms are very noisy which can make concentrating on your own exam difficult. IELTS exam room are the total opposite, silence reigns!
Scoring is also the total different in both exams. As you might expect, the Pearson PTE exams are marked by computers using algorithms for every section of the exam, including speaking. However, IELTS is marked by trained Clerical Markers for the listening and reading papers after you transfer your answers to a marking sheet. In IELTS writing, specialised writing examiners mark your A4 lined, writing booklet. These same examiners also conduct and score the speaking exams.