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Speaking and writing for the context

PTE is designed to represent the language demands in a university or college setting and tests your English ability in an academic context.

PTE is designed to represent the language demands in a university or college setting so you need to make sure that your spoken and written responses in the test use words and phrases that are appropriate to the context.

Academic context and style

Source materials for test items come from real-life situations in an academic environment. Some of these situations relate to areas of academic interest and others are about aspects of student life.

Reading and audio texts of academic interest include historical biographies and narratives, academic articles, book reviews, science reports, and journal articles written for a general academic audience. These texts have language features that are very academic in style.

Texts related to student life are written in a different way and are less academic in style. Examples include instructions, course outlines, applications, notices, timetables and accommodation guides.

Look at the following example sentences from the test. One text is highly academic in style and the other is an example of a more informal text related to student life.

Although housing fulfils the fundamental human needs for security, privacy and shelter, millions of people do not have access to adequate dwellings. (Academic style)
Please don’t delay in contacting me so we can schedule a time for your make up exam. (Informal style)

Using words and phrases appropriate to the context

When taking the PTE test, you will both encounter and produce texts in which formal academic language is expected and others where more informal language is expected.

The table below compares the style and language features used in each context.

Feature Formal context Informal context
Sentences A variety of complex and compound sentences Mostly simple and compound sentences with use of short forms
Connectors Higher level linking words to indicate relationships between ideas Basic linking words
Vocabulary Precise word choice and academic collocations Conversational language and phrasal verbs
Grammar Objective language through plural nouns Subjective language and personal pronouns

See the full table with examples in the Downloads section.

Using words and phrases appropriate to the context is important in PTE because you need to be able to choose the appropriate language features to fit the style of the text you need to produce in speaking or writing.

Let’s look at two example test taker responses to the Summarize Written Text test item. One response uses words and phrases that are appropriate for a formal academic context, while the other uses a more informal style.

The longest railway tunnel in the world opened up in 1988 because people thought the number of trains would go up but flying got cheaper and you can’t use high speed trains in the tunnel so it was not used very much, with highlighted words linked by arrows to the following text boxes: phrasal verbs, personal pronouns, short forms and basic connectors.

The response above uses informal language. You won’t lose points for the use of some informal language, such as personal pronouns. However, you will score more points by using formal academic sentences, connectors, grammar and vocabulary in the correct way like in the example below.

Understanding academic vocabulary

So far, we have learned that in your PTE test, the source material and questions are about different academic and student life topics. This means you can familiarise yourself with much of the vocabulary you will encounter in the test by studying words commonly used in academic contexts.

The Academic Word List contains 570 of the most frequently used words in academic English.

You will also encounter lots of phrases in the PTE test from the Academic Collocation List (ACL). This list comprises 2,469 most frequent and relevant collocations in written academic English.

Research has shown that, in order to learn new vocabulary, you need to read, hear, speak and write a word numerous times to really know it. To learn the words, you should read academic texts, listen to academic lectures and discussions and write texts using academic vocabulary.

Try to note the words from the Academic Word and Collocations Lists when practising test questions. It will greatly enhance your ability to understand the questions and to prepare responses that use words and phrases that are appropriate for an academic context.

Your task

Watch the video to review important aspects of academic vocabulary and complete the interactive practice activities that follow.

In the comments section, say what aspects of academic vocabulary you find the hardest.


School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies. (2020). Academic Word List. Retrieved from here

Pearson. (2020). The Academic Collocation List. Retrieved from here

© Griffith University
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