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PTE: How to Develop Complex Ideas in Speaking & Writing

Developing complex ideas in speaking and writing in PTE involves using a wide range of structures to represent your ideas and build complete sentences
© Griffith University
Developing complex ideas within spoken and written discourse is an important subskill for Part 1 of the test. This involves using a wide range of sentence structures accurately and appropriately in both speaking and writing to express complex opinions and ideas that have been supported with relevant details, examples and explanations.

Sentence structures

(1) There are four types of sentences in English. (2) The most basic type, which is known as a simple sentence, consists of an independent clause (complete sentence that can stand alone). (3) Compound sentences have two or more independent clauses, which are joined by a coordinating conjunction. (4) Complex sentences, however, contain both an independent and one or more dependent clauses (incomplete sentence that cannot stand alone) and are particularly useful for comparing and contrasting ideas. (5) This is an important skill in PTE writing. (6) The last type of sentence is a mixture of these last two forms and can be quite challenging to write. (7) These sentences, which form an important part of academic writing, contain at least two independent clauses and one dependent clause and are known as complex-compound sentence.
Which sentences in this paragraph are examples of the four types of English sentences?
Sentences 1 and 5 are simple sentencesSentences 2 and 3 are complex sentences
Sentences 4 and 6 are compound sentencesSentence 7 is complex-compound sentence

Compound sentences

Clauses joined by a coordinating conjunction such as for, and, not, but, or, yet and so.

Complex sentences

Clauses joined by a subordinating conjunction eg because, although, while, if or a relative pronoun eg who, that, which.

Sentence problems

(1) There are four major sentence problems, you must try to avoid sentence problems in your written and spoken answers in the PTE Test. (2) First, using short sentences. (3) Because they can make your speaking or writing sound overly simplistic. (4) Next, your goal may be to write or say longer and more fully formed sentences to show that your writing is a high level and to impress the examiner but you must be careful not to write or say overlong sentences as these can be confusing and difficult to follow and are more likely to contain mistakes. (5) Another common sentence problem is a run-on sentence, a run-on sentence occurs when two or more independent clauses are connected improperly, they are often combined with a comma and no conjunction. (6) Sentence fragments are problematic. (7) Therefore, should be avoided in spoken and written responses in the test.
Which sentences in this paragraph are examples of the four types of sentence problems?
Sentences 2 and 6 are short sentencesSentence 4 is an overlong sentence
Sentences 1 and 5 are run-on sentencesSentences 3 and 7 are sentence fragments

Short sentences

In the test, you need to clearly show the relationship between different ideas in speaking and writing; this is difficult to achieve when only using short sentences.
Fix short sentences by fully developing the idea and adding details. This will make your writing and speaking sound more complex and complete.
Short Sentence (2): First, using short sentences.Revision: First, including too many short or under-developed sentences.

Overlong sentences

Overlong sentences may become extremely confusing and difficult to follow especially if the sentence is linked together with a series of simple coordinating conjunctions.
Fix overlong sentences by omitting any repeated information and by using more sophisticated linking words to show the relationships between your ideas.
Overlong Sentence (4): Next, your goal may be to write longer and more fully formed sentences to show that your writing is a high level and to impress the examiner but you must be careful not to write or say overlong sentences as these can be confusing and difficult to follow and are more likely to contain mistakes.Revision: Next, your goal may be to write more fully formed sentences to show your writing is a high level; however, you must be careful not to produce overlong sentences as these can be confusing and contain mistakes.

Run-on sentences

These are sentences which contain two independent clauses joined together with no connecting word or punctuation to separate the clauses.
Fix run-on sentences by adding a full stop after the first independent clause. You can also add a conjunction between the independent clauses to make a compound sentence.
Run-on sentence (1): There are four major sentence problems, you must try to avoid sentence problems in your written and spoken answers in the PTE Test.Revision: There are four major sentence problems. You must try to avoid sentence problems in your written and spoken answers in the PTE Test.

Sentence fragments

Sentence fragments may just be a dependent clause or an incomplete statement, not an independent clause that can stand alone as a sentence.
Fix sentence fragments by asking three questions:
  • Is there a verb? If not, add one.
  • Is there a subject? If not, add one.
  • Is there a subordinating conjunction? If so, delete it, or add a subordinate clause.
Sentence fragment (3): Because they can make your speaking or writing sound overly simplistic.Revision: Short sentences are problematic because they can make your speaking or writing sound overly simplistic
Watch the following videos to learn more about complex structures and complete the practice activities.

Developing complex ideas with details, examples and explanations

In addition to using complete and complex sentences in your speaking and writing, you need to ensure your responses in the test demonstrate a good development of ideas. This can be achieved by supporting each opinion or main idea with relevant details, examples and explanations that prove or illustrate your point.
Look at the following main idea from a test taker.
The hospitality industry is a challenging industry in which to work.
To make this a more well-developed and complex idea, add supporting details to elaborate and extend your main point by asking yourself questions from the following categories:
Adding Support Details
The appropriateness of the details, examples and explanations used to support your points is scored, so make sure your supporting details are relevant and well considered. The best answers support any arguments with a range of supporting details so try to include details from different categories to make your responses more interesting.

Your task

Developing a complex response with details, explanations and examples is especially important for the Summarize Written Text task. Your response must be expressed within one sentence, so you will need to use a complex or compound sentence to be able to summarise the main point of the passage and include supporting detail.
Look at example of the task below and read two test taker responses.
Response 1: After millions of years of being endangered in war-torn coast of southern Lebanon, Mediterranean sea turtles were finally protected by two women, Mona Khalil and Habiba Fayed, who opened a bed-and-breakfast and with the help of the guests, protected turtles’ eggs by burying an iron grid in the sand above the eggs.
Response 2: For the millions of years the turtles lay their eggs. Two women set out to protect them by burying an iron grid in the sand so in the end the baby turtles emerged after a month so now they are protected by predators so now they can have a chance at life.
Here, we are going to compare two test taker responses and consider:
  • the use of compound or complex sentences
  • the accuracy of the sentence (any sentence problems?)
  • the use of supporting detail to create a complex idea
Which response do you think is better and why? Rewrite the poor response using the strategies you have learned in this article for developing a complete and complex idea.

References

Smekens Education Solutions. (2014). Develop Ideas in a First Draft. Retrieved from here
Sowton, C. (2011). 50 Steps to Improving Your Academic Writing (Student Book ed.). Garnet Publishing.
Western, V & Gasper, V. (2018). PTE Academic Lesson Plan Ideas. Pearson
Disclaimer: The question prompts are for practice purposes only and are not official PTE Test materials.
© Griffith University
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