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PTE Success: Arranging Ideas Logically and Coherently

In this article we talk about how to arrange ideas logically and coherently to help you improve your performance in the PTE test.
© Griffith University
PTE is meaning-focused and assesses your ability to produce written and spoken responses that have good internal coherence, logical development of ideas and a range of linguistic resources to express meaning cohesively and precisely.

Cohesion

Cohesive devices are words and phrases that connect sentences and paragraphs together. They create a logical flow of ideas and make meaning by developing relationships and connections in spoken and written texts.
Read these excerpts from two test taker responses to the Essay test item. Which one conveys information more logically and cohesively?
Response 1
Mass extinction events are a part of Earth’s history. Today many animal species are disappearing. Animal species are disappearing at a rapid rate. Animal species are facing extinction. Animal extinction can be attributed to natural factors within the environment. Human activities play a key role in the process. Human activities are pollution, the spread of invasive species, overharvest from the wild, climate change. Habitat destruction and population growth have pushed nature to the brink. The current rate of species loss far exceeds normal levels. The current rate of species loss is threatening to become a mass extinction event.
Response 2
Mass extinction events are a part of Earth’s history but today many animal species are disappearing at such a rapid rate that they are facing extinction once again. Although some cases of animal extinction can be attributed to natural factors within the environment, it is evident that human activities play a key role in the process. These activities include pollution, the spread of invasive species, overharvest from the wild, and climate change. In addition, more than a century of both habitat destruction and population growth have pushed nature to the brink. As a result, the current rate of species loss far exceeds normal levels and is threatening to become another mass extinction event.
The first response lacks cohesion, so is mechanical and repetitive. It consists of a list of unconnected elements and does not indicate how the ideas relate to each other, so the logic is hard to follow.
The second response uses cohesive devices to tie the words, phrases and clauses together and to make the relationships between these elements clear and logical. This gives the response ‘flow’.
As you can see, cohesive devices not only reduce repetition, but also supply valuable additional information in a few words and create connections at multiple levels in the text.
Read about common cohesive devices you should use in your spoken and written PTE responses.

Conjunctions

Conjunctions are linking words used to connect words and phrases, as well as concepts and ideas in a sentence. Conjunctions play an important role in constructing clear and logical sentences that are meaningfully related to each other.
Use coordinating conjunctions (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so) when you want to coordinate two ideas by giving equal rank or emphasis to two main clauses.
It is important to remember that only using basic coordinating conjunctions does not indicate a high level of proficiency in an academic context. To get a better mark in PTE, you should try using higher level conjunctions (subordinating conjunctions) to indicate precise relationships between ideas.
Subordinating conjunctions emphasise the idea in the main clause and subordinates the other, so shows order of importance. A subordinating conjunction can signal a cause-and-effect relationship, a contrast, a concession or some other kind of relationship between the clauses. Look at the examples of subordinating conjunctions in the table below:
SequencingAdditionExamplesComparison
Firstly, Secondly
Next
Lastly
Finally
In addition
Furthermore
Moreover
Additionally
For example
For instance
Such as
Similarly
Likewise
In the same way
ConcessionContrastResultsSummarising
In contrast
On the other hand
Conversely
However
Although
Even though
Despite (the fact that)
While
As a result
As a consequence
Consequently
Therefore
Thus
In conclusion
In summary
To conclude
To summarise
Here’s an example of how coordinating and subordinating conjunctions are used in the logical and coherent response (Response 2).
The words although, but, and, in addition and as a result highlighted in the following paragraph: Mass extinction events are a part of Earth’s history but today many animal species are disappearing at such a rapid rate that they are facing extinction once again. Although some cases of animal extinction can be attributed to natural factors within the environment, it is evident that human activities play a key role in the process. These activities include pollution, the spread of invasive species, overharvest from the wild, and climate change. In addition, more than a century of both habitat destruction and population growth have pushed nature to the brink. As a result, the current rate of species loss far exceeds normal levels and is threatening to become another mass extinction event.
Watch the videos to further explore conjunctions and linking expressions and complete the interactive practice activities that follow.

Referring back and forwards

Conjunctions are not the only way that writers build cohesion into a paragraph. We can use a range of other devices including words and expressions to refer back to people/things mentioned earlier in the text. Including:
  • Pronouns: it, he, she, his, her, they, their
  • Demonstratives: this, that, these, those
  • Comparatives: another, other, similar, the same, better, more, earlier, previous
We also use words and phrases that refer to another idea later in the text and you need to look forward to understand. Words such as the following, as follows, below, next, subsequently, both are used to warn the reader to expect new information.
Here’s an example of referring back and forwards in the logical and coherent response (Response 2).
The words mass extinction events, animal, they human activities, they another mass extinction event highlighted in the following paragraph: Mass extinction events are a part of Earth’s history but today many animal species are disappearing at such a rapid rate that they are facing extinction once again. Although some cases of animal extinction can be attributed to natural factors within the environment, it is evident that human activities play a key role in the process. These activities include pollution, the spread of invasive species, overharvest from the wild, and climate change. In addition, more than a century of both habitat destruction and population growth have pushed nature to the brink. As a result, the current rate of species loss far exceeds normal levels and is threatening to become another mass extinction event.

Coherence

Ideas that are arranged in a clear and logical way are coherent. When a text is coherent the reader can easily understand the main points, the organisational pattern and the connection between key ideas.
In PTE, if you organise what you say and write coherently, you will get a better score. This is because a well-organised answer is more likely to cover the main information as well as the additional details in a controlled and logical way.
In the Describe Image question type you will need to describe all key elements of the image from an academic source such as a graph, map, chart, table or picture. You will also need to explain relationships between parts of the image, possible developments and conclusions or implications of the information in order to score above one for content.
To be able to describe the image coherently, you should take notes on the erasable noteboard, which you can use to organise your answer. Look at the image in the question prompt below and ask yourself:
General commentIs the image a graph, chart, table and is there a general trend you can comment on? OR Is the image a map or picture and what are the important features?
Main ideaWhat is the main idea being shown by the image?
DetailsWhat are the details relating to the main ideas?
ConclusionsWhat are possible developments and conclusions or implications?
You can put your notes into sentences when you start to speak. Here is an example Describe Image task with notes taken by the test taker on the noteboard.
Graph of Australian exports, x-axis marked with years 1978 to 2013 and y-axis % 0-60. Four different coloured graphs in the middle of the graph. In the middle of the image is a recording window and notes in textbox to the right.
Look at how this example answer is organised and see how the test taker developed their notes into their answer.
General commentThe graph shows trends in the value of Australian goods and services exports from 1978 to 2013.
Main ideaIt indicates the percentage share for this period for resources, rural, services and manufacturing sectors.
Details relating to the main ideaThe share of rural goods in Australian exports have declined to relatively low levels with a 10% share, while manufacturing, and services peaked in 1999 but then decreased steadily to 1978 levels.
ConclusionsIn contrast, Australia’s export value has shifted substantially towards resource exports, accounting for 60% of the total share in 2013.
Now look at the following Describe Image task for 25 seconds. Use the strategies you have learned to take notes and organise your response logically and coherently.
A blue line graph showing itunes purchased songs, plotted along x axis for weeks and y axis for number sold
Listen to three test takers responding to the same image and rank them from the strongest to the weakest. Which response was the most coherent? See the explanation in the Downloads.
Response 1
Response 2
Response 3
For more information about the Describe Image item type, how it is scored and test tips, watch the video tutorial in the SEE ALSO section below.

Your task

Look at the graph below. Describe in detail what the graph is showing.
Remember to:
  • take notes to logically organise your response
  • use cohesive devices to link the information you give and show how ideas relate to each other

References

Western, V & Gasper, V. (2018). PTE Academic Lesson Plan Ideas. Pearson
Pearson. (2009). Official Guide to Pearson Test of English Academic (with CD-ROM) (1st ed.). Pearson Education ESL.
Pearson. (2019). PTE Academic Test Tips (Version 2). Pearson.
Pearson. (2019). Score Guide (Version 11). Retrieved from here
Disclaimer: The question prompts are for practice purposes only and are not official PTE Test materials.
© Griffith University
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