PTE Success: Identifying the Topic and Main Idea
Identifying the topicThe topic answers the question of who or what a reading or listening passage is about and can usually be expressed in a word or a phrase.
Topic of a reading passageTo find the topic of a reading passage, skim the text to form a FIRST impression. Use the mnemonic (memory trick) to help you remember strategies for finding the topic:
- F = First sentence: Read the first sentence of a few paragraphs
- IR = Ideas repeated: Look for words, phrases and ideas that are repeated.
- ST = Survey titles: Quickly look at titles, headings, pictures, or graphs (if included).
Topic of a listening passageTo find the topic of a listening passage, you need to listen for gist to quickly understand the general meaning. This means that you should listen in a general way and think about what the speaker is trying to communicate and how they might feel about the topic based on their tone of voice. In the PTE you only hear each audio or video clip once, but when practising for the test, try listening once for the gist. Then listen for a second time more intensively for specific information. In the Listening: Highlight Incorrect Words item type, you are presented with a transcript of an audio recording that contains some errors. While listening and reading you need to select the words that differ from what the speaker says.
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PTE Success: The Skills You Need
Identifying main ideasThe main idea is the most important information about the topic in a reading or listening passage. It is often expressed directly, or it can be implied.
Main idea of a reading passageOften the main idea of a reading passage is located in the topic sentence. Main ideas can also be found in concluding sentences and expressed as a summation of the information in a paragraph. The main idea is not always clearly stated and may need to be drawn from facts, reasons, or examples that give hints for suggestions about the main idea. To identify the main idea in the texts you read in PTE, quickly ask yourself the following 5W questions after reading a passage:
- What: What point is the author trying to make?
- When: Does the information contain a reference to time?
- Who: Does this passage discuss a person or group?
- Where: Does the text indicate a place?
- Why: Is there a reason or explanation?
Main idea of a listening passageAt the beginning of a listening passage the speaker usually tells you what the main topics are and in what order they will come. You can use this information to quickly understand the main ideas of the text. There are several language signals you can listen for to notice main ideas:
- phrases like: begin, let’s start, talk about, introduce, look at
- ideas or words that are repeated often in the passage
- signals that indicate important information is coming next: we are going to discuss…, it is important to note…
- words and phrases that signal general information: in general, overall, on the whole
ReferencesColumbia College. (2020). Finding the Main Idea. Retrieved from here Silva, F. O. J. C. C. J. H. (2020). Pearson Test of English Academic Practice Tests Plus and CD-ROM with Key Pack (1st ed.). Pearson Longman. 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.
PTE Success: The Skills You Need
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