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Identifying relationships between ideas

Identifying relationships between ideas is a key reading skill in the PTE test.
© Griffith University

Identifying relationships between ideas is a key reading skill in the PTE test. This involves understanding the specific language that is used to indicate, develop and connect ideas in a text. A better understanding of the relationships leads to a more thorough understanding of the meaning.

Understanding discourse markers

The academic texts you read in the test will have discourse markers or signals to help you understand it. Discourse markers (sometimes called literacy cues) are important to help you understand the reading. They are cues that are used by the writer to help guide the reader through the text. Without a knowledge of these markers, and an understanding of their different meanings and functions, it will be difficult for you to follow the text and ‘read between the lines’ of what the passage is saying.

Discourse markers are most commonly used for the following purposes:

  • to signal a change in topic
  • to add information by building on the previous sentence/s
  • to provide support for the topic
  • to transition smoothly between ideas.

In addition to moving from one idea to another, these transition discourse markers also have a specific meaning, such as showing contrast, emphasis, agreement, result, cause, etc. For example:

Function Discourse Markers
Adding information, reinforcing ideas, or expressing agreement with what has been stated previously Moreover, additionally, also, by the same token, not only…but also, as well as, furthermore.
Opposition or contradiction despite, conversely, whereas, unlike, even though, on the other hand, on the contrary, while.
Explain a cause, purpose, or condition for the purpose of, with this in mind, if, unless, since, given that, so as to, owing to, because of, due to, in the hope that.
Give examples, support, and emphasis for instance, specifically, particularly, to point out, to put it another way, as an illustration, such as, in fact.
Explain results, consequences and effects for this reason, as a result, thus, therefore, consequently, accordingly
Summarise, conclude, or restate what was said previously as can be seen, in summary, in conclusion, ultimately, to sum up, on the whole, by and large, to summarise, overall, given these points, as has been noted.
Explain an event, narrative, or process after, then, by the time, next, as soon as, to begin with, at the same time, later, before, when, next, prior to, during.
Explain importance most importantly, of less importance, primarily, chiefly, inconsequentially, critically.
Concession granted, naturally, and of course

Identifying and understanding these cues can help you tackle questions in the reading section of the test. For Reading: Multiple Choice, Multiple Answer you need to read the passage and answer the multiple-choice question. There is more than one correct response and you need to select all the response options that you think are correct from the list of possible options.

Noticing the discourse structure when you read will help you choose the correct option based on understanding the construction of a text.

Let’s look an example below.

Below is a text with blanks. Click on each blank, a list of choices will appear. Select the appropriate answer choice for each blank.

In this reading passage the writer uses discourse markers to show which information is critical ‘primarily’ and which information is of less importance ‘although partially true’. You can use these clues to determine the main points of the passage. In this passage Option 1 and Option 4 is correct.

Understanding hedging

Academic texts, such as those found in the PTE test, frequently discuss theories, evaluate evidence, and propose solutions, and mostly these things are not absolute facts. This means that authors often ‘hedge’ or soften what they say to avoid sounding too certain. They do this through the use of specific language:

Adverbs of frequency such as: usually, normally, generally, often, sometimes. For example:

Employees with different personality types sometimes clash when working together.
Adverbs or adjectives of certainty can also be used. These are words like: possible/possibly, probable/probably, likely, maybe, perhaps, significantly, or generally speaking. For example:
Generally speaking, employees with the same personality type are more productive.

We can also use the modal verbs may, might or could to show that we are not one hundred percent sure.

Let’s compare the following statements:

Managers recognise personality types in the workplace and the effect it has on job performance for employees. This statement indicates that all managers identify personality types and shows certainty about the correlation between personality and job performance for all employees.
Only a fraction of managers recognise personality types in the workplace and the probable effect it has on job performance for some employees. This statement uses ‘only a fraction’ and ‘some’ to specify how widely the statement applies and the adjective ‘probable’ to hedge the correlation, making it less certain.

You can see that the hedging language makes a big difference to the message. Identifying and understanding how hedging ‘softens’ a claim is important for interpreting the meaning and answering multiple choice questions correctly.

Let’s look at an example of hedging language in an example Multiple Choice, Multiple Answer task.

In this reading passage the writer uses hedging language such as ‘sometimes’, ‘possible’, ‘may’, ‘the majority of’, ‘would likely’ to indicate the degree of certainty about how the model being discussed is used. The passage indicates that the model is only ‘sometimes’ used which means Option 2 is correct. Option 4 is also right as ‘the majority’ of companies means ‘many’ do not use the model.

Watch this video on the language of hedging and complete the interactive practice activities that follow.

Your Task

Review the strategies you have learned above about discourse markers and hedging language and apply them in this Multiple Choice, Multiple Answer practice exercise.

Learn more strategies for tackling this test item by watching the video tutorial in the SEE ALSO section below.


Pearson. (2009). Official Guide to Pearson Test of English Academic (with CD-ROM) (1st ed.). Pearson Education ESL.

Disclaimer: The question prompts are for practice purposes only and are not official PTE Test materials.

© Griffith University
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