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Understanding Paragraphs in the PTE test

This article will help you understand the organisation and cohesion of academic text for Part 2 of the PTE test.

Understanding the organisation and cohesion of an academic text is an important reading strategy for many item types in Part 2 of the PTE test.

Text organisation refers to how a text is organised to help readers logically follow and understand the information presented. There are a number of standard forms that help you understand text organisation when reading PTE test items.

Organisational Patterns

One of the best ways to improve your reading ability for the test is to learn to read paragraphs effectively by understanding the pattern used to create a logical flow of ideas. Organisational patterns can be identified by what transitions or ‘signal words’ the author uses. Understanding both the organisational pattern, and the logical flow of ideas identified by various signal words, helps readers better comprehend what they read.

Reading passages in the test may use a combination of any of the following organisational patterns:

Simple Listing

Items are randomly listed in a series of supporting facts or details. These supporting elements are of equal value, and the order in which they are presented is of no importance. Changing the order of the items does not change the meaning of the paragraph.

Signal words often used for simple listing are: in addition, another, for example, also, several, a number of


Frequently in academic reading texts, an entire paragraph is devoted to defining a complex term or idea. The concept is initially defined and then further expanded with examples and restatements.

Signal words often used for definition are: is defined as, means, is described as, is called, refers to

Chronological (Time) Order or Sequence

Items are listed in the order in which they occurred or in a specifically planned order in which they must develop. The events may be organised by time or date, by arranging events as a series of steps or by following a list-like structure.

In addition to time and date markers, a sequence structure can be recognised by the use of signal words.

Signal words often used for chronological order or sequence are: first, second, third, before, after, when, later, until, at last, next, by/in (date)

Comparison and Contrast

Items are related by the comparisons (similarities) that are made or by the contrasts (differences) that are presented. The author’s purpose is to show similarities and differences.

Signal words often used for comparison-contrast are: similar, different, on the other hand, but, however, bigger than, smaller than, in the same way, in contrast, while

Cause and Effect

In this pattern, one item is showed as having produced another element. An event (effect) is said to have happened because of some situation or circumstance (cause). The cause (the action) stimulates the event or effect (the outcome).

Signal words often used for cause and effect are: for this reason, consequently, on that account, because of, due to, hence


Pronouns are used to refer to ideas, points or opinions that have been previously introduced, or will immediately be introduced. Texts use pronouns (it, he, them) to replace nouns to avoid repeating ideas. It’s important to know what pronouns are and what they refer to better understand the text you are reading.

The antecedent of a pronoun is the noun that it refers back to. The antecedent is usually mentioned in the text before the pronoun, but sometimes it comes just after it in a sentence.

  • The students became increasingly animated as they debated the point.
  • As they debated the point, the students became increasingly animated.

Knowing how to use pronouns as text clues will help in the test, particularly in the Reading: Re-order Paragraph questions, as they will help you identify the correct position of sentences within a paragraph.

For this item type, you need to restore the original order of a text. Let’s take a look at some strategies for tackling this item type.

Read all the text boxes quickly before you start re-ordering them in order to understand the main idea of each one. You can do this by noting the key words. Use the key words to form an overall idea of what the original text is about. This will help you find the logical order for the ideas in the text boxes.

All good paragraphs have a topic sentence, and it is essential that you locate the topic sentence first as you start to put the paragraph in order. This sentence is the ‘map’ to the rest of the paragraph. A topic sentence explains what the subject of the paragraph is and is a sentence that is able to be understood by itself. The topic sentence can stand alone; because of this, the topic sentence does not begin with a signal word or a pronoun that is usually used to refer back to something or someone (eg such as ‘he/it’ or ‘this/they’), nor does it does refer back to information or actions previously mentioned. All of the other sentences link back to this topic sentence.

The next step is to identify the type of organisational pattern that is used in the text. Once you recognise the pattern, you will be able to understand and follow the ideas more effectively so that you can arrange them in a logical order.

Let’s look at an example below.

Re-order Paragraphs. The text boxes in the left panel have been placed in random order. Restore the original order by dragging the text boxes from the left panel to the right panel

The topic sentence can be easily identified as it stands alone and is the only sentence that does not begin with a signal word ‘in contrast’ or ‘while’, nor does it refer back to information previously mentioned through the use of a pronoun ‘those’ or ‘this’. The organisational pattern of the paragraph also gives us a clue about the correct order. The signal words ‘in contrast’ and ‘while’ tell us that the pattern is comparison and contrast which tells us that the writer will be presenting two sides of an argument of idea to show the similarities or differences. Once you have the sentences in the order that you think is correct, look at all the pronouns and see if you can find the antecedent to check the logical flow of ideas.

Now complete the practice example for Reading: Re-order Paragraph to see if your answers are correct.


Cuesta College. (2020). Organisational Patterns of a Paragraph. 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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