Skip main navigation

Everyday and academic vocabulary

Improving your everyday and academic vocabulary
Two men working from a laptop.

In previous steps, you have learnt about the different item types in the speaking section of PTE Academic and seen the vocabulary that you need to be able to understand and respond to the items. In this step, we will at look at practical ways that you can improve your vocabulary range.

The vocabulary that you need for the test can vary across the item types and includes:

  • Academic vocabulary
  • Day to day vocabulary
  • Phrasal verbs
  • Metaphors and idioms

So how can you develop this vocabulary?

This is a process which takes time and repetition. Start as far from your test date as possible. Building vocabulary is not something that you can do at the last minute before your test. Here are some tips as to how you can build your vocabulary for PTE Academic.

Use the Academic Word List (AWL)

Many of the topics in the speaking section of PTE Academic relate to academic topics. Working to build academic vocabulary will help you better understand the items and more easily respond to them.

The AWL is a list of the more common words used in academic contexts. It includes 570 word families which are organised into 10 sublists based on how commonly the words appear in academic contexts. Sublist 1 includes the most common word families.

Because much of PTE speaking uses academic topics, the AWL is a good place to start developing academic vocabulary. Start with Sublist 1 and when you have a good understanding of these words, move to Sublist 2.

You may download the AWL handout at the end of the page or to practise online use the AWL Quzlet list.

AWL Quizlet List

Make a vocabulary list

Some people prefer to do this in a notebook but there are also some websites and apps you can use such as quizlet.

Make sure you revise this list regularly. It is necessary to see a word many times before you can recall and use it. You need to look at the vocabulary list and use the words in a variety of contexts in order to help yourself remember them.

Read widely

Reading is one of the best ways to build your vocabulary. This is for a number of reasons. It helps meet the need to see words multiple times before you remember them and also means that you see words used naturally in a variety of contexts.

You should read different types of texts. Avoid focussing on just one topic and try to read texts from diverse topic areas including academic areas. This will help you have vocabulary to respond to the range of topics in the speaking section of PTE Academic.

Use new words in a range of settings

A vocabulary list and regular reading are good starts to build vocabulary but it is also important that this vocabulary is used regularly in a range of contexts. This means that you should try to use the vocabulary when you write and speak.

This regular production of the language items helps to strengthen recall of the words and your ability to use them in natural settings. Look for opportunities to speak and write in English.

Ways to use vocabulary in natural settings:

  • get a conversation partner or join a conversation group
  • write comments on newspaper articles and on other websites

Focus on word form

Many words in English have different word forms which are verbs, nouns, adjectives and adverbs. When learning vocabulary, it is helpful to pay attention to each of these forms.

The main forms of words are nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs. Let’s look at the word consider and its different forms:

Word Form Example
consideration noun The matter is under consideration.
consider verb We should consider all the options.
considerable adjective We need to save a considerable amount of money.
considerably adverb The students’ work varies considerably in quality

In some cases, like the one above, the same word is used for different forms. In other cases, there is more than one option for a form. Sometimes one word does not have all four forms. For example:

Noun Verb Adjective Adverb
development developer develop developing developed
© Macquarie University
This article is from the free online

Practise your PTE Academic Speaking Skills

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now