Essential guide to PTE vs. IELTS: Which test should you take?

The English language test has become an essential prerequisite for individuals applying for visas, study programs, professional registrations, and various other purposes. There are multiple options available, among which IELTS and PTE are popular among test-takers. This article aims to highlight the differences between these two tests, so that test takers can make informed decisions about which one aligns best with their requirements.

Essential differences between PTE and IELTS

IELTS and PTE are two English language tests that differ in their history, recognition, and test format. IELTS, which has been in existence for more than three decades, is considered the most popular and widely recognised English language test across the globe. The IELTS test is designed to assess skills in listening, reading, writing, and speaking. It’s recognised by leading universities, colleges, government agencies, and professional bodies in countries such as the UK, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand.

In contrast, PTE is a newer test that also measures proficiency in reading, writing, listening, and speaking skills, but has a slightly different test format compared to IELTS. Although not as established as IELTS, PTE is now recognised in several countries, and like IELTS, is also accepted by higher education institutions and governments in English-speaking countries. However it is not currently accepted by the IRCC, Canada’s governing body for visas and migration, while IELTS has been accepted for decades.

To provide further insights, let us delve deeper into the differences between these two tests.

IELTS or PTE: Which is more widely accepted?

IELTS has a wider acceptance globally and is recognised by more than 11,500 organisations that include leading universities, professional bodies, employers, and immigration departments. The IELTS General Training test is currently the only non-academic test of English accepted for migration to Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

PTE, on the other hand, is recognised by over more than 3,000 organisations, and until recently, it was not recognised by Canada for immigration purposes. However, this is set to change with the introduction of PTE Core. While PTE has gained some recognition in countries such as the UK, Australia, and New Zealand, it still lags behind IELTS in terms of global recognition and acceptance.

Essential differences in test format between IELTS and PTE

IELTS offers both a paper-based and a computer-delivered test, whereas PTE is only available on a computer. Some test takers prefer IELTS over PTE because it provides the flexibility to choose between paper-based or computer-delivered tests, which is particularly important for those who are not comfortable with technology.

Regarding the test format, in PTE, you must answer the questions in the order they are presented and cannot skip questions to come back to them later. IELTS allows test-takers to skip questions and come back to them later, which may help test takers provide better answers to questions at a later point.

While both tests measure proficiency in the same four skills of reading, writing, listening, and speaking, there are significant differences in the Speaking test format.

Comparing the speaking component of PTE and IELTS

Regarding the Speaking section of the tests, there are significant differences between IELTS and PTE.

In IELTS, the Speaking section is conducted in-person with an examiner, allowing for direct interaction and feedback. On the other hand, PTE requires test-takers to speak into a microphone to an AI-based system, without any direct interaction with an examiner.

The IELTS Speaking test provides the opportunity for direct interaction with a professional English language expert. IELTS Speaking examiners are highly trained ESL (English as a Second Language) teachers. They can understand accents and can help test takers get the most out of their speaking test. They will spend time with a test taker in a one-on-one session and will ask a range of questions that allow the speaker to build on their answers and arrive at a better understanding of the test taker’s proficiency.

The PTE Speaking section is graded by an AI-based system, reducing the possibility of understanding a test taker’s accent or guiding them to a more comprehensive answer. Another drawback is that test-takers may be surrounded by others speaking into their own microphones, which can distract the person doing the test and confuse the conversation with the AI.

However, it is worth noting that both tests have rigorous grading criteria to ensure that scores are fair and consistent, and that both test formats are continuously improved to ensure integrity of results.

Marking differences between PTE and IELTS

The scoring process for IELTS and PTE also differ in significant ways. While PTE is entirely machine-scored, IELTS uses a combination of machine and human marking.

In IELTS, human examiners are trained to consider a range of factors when scoring a candidate, including pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary, coherence and cohesion, and overall communicative ability. This means that the human-scored parts of the IELTS test provide a more rounded and realistic assessment of a candidate’s language abilities.

In contrast, PTE uses AI-based algorithms to score all sections of the test. While machine scoring may be considered consistent as it works to a set of predefined rules, some test-takers may find the process impersonal and less nuanced compared to human examiners.

IELTS vs PTE test turnaround times

One of the most critical factors for test-takers is how long it takes to receive test results.

Both PTE and IELTS will deliver computer-based results within five business days from the test date, and for those who choose to take IELTS on paper, they will need to wait 13 calendar days.

Test-takers should plan accordingly and try to allow sufficient time where possible to receive results before any application deadlines.

Recent changes to PTE and IELTS

IELTS, is set to introduce a new feature called One Skill Retake (OSR). Initially available in selected cities in Australia, and with a global roll-out planned for later in the year, the feature will allow test takers to retake one of the four skills (Listening, Reading, Writing, or Speaking) if they do not achieve their desired score. The new feature is being introduced based on feedback from test takers, as it aims to improve fairness and offer an opportunity for test takers to demonstrate their true language ability if they underperform on a specific skill.

A recent development from Pearson PTE, is the creation of a new version called PTE Core. Much like the IELTS General Training test, it will measure the test takers’ English proficiency in a non-academic setting. PTE Core is expected to be accepted by the IRCC for Canadian permanent residency and citizenship purposes by early 2024.

IELTS or PTE: Which test should you choose?

It is important to note that both IELTS and PTE have robust quality assurance procedures to ensure the accuracy and fairness of scores.. While some may prefer the AI format of PTE, others may prefer the flexibility of choosing IELTS on paper, or computer, or online, and the human interaction the IELTS Speaking test.

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