PTE vs IELTS: Similarities and differences simplified

A person with yellow jacket sitting at a crossroads between PTE and IELTS.

International English Language Testing System (IELTS) and Pearson Test of English (PTE) are two of the most popular English proficiency tests in the world. So, how are they different? Here we match PTE vs IELTS to decide which is the best test for you.

Migrants to English-speaking countries, either as students, workers, or residents, have to prove their language expertise by taking either PTE or IELTS and scoring the required marks. I come to a definite answer by the end of this article to declare a clear winner in the PTE vs IELTS debate.

The two tests are essentially the same at a glance, but they differ in key aspects. Therefore, a wrong choice can lead to career suicide. Before looking at the distinction, let us first see how the two exams are similar.

There are several variations of these two tests. This article on PTE vs IELTS is focused only on the Academic versions of the PTE and the IELTS tests.

PTE vs IELTS: The similarities

IELTS and PTE are names of two different tests, both of which serve the same function – demonstrating your ability of understanding and using the English language.

Both tests have four different components or sections to measure your language proficiency – Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening.

Each section in both tests is separate with separate questions, so an individual candidate has to take all of them and score the required marks in each section. For example, a very high score in the Reading section cannot compensate for low scores in other sections. Most university admission departments have prescribed the minimum score they need from students in each section of the test.

In IELTS, as well as PTE, you can answer using any major dialect of English. That means, both British and American varieties of the language – including variations in spelling, pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar – are perfectly fine to use in the exam. Moreover, standard versions of other native English dialects like Australian English, Canadian English, Irish English, New Zealand English, and South African English are also accepted in both exams.

No university or immigration department in the world will ask candidates to take both PTE and IELTS test: one is more than enough. So, make a wise choice based on the points below and stick to it. However, there may be several good reasons to make a switch depending on individual circumstances.

That is as far as the similarities go. Now, the differences.

PTE vs IELTS: Who gives the test?

IELTS is jointly-owned by three organizations: IDP Education, British Council, and Cambridge Assessment English. Tests are delivered in more than 1600 centers in over 140 countries in the world. IDP Education and British Council announce separate test dates and conduct separate tests, but the tests are the same. As IELTS tests have been held since 1989, they are more widely-known.

On the other hand, PTE was launched recently in 2009 by Pearson Education. With more than 250 test centers in about 50 countries, its availability is far lower.

PTE vs IELTS: Acceptance

All universities and education providers accept IELTS score as part of their admission criteria. Different organizations around the world also judge the language proficiency of their potential employees or clients using the IELTS test. Last but not the least, English-speaking countries like the UK, the USA, and Australia accept IELTS as proof of English language ability for visa purposes.

In this criterion, PTE is far behind IELTS due to being new and lesser known. Although most of the education institutions of Australia, Canada, Japan, the UK, the USA, New Zealand, and Ireland accept PTE score, the same cannot be said for other countries. For immigration, only Australia and New Zealand totally endorse the PTE tests.

So check with your destination country’s immigration department as well as education provider before settling upon one, PTE or IELTS.

Mulpani Baba Chowk Stupa
Buddhist stupa in Mulpani Baba Chowk, Kathmandu © Arjoon Basnet

PTE vs IELTS: The format

First of all, there are two ways of taking the IELTS test – the paper-based and the computer-based. Nevertheless, the question types, marking, timing, and the basic format of both types of IELTS test are the same.

IELTS test begins with a 30-minute Listening test, where you listen to four different audio recordings and answer a total of 40 fill in the blanks or multiple choice questions.

This is followed by an hour-long Reading test, where you read three long comprehension passages and answer 40 questions.

The Writing section of IELTS is also one hour long, where you have to write long-form answers to two questions: description of an image and essay writing.

There are no breaks between the sections.

Finally, the Speaking section, which is usually held on a separate day from the other three tests, is 15-minute long. It is a one-on-one interview with an examiner who asks personal and general questions.

Click here » to read a detailed analysis of the IELTS test format.

By contrast, PTE test is exclusively delivered though a computer and can be completed in a one-time sitting of about 2 hours.

The first section is Speaking and Writing, which can take from 54 to 67 minutes. There are six types of speaking questions, including reading text aloud, repeating sentences and describing images. There are two types of writing questions – summary writing and essay writing.

The second section is Reading which has very short passages (as compared to IELTS) for individual multiple choice questions and no passages for fill in the blanks questions. This section is approximately 30 minutes long.

There is no break between the different sections of the PTE test.

The last section Listening, 30 to 43 minutes, has eight different types of questions ranging from fill in the blanks to write from dictation. Each question has a separate audio recording.

The time duration of different parts of the test are not fixed, because each candidate gets a different set of questions, where the length and number of questions may vary.

To learn about the PTE test format in detail, click here »

PTE vs IELTS: The marking

The PTE test is unique in the sense that it is entirely assessed by computer software. According to Pearson, their computer system has been fed with more than 10,000 data samples from students all over the world and it uses complex algorithms to analyze candidate answers.

No human person is involved in marking the PTE test. Learn more »

The scoring of IELTS for Listening and Reading sections is straightforward as there are only objective questions with only one right or wrong answer for each question. Human examiners check the Writing and the Speaking answers. Answers are judged against four criteria – content, structure, vocabulary and grammar. For elimination of bias, the Speaking test is taped and assessed again by a separate examiner.

PTE vs IELTS: Cost

The price of an IELTS test is different in different places. It is around $180 in Nepal, $190 in India, $275 in Qatar, $355 in Singapore, and $365 in Australia. It ranges between $150 and $400.

The standard price of scheduling a PTE test is $170.

You can take these tests as many times as you wish. There is no limit. But since they are so expensive, you may want to triumph in the first attempt.

PTE vs IELTS: Results

For IELTS, results arrive within 13 days for the paper-based test and within 5 days for the computer-based test.

For PTE, results arrive within 5 days of the test but no hard copy of the result is handed out. Your score can be accessed online only.

PTE vs IELTS: What is a good score?

Marking in IELTS is aligned with Common European Framework of References for Languages and expressed on a 9-band scale. Generally, you would need a band score of at least 6.0 out of total 9.0 in all four sections of the test to study for a Bachelor’s degree. For a Master’s degree, most colleges require a score of at least 6.0 in each section but 6.5 overall. Technical subjects like Nursing or Engineering may require you to score 7.0 in each section.

Meanwhile, PTE uses the Global Scale of English and marks test-takers against a scale of 10 to 90. For getting admission in a Bachelor’s program, you normally require a score of at least 46 out of 90 in all four sections of the test: Speaking, Writing, Reading and Listening. Additionally, most universities have a minimum requirement of at least 46 in each section of the test and 56 overall for a Master’s degree. A score of 66 and over in each section is required to get admission in some technical programs.

Read also:

PTE vs IELTS Which is easier?

Short answer:

PTE Academic.

A sleeping brwon cat

Long answer:

Is PTE easier than IELTS? It is one of the most-asked questions on the internet.

Since PTE is scored by a computer algorithm, it is possible, in theory, to prepare for the exam in such a way that you hit all the key assessment points used by the software and get a very high score (a full score of 90 even; hundreds of students have done it).

I have conducted a lot of experiment and research, which has been corroborated by PTE teachers all over the world, and found that the Speaking section is judged almost-exclusively on oral fluency (how fast you speak) and pronunciation (how clearly you pronounce words), whereas the Writing section is judged on spelling and grammar only. These are irrespective of content.

What that means is no matter what you write or speak about in the test, if it is somehow related to the topic, your score is based not on the actual meaning of your answer but on the criteria mentioned above.

For example, in the Writing section, if you are asked to write an essay on the impact of climate change, it does not matter what you write as long as you spell the words correctly and do not make grammatical mistakes.

Hypothetically, this sentence “Climate change is something which I do not know about and I think plants and birds are responsible for making climate change such a lovely issue.” has the potential for receiving a perfect score of 90 because there are no spelling or grammatical errors despite of the fact that it makes no sense to a human.

The same is true for the Speaking section. Hence, I always recommend PTE for students who can type quickly without making spelling or grammar errors and speak with proper pronunciation and tone.

As for Reading and Listening sections, questions repeat all the time so preparing answers to past questions and memorizing them is recommended.

Now let’s come to IELTS. The complexity of language used and the topics covered by questions in IELTS is nearly identical to PTE. However, the human checkers in IELTS are more stringent than the PTE software.

Caution! except for a few occasions in the Speaking and Writing sections, questions never repeat in IELTS. So, memorizing answers is never an option. Along with core language skills of grammar and vocabulary, students also need to learn critical thinking and creative writing to achieve good results in IELTS.

In the Speaking section, most candidates find the one-on-one interview format with the examiner nerve-wracking. The examiner is a stranger, usually from a foreign country, with an accent and this might be intimidating. The IELTS Writing section is particularly notorious. It is extremely rare for someone to score more than a band of 6.0 in this section because the answer is evaluated against a high standard of academic English.

PTE vs IELTS: Disability accommodations

IELTS offers a very good support for candidates with disabilities of different kinds. Upon verified proof and a six-weeks’ prior notice, the test center will arrange extra time during exams if candidates have medical conditions or if they are nursing mothers. There are provisions for braille papers for the visually-impaired, special audio with necessary stops and pauses in Listening or a lip-reading version, and enlarged printed questions, depending upon the disability. In Speaking, extra time is allowed for speech impediments, but sign language is not allowed.

Disability accommodation is severely limited in PTE. The most they offer is extra break time during tests, bigger text font on computer screen, and you are allowed to use necessary medical devices inside exam centers.

Common myths about PTE

Questions are easier in PTE.

No. The level of English language used in both IELTS and PTE are same. PTE questions are not created using a simpler language than IETLS.

PTE is not accepted in the USA and Canada.

It is obviously true that each and every institution in the world does not accept PTE score, as some have exclusive deals with other tests or have their own specific test. But the main ones, where most of the students go, do accept PTE. Even Harvard Business School and Yale University, considered among the best schools in the world, accept PTE scores for admission.

You should not prepare ready-made answers for the exams.

Why not? Like I explained earlier, your answer content is not important in PTE, so it does not matter whether you use a memorized response in the test or create your own on the spot. I always encourage my students to prepare answers for probable questions and, after I correct them, to learn by heart.

Common myths about IELTS

IELTS gives lower score to students on purpose.

Despite the conspiracy theories circulating in some corners of the internet, IELTS tests are assessed as fairly as possible. While students judging themselves might not be objective and hence find flaws in the test, as a teacher, I have noticed that the scores students get generally reflect their proficiency level accurately.

You can buy a fake IELTS certificate online.

This hoax has angered me on multiple occasions. I see ads all over social media claiming “IELTS certificates without exam”. This is nothing but a scamming racket. Desperate students send money to these scammers and as soon as they receive the money, they go out of contact, leaving you without options.

Facebook ads used by IELTS scammers.
I have made it my duty to report to police as well as Facebook whenever I see advertisements or posts like these.

You can take the test without practicing.

Definitely not. The IELTS test does not only assess how good a user of English language you are. It is more than that as it examines your knowledge of the language in academic situations focusing on comprehension of complex academic topics and generating independent responses in an organized format.

It is possible that even a native resident of the UK or Australia can get very low score in IELTS because of lack of academic skills.

There is a saying, “A failure to prepare is a preparation to fail.”

Who should not take PTE?

You make spelling errors when you type.

Mind you, the text box you type into in the PTE test does not check your spelling error nor does it autocorrect like Microsoft Word. Each spelling error has a big negative impact on your score.

You type very slowly.

A normal typing speed works fine for all PTE questions except the essay question in the Writing section where you really need to be quick. Typing approximately 250 words in 20 minutes is very tough.

You speaking fluency and pronunciation are bad.

Unless you can speak uninterruptedly, with pronunciation like a native speaker of English, and proper intonation like a newsreader, you should reconsider. You do not need to be as good as a TV presenter, but you are better off if you can.

You do not have the habit of reading popular articles or watching Western media.

Nearly all the questions in PTE are collected from newspapers, magazines, and TV. You should be really into them to ace your test.

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How do I know I am ready for IELTS?

Who should avoid IELTS?

You do not read books or long-form articles.

The Reading section in IELTS is really tough because you have to read three different complex passages each between 400 and 900 words long, understand their main themes, and answer 40 questions about specific parts of the texts all in 1 hour. This would be tough, if you do not have a reading habit.

Plus, only a good reader can write well enough to succeed in the Writing section.

A road sign that says "Wrong Way, Go Back".

You cannot write in complex grammatical structures with technical vocabulary.

Again, if you have not read enough to understand different kinds of sentences and less-commonly-used words, you would not be able to use them in your writing to score well.

You do not have enough general knowledge.

By general knowledge, I mean more specifically, history, geography, science, arts, culture, and technology. A lack of ample information in these fields will lead to failure.

You cannot hold a conversation.

In the Speaking section, you are expected not only to answer questions but also to elaborate upon them in a natural way. You have to be able to talk about yourself and your feelings.

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Can you handle the PTE test?

Can or should I change?

Yes and no.

If you have already begun preparing for one of these two tests, you may want to hang on in there. Because learning new formats for the other test as well as new lessons and exam techniques might be a bigger burden than grinding through what choice you have already made.

However, after going through this article, if you have realized that your current choice does not help with your goals, then you should make adjustments immediately.

I have seen countless students struggling in IELTS tests for numerous times, but when they switch to PTE, they immediately get a higher score. The reverse of this is also true, although on fewer occasions.

Should I take both?

No. Unless you want to experience the exam situation, there is no need to take both the IELTS and the PTE tests. For the purposes of university admission or immigration, taking one of the two tests and submitting the score will fulfill the criteria of language assessment.

Taking both the tests has no benefit at all. Remember, PTE vs IELTS is a one-on-one match, not a tag team.

What about Toefl?

Ignore it.

From my experience, Test of English as a Foreign Language (Toefl) is going out of fashion. It was a highly popular English-ability test until a few years ago, but IELTS took over it, just like how PTE is growing in popularity now.

Toefl, which is an alternative to PTE or IELTS, is owned by the American organization English Testing Service. Any university that accepts Toefl surely accepts PTE or IELTS, so there is no compulsion in taking this test. Nonetheless, it is similar to our tests here in the sense that it tests candidates on the four core language abilities: Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening. In difficulty level, it is similar to IELTS in many respects, but it is definitely tougher than PTE. There are both internet-based and paper-based versions of the test.

Do you know about the Duolingo English Test which is accepted by several universities for admission purpose? Click here » to find out.

PTE vs IELTS Which is better? The verdict

A golden trophy for the winner of pte vs ielts

Winner: PTE, by a huge margin.

If you are good at typing and memorizing answers, and not very bad at speaking without long pauses, then go for PTE. People who take PTE score much higher than IELTS.

But, IELTS has its takers too. If you are good at writing on a paper rather than typing and highly familiar with the English language, choose the paper-based version of the IELTS test.

One thing is certain: you can use shortcuts as well as tricks to beat PTE, while IELTS requires perseverance.

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1 month ago

I’m very grateful to a have a genius person with great communication skills as a mentor.
Take a look and do visit the Experts Biratnagar.

10 months ago

I think PTE is best for me

Abishek Raj Timsina
Abishek Raj Timsina
2 years ago

Very Helpful Artical , well Writen and love it’s detail and comparision. Thanks

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