IELTS vs PTE Difficulty: The Writing Sections

IELTS vs PTE – everybody wants to know which test will match their skill set the best. I thought I would begin answering this intimidating question by talking about the differences between the two tests when it comes to the writing sections.

My name is Jay and I am a native English speaker from Australia. I’m also an English teacher. Not only that, but I’m a language expert with a masters degree in applied linguistics from the University of Melbourne.

I’m also naturally curious. I find it interesting to take English language tests, such as the PTE and IELTS. They’re not exactly fun, and it’s definitely not my number one hobby, but I do find it fascinating. (Admittedly, I don’t like spending $300 each time I do it…) Who knows? I might have been in the test center with you that day… I was the guy with the blue Australian passport who people were looking at thinking, “Why is he here?”.

Here I am discussing my PTE experience with my colleague!

I’ve taken the PTE Academic and the IELTS Academic and as a result I now have very good insights into both tests. Yes, I sat next to you and stared at the PTE computer for three long hours and did ‘Summarize Written Text’ and ‘Summarize Spoken Text ‘and ‘Write Essay’. Yes, I sat beside you and did ‘IELTS Writing Task 1’ and ‘IELTS Writing Task 2’.

Here are some critical differences that you should consider when choosing either the IELTS Academic or PTE Academic with regards to getting higher writing scores. Get ready for an IELTS vs PTE writing showdown! 

IELTS vs PTE Writing – a quick overview

In the PTE Academic you must:

  • Write an argumentative essay of between 200 and 300 words in 20 minutes (Write Essay)
  • Summarize a block of text into a single sentence in 10 minutes (Summarize Written Text)
  • Summarize a spoken lecture into 70 words in 10 minutes (Summarize Spoken Text)

In IELTS Academic you must:

  • Describe a graph/process in at least 150 words in 20 minutes (IELTS Writing Task 1)
  • Write a 250 word essay presented in various formats in 40 minutes (IELTS Writing Task 2)

PTE Write Essay vs IELTS Writing Task 2

Comparing the essays is the most obvious place to start because both tasks are the biggest and most time-consuming.

In PTE Write Essay you have 20 minutes to write a 200-300 word argumentative essay. In IELTS Writing Task 2 you have a number of different essay types that you may see, and you have 40 minutes to write at least 250 words. Overall, I think it’s easier to score a higher mark in PTE Write essay for the following reasons:

In PTE Write Essay there is only ONE type of essay – the argumentative essay. While the question prompts differ slightly, you can always use the same structure for all of your essays. How you organise – or structure – your essay has a massive impact on your overall grade. In this respect, PTE wins a point for easiness because IELTS Writing Task 2 hits you with various question types – agree/disagree, give you opinion, double question etc.

In PTE Write Essay you get 20 minutes to write at least 200 words while in IELTS Writing Task 2 you get 40 minutes to write at least 250 words. Hmmm, that’s 20 more minutes for only 50 more words, right? Well… it’s not that simple: Consider that in the PTE you get to TYPE on a computer! I don’t know about you, but I can type MUCH FASTER than I can write with an old-fashioned grey-lead pencil. What’s more, if you want to change something, delete something or move something then it is super easy. For me, typing 200 words in 20 minutes versus writing 250 words in 40 minutes with a pencil is a no-brainer. I choose the keyboard any day of the week.

PTE: Summarize Written Text AND Summarize Spoken Text vs IELTS Writing Task 1

It’s not quite fair to compare IELTS Writing Task 1, where you have to describe a graph in at least 150 words, with PTE’s Summarize Written Text where you have to write a single sentence of anywhere between 5 and 70 words. So, to make the battle fairer I will add the other writing task in PTE, Summarize Spoken Text, where you have to summarize a spoken lecture into 70 words or fewer.

I must say that when I did the IELTS I had a formula for IELTS Writing Task 1 that made it FAR SIMPLER. I had a plan. I had a structure. I knew exactly where to start and where to end and everything in between (see this blog post!). If you went into the IELTS Academic without a formula for Writing Task 1 then I think you would get a big surprise because A) you wouldn’t know what to write and B) you would waste heaps of time! There’s no doubt that IELTS Writing Task 1 is more complex and challenging than the other two PTE writing tasks – Summarize Written / Spoken Text. However, without that formula you wouldn’t have a chance of scoring above IELTS 7.

See an overview of our IELTS Writing Task 1 formula here:

In Summarize Written Text you have to summarize a block of text into a single sentence. It sounds easy, right? No way… If you do not know your grammar, if you don’t know a ‘subject + verb + object’ sentence when you see one, then you will not score highly on PTE Writing. I see hundreds of PTE students write the most ridiculous snake-like sentences thinking that they have written a single sentence. NOPE!

Check out some of our Summarize Written Text tips here:

Summarize Spoken Text, in contrast, is quite simple in terms of writing, but it does require you to listen to and understand the content of an academic lecture. So, it’s a double-edged sword. If you’re a good listener, you can rest assured that you do not need to write complex sentences. Short, sharp sentences are fine with this task. But, as I said, if the lecture doesn’t sink  in… who knows what will come out!

In short, if you have a formula for IELTS Writing Task 1 and you know your grammar for PTE Summarize Written Text and if you can understand an academic lecture for PTE Summarize Spoken Text, then the challenge is about equal.

IELTS vs PTE – My humble (and informed) opinion…

For this section of the test, PTE comes out as slightly easier but not by much and it’s not a straightforward difference. A good preparation course for IELTS Academic, such as the one on, will give you the methods and formulae you need to crack the exam – especially for IELTS Writing Task 1. But overall, PTE is slightly more forgiving, not least of all because you can type your answers, and if you make a mistake, like I always do, you can easily fix it. 

What are your thoughts on IELTS vs PTE when it comes to the writing sections? Let me know in the comments!

If you have any questions about IELTS vs PTE, check out our free forum and ask away!


Written by Jay Merlo.

Is this write? Common IELTS Writing Mistakes People Make

How to combat common IELTS writing mistakes:

We all make mistakes, like the saying goes, ‘you learn from your mistakes.’ But when it comes to sitting the IELTS exam, mistakes are not something we want to make.

 Practice Makes Perfect

Practicing your writing as much as possible will help, but unless you review your work or get a teacher to check it, then you are basically going to make the same mistakes over and over again. What to do? Write – read – correct- write – read – correct. Once you have finished writing a paragraph, go back and read it again before writing more. If you sign up to, we offer face to face feedback. It is vital to be aware of your mistakes in order to improve your overall IELTS writing score.

IELTS Writing
Practice makes perfect!

Common writing mistakes In IELTS writing

Not understanding the whole essay question

“The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.” (John Powell)

 All IELTS essay questions will have an instructional sentence, telling students exactly what they are supposed to do in their written response.

TIP: use a highlighter or underline the instruction: discuss, analyses, argue, etc.

There will be trigger words, such as; discuss, analyze, argue, support and the student is expected to respond accordingly.

For example:

Some people argue that universities should provide students with more practical training for their future career. Should university education be more vocational or academic? Discuss and state your opinion.

In this example be aware of what it is you are supposed to do, i.e. discuss the argument that Universities should provide students with more practical training for their future career. Then give your opinion, do you agree or disagree? Why or why not? Be sure to analyse both sides of the argument.

When giving your opinion, it is always a good idea to draw upon your own experience, that way you will be writing about something you are comfortable with.

 Writing about something that does not directly answer the essay question

Mistakes are the usual bridge between inexperience and wisdom.   (Phyllis Theroux)

When answering the essay question, make sure you actually answer it. For example:                     Question. Cats are more loyal than dogs, discuss?

When answering this question make sure you address the statement, Cats ae more loyal than dogs. Look at why people may believe this and then discuss the other side of the argument as well, i.e. dogs are more loyal than cats. The examiner doesn’t want to read a story about your cat and its adventures with the local barn yard mouse, they want clear arguments backed up with evidence. They want to see more than one opinion. It is fine to use examples, but use them wisely sand make sure they relate to the actual IELTS essay question. You can repeat words that appear in your essay question to keep you on track, sometimes trying to rephrase the question can confuse you and you will end up answering it incorrectly. If in doubt read the question again and again!

Making too many grammatical mistakes

“Consider every mistake you do make as an asset”. (Paul J. Meyer)

One of the most common grammar mistakes students make when writing their IELTS exam are sentence fragments, run-on sentences, improper preposition usage, verb tense issues and mistakes in a student’s lexical selection. The best advice I can give here is to go back and practice some good old grammar exercises, refresh your memory and sharpen up you grammar skills before the big day. If you sign up with we have a large variety of grammar exercises at all different levels. Having someone review your writing and help you identify you most reoccurring mistakes it also helpful.

Another TIP is to compose your essay entirely of short, concise sentences and to link these sentences with cohesive phrases.

Common IELTS Writing Mistakes: Grammar errors

  1. Use of the word ‘the’

We use the:

  • when there is only one of something: the internet
  • with cardinal numbers: the first
  • with superlatives: the worst
  • with places where the name refers to a group of islands or states: the USA
  • before nouns which describe general things: exercise is good for the body,
  • before abstract nouns used to describe a situation, process, quality or a change2.
  1. Countable and Uncountable Nouns: She has three dogs. I own a house.
  1. Noun Verb Agreement

The verb must agree with the noun. If you use a plural noun, you must use a plural verb and vice versa.

  1. –ing or to + infinitive

We use to + infinitive verb after the following verbs: learn how, would like, want, seem, refuse, promise, prepare, offer, learn, hope, help, deserve, decide, afford, and ask.

  1. Use of Articles before Noun Phrases

You should include a/an before adjective singular noun combinations: a very small percentage, a really strong argument.

Some exceptions include the word ‘of’ after the noun phrase: a wide range of, an equal number of, a large/small number of, a small/large/equal proportion of.

Exceptions: quite a few people, to a certain extent/degree

  1. Use of Commas

In the IELTS writing test we often use phrases called ‘discourse markers’ or ‘liking phrases’ to link our ideas together, such as, firstly, secondly, in conclusion, in summary.

We normally use a comma after a discourse marker that introduces a sentence:

  • Firstly, the main cause of pollution is motor vehicles.
  • On the one hand, motor vehicles are said to be the main cause.
  1. Verb Tenses

Always consider which of tense you should use

  1. Prepositions after Adjectives and Nouns

Students often get confused about which prepositions to use after adjectives and nouns.

Some more TOP TIPS to improve your IELTS test score:

  • Link your paragraphs
  • Be clear about what you want to say, don’t over complicate it.
  • Don’t leave out any key ideas
  • Write about a topic you feel comfortable with.
  • Make sure you use examples that connect to the main idea.
  • Don’t write a book, be aware of your word count, writing more than you need you is not going to earn you extra points.

In conclusion, no matter what the quote or saying may be, it is very important that you learn from your mistakes if you want to get a great IELTS writing score.

Failed your PTE, IELTS, TOEFL or OET Exam? Switching tests may not be the answer.

If you fell short of the score you needed in a particular English proficiency exams, one of the first things you’ll want to do is switch tests. You tell yourself: the “PTE must be easier than IELTS!”

Disbelief and blame is a common symptom of failure.

The truth is, switching tests takes a lot of time and energy and may not be the solution to your problem. Each test has a very different format and each format takes a long time to learn.

fed up

Consider the different structures of the following listening tests and your head will spin:

PTE Listening: 45 – 57 minutes / 7 different tasks

Summarize spoken text / Multiple choice x2 / Fill the blanks / Highlight the correct summary / Select missing word / Highlight incorrect words / Write from dictation

IELTS Listening: 30 minutes / 4 “sections” with 10 different question types

Multiple choice / Matching, plan/map/diagram labelling / Form/note/table/flow-chart/summary completion / Sentence completion

TOEFL Listening: 60 – 91 minutes Listen to lectures, classroom discussions and conversations, then answer questions

Specific detail / Function / Attitude / Organization / Connecting / Inference

OET Listening: 50 minutes / 2 “parts” of 20-28 questions. Part 1 is a consultation where you take notes. Part 2 is an academic lecture on a medical topic. There are many different question types including:

Multiple choice / Short answer / Gap-fill

If you failed the PTE or the TOEFL because you’re digitally illiterate, then switch. I don’t think that the PTE or TOEFL are suitable for people who struggle to use a mouse or keyboard. Think older test-takers. It may be the machine and not the content that you failed on. And if you struggle to use a pen or pencil in the IELTS or OET, then switch to the PTE or TOEFL and use the keyboard.

But if you’ve unfortunately failed your English test because, well… your English is weak, there’s only really one thing to do: learn. And when I say learn, I don’t mean practice.

English practice tests are only effective after you have learned, or re-learned, your fundamental English skills.

Grammar, vocabulary, listening, reading, writing, speaking and pronunciation. Practice tests should be the cherry on top before you take the plunge (you should learn idioms, too).

If you’ve failed a particular test more than, say, three times, and you have learned, reviewed and practiced the test then you may want to think about switching. If the essay topic in the IELTS threw you, and you are more comfortable with your medical topics because you’re a nurse, then the OET is probably a better choice. If you suffered anxiety in the OET speaking and you’d feel more comfortable talking to a computer, then switch to the PET or TOEFL.

But if you failed because your English is weak, hold your horses and stick to the test that you know and concentrate on building your English.

Check out for online preparation courses that are effective, enjoyable and convenient.

Written by Jarrad Merlo

IELTS or PTE? Which test is easier?

If you’re thinking about taking an English proficiency test for immigration or study purposes, you’ve probably wondered “IELTS or PTE?” at least once. Hopefully this article will help you make your decision.

Mrs IELTS has been teaching at the local school for decades. She’s old, traditional and well-respected. She knows her grammar back-to-front and is a walking dictionary. She insists that you use pencil and paper in class and there are certainly no games. She’s very good at what she does and everybody knows it.

Ms PTE has just graduated from college. She’s fresh, fun and very smart. Because she’s young you can use laptops or tablets in class, which is exciting. Her English tests are a bit ‘friendlier’ than Mrs IELTS’.

Word in the playground has it that Ms PTE’s English tests are easier than Mrs IELTS, but is it really true?

The short answer to this question is NO. The difficulty of IELTS compared to PTE is the same. Neither test is easier than the other. They are both demanding and require fundamental skill building as well as knowledge of the test format.

The only real differences are:

  • PTE is delivered via a computer while IELTS is completed with pen and paper (but this is changing!).
  • PTE has 20 different, shorter tasks while the IELTS has 5 longer tasks.

When thinking about whether to choose IELTS or PTE consider the following questions:

IELTS or PTE: Am I digitally literate? That is, can I use a computer?

If no, then take the IELTS because a number of the PTE tasks require you to have computer skills. For younger people, this comes naturally but for older people you may be safer in Mrs IELTS classes.

Do you find computers easy to use? Being confident with technology is essential for PTE success.

IELTS or PTE: Do I have a strange accent?

If you were raised in Pakistan but then moved to Australia and then moved to the UK you may want to think about doing the IELTS because the human examiner will be able to understand your accent better. Of course, if you speak clearly then you can take either tests, but if, for some reason, you are failing your PTE speaking and scoring low on “oral fluency” you want to consider Mrs IELTS classes as she has had a lot better experience listening to strange accents.

IELTS or PTE: Do I need my results quickly?

If you need your results quickly then take the PTE. There turnaround on test results is impressive. Ms PTE, unlike Mrs IELTS, grades her students’ exams in her lunch break. (Graduate teacher!)

IELTS or PTE: I only have a short time to prepare. Which test is easier to cram for?

If you only have a short time to prepare then you shouldn’t take either test. Both tests are difficult and you shouldn’t try to ‘wing’ it.

In saying that, if you really do need to cram, both are about the same. The IELTS is arguably easier to cram for because the number of questions are fewer, but then again the PTE has a great practice website.

To conclude, if you think that the PTE is easier than the IELTS then you’re wrong and you may be disappointed. Both tests are rigorous. If you fail to prepare adequately then you should expect to be disappointed. The tests are barriers and they’re barriers for a reason. Universities and immigration want to know that you are skilled in English.

Follow our social media for more PTE resources and updates!


Suggestion: Study. Prepare. Learn. Improve! And make sure you sign up for a free trial with us. Our E2Language reviews speak for themselves!


Update: E2Language teacher Jay took both PTE and IELTS, and explains the difference between the two. 

Check out our previous posts why PTE or IELTS may be right for you. 

Written by: Jay Merlo