The PTE Speaking Tasks are the hardest to master for many of our students.
I’ve spoken to a lot of students lately who have told me variations of the same concern: “I am a native or near native speaker and I am still scoring very low on the PTE speaking tasks. It’s destroying my confidence! HELP!” As somebody who has failed the speaking section of the PTE, I completely understand how bad it feels when you don’t get the score you expect.
Speaking as someone who has been there, I want to say this to all those who have done poorly on the PTE speaking tasks: STOP beating yourself up over your speaking ability. You’re probably not as bad as you think. I don’t care what your level is either; I bet you are making at least one or two of the common mistakes I will describe below. And I bet it’s losing you points. To everyone who has lost confidence and felt defeated after receiving their speaking score: you can do this! You just need to be prepared.
Before I outline the 4 common mistakes that people make on the PTE speaking tasks, I just want to mention that my poor PTE speaking score was caused by “human interference” with my microphone. This means that I was making “plosive” sounds (caused by pushing out excess air when pronouncing the “P” and “B” sounds) and due to excess breathing noise. Essentially, my score was not a true representation of my speaking skills, and this brings me to a very important point for all PTE takers: if you listen to your voice sample at the beginning of the test and you hear loud breathing noises or a “thudding” sound when you pronounce P’s and B’s, you need to tell someone. This can and will affect your score.
Another thing I want to mention is that although Pearson did not change my speaking score, they did offer me a full refund or a free repeat of the test. If you think that your score was affected by something technical or by noise from your microphone, you have every right to contact Pearson and ask them to investigate. At the very least you may be able to save some money, even if you need to take the test again.
Check out our latest YouTube video on PTE technology and testing environment here:
Now let’s get down to the 4 most common mistakes people make on the PTE speaking tasks!
Mistake #1: Speaking too fast
Many people make the mistake of thinking that a brisk talking speed is the same thing as fluency. We see this a lot with our E2Language.com students, and I can’t even tell you how many times we have told people to SLOW DOWN! You can have a very high level of English and still be completely impossible to understand.
For example, one of our top students is from India and considers English to be his first language. His grammar is perfect and his vocabulary is impressive, but he speaks even quicker than an auctioneer (and those guys speak FAST)! Although it took him quite a bit of practice to break the habit, it made a huge difference and he was finally able to achieve the PTE speaking score he needed.
Another thing to consider is that when people are nervous, they naturally speed up. We all do it, and it’s a natural reaction to stress. However, you need to be aware of yourself doing this so you can break the habit. No matter how anxious you are, you will benefit much more from speaking in a slow, measured way than you will from spouting out 1000 words per minute!
Mistake #2: Using too many fillers (“like” and “um”)
We are all guilty of this one, native English speaker included. Most of us use fillers while we are thinking of a word or concept to fill the next part of our sentence. In real life, people don’t even notice when you do this. But the PTE academic can be very unforgiving. Remember, you’re not in a normal situation. You’re not talking to a friend, you’re not telling your partner about your day. You are being assessed on your ability to access vocabulary and concepts quickly and accurately. Is this realistic? Probably not. But it is the reality of an English proficiency test.
In the PTE speaking tasks where you are required to say more than a few sentences (describe image and re-tell lecture), you are given some time to collect your thoughts before you are recorded. Use this time to mentally choose the 2-3 concepts you will address in your response so you are not scrambling to think of the next thing to say.
Another crucial thing about these tasks is that you must have your own format method already planned out before you go in to the PTE. In other words, you must have decided how you will structure your response so that you’re never unsure of what you are going to say. If you need an example of what this looks like, our describe image webinar on YouTube provides a great method that works.
Mistake #3: Use of colloquial language
What does this mean? Well, it means that you are using casual language instead of the more formal, academic language that the Pearson test assessors are looking for. You might say something like: “the trend in this graph shows that employment is gonna keep going up in Europe”. You may think that talking the way you often hear native speakers talk is an advantage, but the assessors are looking for advanced vocabulary and word structure, so it’s best to leave this kind of language to your social life.
How can you avoid this mistake? Pretend you are in a job interview. You would never speak to a potential employer the way you casually speak with a friend, and the same logic applies here. Impress the computer with your professionalism!
If you don’t have a clue what kind of language the PTE test assessors are looking for, think about every essay you have ever written. Those big, impressive words that got you an A+ and a gold star on your dissertation about how technology has shaped the modern world? Those are perfect. For the purposes of this test, you need to use “essay” language to prove that you have a wide range of vocabulary. If you want improve your vocabulary range and work on pronouncing those complex academic words, our e2pronounce app (included in all of our course packages) is a great way to do that.
Mistake #4: Speaking in fragments
We (again, native speakers included) often start thoughts and don’t finish them, or start a new thought in the middle of a sentence when we are speaking. In a conversation, this often goes unnoticed we’re used to this “stopping and starting” and so is everybody around us. However, this way of talking will not do you any favours on the PTE academic!
The PTE requires you to speak in complete sentences, no matter what. The way the PTE speaking tasks are scored for oral fluency, you’ll probably score higher if you finish a nonsensical sentence than if you self-correct halfway through your point and start a new sentence. Why? You get 5 points for oral fluency. This means that even if the content of your sentences is slightly off (or just not as comprehensive as you had hoped), you can still get full points for fluency if you speak in full sentences with no re-starts.
So, the best advice we have to avoid this mistake is: If you missed a word you wanted to say, if you feel like you want to rephrase the beginning of your sentence, if you got confused and said the wrong information – whatever – KEEP SPEAKING UNTIL YOU COMPLETE YOUR SENTENCE! You can always add additional information or clarify your point in a new sentence.
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Now that you know the common mistakes, can you tell me which ones you’re guilty of? Can you think of any more common speaking mistakes people might make on the PTE?
Written by Kaia Myers-Stewart