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Speaker: Welcome to E2 Talks. It’s a podcast in which we chat about the English language landscape, conversing about topics relevant to students like you. In this episode, Jay sits down with David Booth, Director of Test Development at Pearson, to talk about how to maximize your scores on PTE Academic tasks.

E2Talks Episode 2 can be listened to here:

Jay: Hello David

David: Hi

Jay: Welcome to the podcast, I’m gonna start with probably the hardest question which is can you please introduce yourself and what you do at Pearson.

David: No I don’t think that’s a difficult question, my job title is director of test development.

Jay: Right

David: Which of course tells you nothing of what I really do, but really I’m responsible for developing all the language test material for PTE Academic, make sure the questions are all reasonably, you know, reasonably good, like quality, but also you know, we have to also deal with the scoring and all the other, you know, technical elements to do with the testing.

Jay: Right, so you’ve got the keys to the kingdom.

David: The keys are distributed amongst the number of different people and we’ve got lots of little systems.

Jay: Right

David: So you know all the test items that are stored in one particular area.

Jay: Yep

David: A place where I never go.

Jay: Right

David: But people are there every day, so nobody would have the keys, but I know where the keys are.

Jay: Gotcha, very interesting, ok, in the last couple of days we’ve been hanging out at a conference here in Malaysia and well its been nice to get to know some of the Pearson people and they’re actually really lovely people even though they’re in charge of tests that mean so much to people, right?

David: Yeah and I mean, the people you’ve met have got mostly a teaching background. I was a teacher, I was a teacher in Asia for about 15 years. Bill, a guy we’ve met this week, he’s a psychometrician, he’s a maths guy, but he was a teacher in Japan and also Italy. So a lot of us have been in the classroom, worked with students and you know, I know it sounds a bit strange but you know we have the interest of students at heart, we know what motivates students to learn English and you know I’ve always been astounded at the level of English that people get to, you know.

Jay: Its amazing isn’t it absolutely, yeah especially when they get to the level where they’re taking a high stakes language test.

David: Exactly.

Jay: The journey they have been on has been profound.

David: Many many years in many cases.

Jay: Yeah, um, ok, so what we’re gonna do today is we’re going to go through all twenty PTE tasks and I’m just going to pick your brains a little bit on what the task is testing for and how best the student should approach the task so we’ll start with the speaking section.

David: Yep.

Jay: And read aloud, whats it testing for?

David: Well read aloud PTE task is testing, the thing in PTE academic we have a lot of integrated skills questions, so a lot of the questions test more than one skill.

Jay: Right.

David: So, read aloud, obviously you have to read and then you have to speak so you can see how the two skills which are involved from the outset also we have different scales which we use in order to assess those skills and for speaking, for example, the most important areas are your pronunciation so how you say the different words or how you say the different sounds in the language and also fluency.

Jay: Yep.

David: How can you speak, can you speak naturally? So those are the areas where we really focus on in that particular question so if you’re a student responding to that then obviously you have to, you know, read that naturally as possible.

Jay: Right, right and naturally do they have to sound like a native speaker, do they have to sound like an American or a Brit or an Australian, should they be mimicking accents?

David: No, no, you shouldn’t mimic an accent but you should try and have the same kind of stress an intonation that you would you have, that you do if you were reading something normally, so try to be as natural as possible.

Jay: Got it, good one, alright, that sounds good, repeat sentence, a lot of people think this is just a test of your memory, is it a test of your memory or is it testing something deeper?

David: Well, memory’s involved, because on this question you hear the sentence, so clearly you have to keep that sentence in your head in your short term memory before you can actually repeat it and that does have a deeper impact because a lot of research shows that unless you actually understand the meaning of the sentence, that you cannot retain it in your short term memory very well and what you’ll find is that the longer the sentence is the harder it is to keep in your short term memory unless you understand meaning, so meaning is critical and as we know in language thats the basic, the very basic, thing in language, in language teaching, is about understanding the meaning of something.

Jay: Got it, excellent, so they’re not just memorising something they’re listening for meaning and then repeating it back?

David: Exactly and without understanding you’ll find it more difficult and you can do this with other languages you can take a sentence in a language that you don’t know for example so this is meaningless to you and try and repeat that and you’ll have the goal, I mean you can try and do it, but the longer it is and the less you understand it then the worse you’ll be at doing that activity.

Jay: Got it, its an interesting PTE task that one, ok, describe image task, this one, from my experience, doing the language test and also from teaching many many candidates, it scares the pants off the people, its the first one where its really unconstrained where they have to use their own language, do you have any tips for Describe Image? What would you suggest?

David: Yes, my tip for Describe Image task is first of all say something about the image, so some students, they fall into the trap of kind of reading off the page. So the image will have numbers, for example, that there’ll be an axis there that will be labeled and they tend to think that the point of the task is just merely parrot back the content of the image.

Jay: Right, to label it.

David: But that’s not really what that’s about, what they should do is say something about it, you know, say for example that it’s a graph about pollution in a particular city, so it might be something “Oh, this is a graph which is showing how pollution affects the population of X, London, Sydney, New York” and then go and describe some of the details, so say something about it and then say what you can see in the actual graph or see in the actual visual that supports what you’re saying.

Jay: Right and so one of the stumbling blocks with describe image PTE task I’ve found is that people hesitate and um and ah a lot so should candidates and students be trying to resist umming and ahhing?

David: Well no, umming and ahhing is ok, what happens within the scoring of the fluency for example which is where your pausing will have most effect is looking for what we call filled and unfilled pauses, so where you stop and don’t say anything that has an impact on the person you’re speaking to, when you fill that pause with eugghhh aaaaghhh an ummmm or an uggghhh, actually in speech, that actually continues the conversation and the other person you’re talking is not impacted as much, so filled pauses when people say umm and uhh actually help fluency whereas unfilled pauses silences, a negative thing in terms of fluency.

Jay: Got it so long durations of silence should be avoided.

David: Absolutely

Jay: Got it, okay, Retell Lecture PTE task. Now my understanding with this one is you absolutely need to take notes because those lectures can be pretty sophisticated and abstract and without some keywords you’re kind of doomed right?

David: PTE Academic is you know, is as the name says, is an academic language test and some of the content is challenging. So if you’re going to listen to it, and these are not full lectures, they’re just short excerpts from lectures, and the excerpts are chosen particularly that they’ve got good content in them, so there is information in that lecture which you should be able to locate, if you’re a good listener and yes you absolutely need to make notes, you need to those salient points, those key points out of that lecture and note them down on your notepad and like you say, listening is all real time, so you don’t have a lot of time, you really you’ve got to pick that information out, note it down and then again concentrate and focus because the next bit of information is probably in the next sentence or, you know, is not very far away.

Jay: Yeah, good one, agreed. Okay and then there is answer short question PTE task, now I understand this one, it just contributes points to vocabulary, is that correct?

David: No, I think it also contributes to speaking.

Jay: To fluency?

David: Yeah, and all, well no – I think the speaking score.

Jay: Oh gotcha, okay.

David: So I don’t think it contributes to the fluency and pronunciation scores, but it contributes to the overall speaking score and vocabulary, and the key thing here really, I mean, it’s to answer as quickly as you can and clearly as you can, you know, they’re quite short questions, they’re looking for particular pieces of vocabulary, you don’t have to speak in sentences, its probably a word, or two or three words maximum that the actual item is looking for.

Jay: Easy, got it, well, not necessarily easy.

David: Well they’re not necessarily easy, I mean the response format is easier. To do the question is easy, but getting the answer, you know, is different levels of challenge.

Jay: That’s right, you need a wide vocabulary.

David: Yeah, absolutely.

Jay: So the next task is the first of the writing section and is Summarise Written Text PTE task, where the candidate has to write a single sentence based on up to three hundred words of text, what’s the best way to approach this do you think?

David: Yeah, I mean there’s a lot of information in the text but the key thing again on this task is to focus on the key information, so, any passage of three hundred words will have, you know, maybe three or four main ideas within that text that you’ve got to pull out and then obviously what you need to do is then synthesise those through your four ideas into your own words, but obviously use some of the vocabulary from the actual text itself.

So the challenge its to make sure that you’re synthesising the information together and using what you call summarising strategies to link those ideas in a smaller piece of writing. The rubric, the instructions to the tasks, say that you’re sentence should be between five and seventy-five words. Obviously, seventy-five words is a long sentence. Some people can write that kind of sentence, but I would have thought most students would like writing in the region of thirty to forty words, maybe slightly longer, but just to make sure they can get all those key points in the actual sentence.

Jay: Good one, yeah, so to get key points, another way of saying that is you need to ignore some of the details in that text.

David: Well exactly, the key thing with summary, is just pulling out those key points and linking that together, so you know, so if linking of ideas primarily rather than linking of words so if you just think I’ll pick out these words and stick them together, that’s not necessarily going to be as good as understanding what the ideas are behind them and linking those ideas together.

Jay: Excellent, good work, ok the next one is the PTE essay task, so writing between two hundred and three hundred words based on a prompt, I believe its always an argumentative persuasive essay though the prompt can change and can look a little bit different, what’s, as the candidates probably want to know, what’s the best way to get a high score for this one?

David: The best way to get a high score is to organise your essay properly. So even though the essay is relatively short, you should still follow the conventions, so good structure is important. It’s important to address, again it’s ideas and arguments. It’s important to address the opposite argument, obviously, you may have a view on the topic. You put that view forward but then accept that there may be caveats or maybe alternative views to that particular topic, you know, because nothing is one-sided really, there’s always another side to any story. Vocabulary’s important because in the essay, you’re scored on vocabulary, you’re scored on grammar, so that means the accuracy of your grammar, so getting the right tenses using the right words to join sentences together, complex sentences are important and also the range of grammar that you use is important so, you know, if you, depending on your language ability you should try to use a wide range of vocabulary, a wide range of grammar within those words. Repeating short sentences will probably end up with a lower score. Having complex sentences with different constructions will probably end up in a higher score.

Jay: Gotcha Yep that makes sense. Good one, Okay, then we move onto the reading section and the first task is multiple choice single answer PTE task. Now these contest for different things right?

David: Yeah

Jay: So the question prompt is critical because it might ask you “What’s the opinion of the author?” or “What’s this detail?”. Is that your suggestion to make sure you read the question prompt?

David: Yeah, read the question carefully, but you will find that PTE Academic is not different from other kinds of tests. The main focus would be on comprehension. It may be the purpose of the speaker, it may be something more specific about the text, but most reading tasks are based around reading comprehension so understanding what the options are so multiple choice you have the options, A B C or D or the four different things or five different things that you can choose from. Looking and understanding those are key to being able to understand the question properly. The one tip I would give on multiple choice that multiple choice questions, they actually take quite a lot of skill to make and there are never any trick questions in PTE Academic tasks. There are no questions when there is more than one answer, so if it’s a single option multiple choice there’ll be one correct answer. The other answers will be wrong.

Jay: Got it, yep good, so eliminating answer options is also critical.

David: Yep and one you can eliminate quite easily because you can see clearly from the text that they’re not true. Other ones might be closer, but they’re never correct.

Jay: Yep, good, excellent. Next one is multiple choice multiple answer PTE task, the text is quite a bit longer, it’s up to three hundred words. So with this one is it about comprehension or is it about reading fore specific parts of the text.

David: No, it’s the same thing and often it boils down to a game. Basically understanding meaning, there would be a number of meanings expressed within the text and they’ll be expressed in different ways. They shouldn’t be related so again, if you’ve got five or six options, understanding those options is critical and matching them back to the text, finding somewhere in the text where you can see ah yes, that links with that.

Jay: Yes and verifying whether it’s saying the same thing or being contradictory

David: Exactly, so in a way, it’s a little bit of matching meaning, matching meaning of the prompt, the meaning of the passage. It won’t be the same words. That’s how they write them, they write them so there are different ways of expressing similar ideas

Jay: Great good excellent. Alright, next one is reorder paragraph PTE task, I like this one I find it quite fun, it’s a bit of a game, but it is tricky. Some of my students think they can just focus on grammar words like the pronouns. They can realign the sentences just based on he and it and…..but it’s more than that isn’t it?

David: Well yeah, I mean that is one strategy, absolutely, and teachers will teach that. Looking at how pronouns and nouns are used through a passage but then there’s other more complex ways of linking paragraphs together and sentences together and those will be certainly there, particularly in more complex PTE tasks, so some of the tasks. I think there’s three or four of those items in the language test itself. They will vary in difficulty. Some of them will be easier to put together than others.

Jay: Actually that’s an interesting point. So, during the PTE, the question types are not all just all hard or not just all medium, there’s a variety of easier to harder question types.

David: Exactly, if we go back to repeat sentence PTE task for example, there’ll be different sentences to repeat at different lengths, so the better students will do better on the questions which are more demanding.

Jay: Got it.

David: So similarly with the reorder paragraphs, some of those reorder paragraphs will actually be relatively simple and some of them will involve much more complex language and depending on how simple they are or how complex they are you’ll get a higher score. So if you do well on the complex ones, you get a higher score.

Jay: I know the answer to this already, but I can imagine some of the students, their ears have pricked up and they’re thinking, is to possible for me just to get a bunch of easy questions in the PTE.

David: No, so all the items are selected and every test form is equivalent, so every test that the student takes is equivalent to the other tests that another student takes. Now that doesn’t mean it’s exactly the same level of difficulty but any difference in difficulty will be compensated for in the scoring. But they are very similar in difficulty anyway.

Jay: Got it, good. No problem. Fill in the Blanks, now, I’ve taken the PTE and I’ve taken other English language tests too and it occurred to me that PTE it’s very vocabulary focused in many ways. It likes the student or candidate to have a wide range of vocabulary and Fill in the Blanks specifically is about collocations, is that right?

David: Yes.

Jay: What’s a collocation?

David: Well collocations is…..well in language you find the words often come together so, you know, one word will often co-occur with another word and that’s particularly true in academic discourse, so there are certain, you know, experimental design, for example, you know, so experimental is often with design, you get other words that will go with design, so people can think of a word and think of all the other words that you often find with that word. So collocations are important because that’s how words relate to each other often.

Jay: Yep, good and as I understand it, the more collocations you know and are able to use, that, sort of, correlates or corresponds to you being a better user of English, because it makes you sound natural or native like, is that correct?

David: Yeah, possibly, if you can use collocations appropriately then you would sound more natural, but I mean thats true of all vocabulary. I think the knowledge of vocabulary in itself tends to show higher efficiency and some collocations are actually colloquialisms, things like phrasal verbs. So even simple things that you might think, you know, are actually simple language, like for example, turn off the light. Because that is actually, you know, a fixed phrase and the words don’t necessarily mean the same as the words out of that context, it’s actually quite difficult for students, so collocations are quite difficult for students to learn and also to repeat

Jay: Excellent, next one reading and writing Fill in The Blanks, this one is, is it testing word choice like appropriateness?

David: Yeah, it’s not dissimilar to the other Fill in the Blanks but there is a slightly different focus for the item. So again it’s looking for vocabulary, as you said, vocabulary is really important in an academic context for academic students, but also it’s looking at appropriate words so there’s a little bit of grammar, word form. So there is some grammatical knowledge which also needs to be applied and also people really to engage with the… Again meaning is critical with all these things, they really have to engage with the meaning of the piece of writing and if they understand the meaning of the passage, then they’ll be able to actually perform better on that particular task.

Jay: Great.

David: Not just the look at the words around the gap and have a guess, you know, understanding the whole thing will help you a lot.

Jay: Good, I agree, alright and then they move to, well they can go to the bathroom, do whatever they need to do for 10 minutes.

David: Yes and having a break is a good idea.

Jay: It’s a good idea. I did it because you get fatigued, this is up to about two hours now?

David: Well any test can be tiring and the test in part is speeded so you have to react quickly to certain questions so, you know, you’re being there for a significant period of time under some stress, so having a little break is gonna help clear the mind a bit.

Jay: Agreed, agreed and then the listening section starts and the first one is timed separately to the rest of them its summarise spoken text. Its a bit like retell lecture, isn’t it, you sort of hear the lecture. In retell lecture you have to immediately have to retell it, speak it, and here what do you do?

David: Yeah you have to write a summary, so really as you say its very very similar to retell lecture, what we’re doing her is just using a different channel, so for the retell lecture the channel is speaking so you have to summarise in the spoken way and for this particular task you’re doing it through the written the channel, so you’re showing that you can use your different skills of language. I mean both of them involve understanding that lecture or that piece of discourse, but you’re then using a different skill. In one case writing, in the other case speaking in order to show your understanding of what was in that task.

Jay: Good one and in the instructions in this one it says something like, write a summary for a friend, so you can sort of imagine that you’re in a lecture hall and your friend comes in late to the lecture and says what just happened and you can sort of hand over a piece of paper and say here’s a quick summary.

David: Yeah so it’s trying to reflect what might be a realistic situation so language testing in PTE Academic, it tries to use as much authentic material as it can.

Jay: And the lectures are real aren’t they?

David: Yes the lectures are real and in fact all, well, some of the repeat sentences are recorded by all the other freer type listening activities are based on real lectures or real pieces of academic discourse and also we try to make the PTE tasks realistic and in this case this is a relatively realistic that you might have to do in real life.

Jay: Got it good one, multiple choice, okay. I find this one tough and I think, sorry, its multiple choice multiple answers for listening, I find this tough because I seem to be unable to read and listen at the same time, so as that lecture’s playing and I’m trying to read the answer options, one cancels out the other, I can listen but I cant read or I can read but I can’t listen, so do you think note-taking is a good idea here?

David: I think note taking is a good idea here. Use that initial bit of time to try and look at those options but its quite – there’s only limited amount of time. So note taking, I think, has to be the way that you can note down the main ideas and again try to relate those back to the meaning of those particular options but it is challenging and what – the reason we use integrated skills items in the language test is that the challenge that people face in normal life – in normal life if you’re at a lecture you may well be reading notes and listening at the same time, trying to work out what that meaning is, you may have a book in front of you covering a similar topic, so its challenging but its a realistic challenge.

Jay: Good, yep, I agree, it’s realistic. Next one is Fill in the Blanks PTE task, it’s pretty straight forward, I don’t think this worries candidates too much. I think its a sort of task that they’ve seen and done before but do you have any suggestions for them for this one.

David: Yeah the thing again for this one is the listening, its real time. I think that’s the challenge. Listening to a passage in real time, understanding it and then being able to recognise that missing word and you know, as soon as you recognise the missing word the text has moved on, that’s the nature of listening. So you’ve got to, kind of, put something into that box, you know, put something which is either the word that you heard or as close to that word as you can think because the text is going to be long. If you spend a lot of time focused on the first box you might end up missing the next one and then you lose the track of meaning, so it makes everything significantly more difficult so what you need to do is really keep along wit the text as far as possible, put a word in there or letters in there, something that will help you once the recording is finished to go back and check what you got in those actual spaces. So I think that the real time nature of listening that is the challenge for the students.

Jay: Listening is tough, its really tough isn’t it? Especially because these lectures are real, they don’t pull no punches. They’re – yes – It’s authentic.

David: Yes again, its authentic material, so again you’re not getting a scripted version of it so there’s the normal variation that people have in their speech.

Jay: Yep, next one is highlight correct summary PTE task and this is another one where you can listen and try to read at the same time but then again the reading cancels out the listening, so note-taking…

David: So note-taking again is an absolutely essential skill in an academic context so this and the only way to do this particular PTE task effectively is to make notes to isolate those key points and then match the key points from your notes to the actual summary.

Jay: Yeah and I find note-taking reinforces what I’m listening to as well and it doesn’t detract from my listening, it helps it

David: Yep I think so, because what you’re pulling out is the key concepts, because we, all the time, when we’re listening, we can listen to minutes and minutes and minutes of language, but then once we switched off from that, if its a radio program or something, what’s in your brain is actually the key things that you heard from that, not all the other words. You’re taking out key concepts, you listen to the radio in the morning, you’re taking the key concepts of the news or whatever, just those key ideas and I think for this kind of activity, for a lot of the listing activities, they want you to be able to listen to extended speech. Obviously extended speaking in academic context but you can practice this elsewhere. Listening to videos, listening to the radio, listening to television, where you’re getting extended pieces of speech and getting used to how that is naturally presented through different forms of media.

Jay: Great, then we have multiple choice single answer PTE task. Again I think the question prompt is critical, I think they get seven seconds before the audio starts.

David: It’s focusing again on meaning, what do these mean and what’s the differences in meaning because again there’ll only be one correct answer. So within the text that you hear, you will find the match between one of those prompts and the meaning that is being expressed in that text.

Jay: Yeah, I find a good method for this one is to read that question prompt and it might say something like what does the speaker think about, I don’t know, Coca Cola and so I just keep that in my mind and then I just think to myself – okay what does he think about Coca Cola? What does he think about Coca Cola? – And I listen to the lecture, I might take a few notes but then at some point during that little lecture it’ll say his opinion about Coca Cola and there’s your answer. It seems to be a nice method, question prompt to audio.

David: Yeah that’s absolutely right.

Jay: Cool, that one’s pretty straightforward. Okay the next one, I like this one, I think its fascinating PTE task, its select missing word where there’s a bit of an audio, a bit of a lecture and the last word or phrase has been replaced by a beeping sound. Why did Pearson put this in there? What’s it doing, what’s it testing for?

David: Yeah and what’s interesting in my point of view is when you look at those, kind of, bits of text, how important those last few words are and how often they are based on the meaning of the rest of the passage or they summarise or they finish off an idea or concept within the passage and its quite simple from a discourse point of view to see that every bit of – a lot of what’s in that particular passage is relevant to the overall explanation of an idea. So people have to understand, again, a lot of this PTE task is based around meaning. They really have to understand what the meaning of the passage up to that point in order to predict effectively what the most likely thing is that that person will say. And again the options are useful to look at because obviously those options will encode different meanings, so you’ve to look at those and naturally understand what the meaning of the options are in order to select the right one. So it’s quite a – its a focus on meaning, focus again, as I said, on extended speech, and the more familiar you are with those passages of extended speech the better you will score on that effectively.

Jay: Yeah it seems to me that the better you are at listening the more you can anticipate what somebody is going ti say, so its – when you get to that level, when you can really think, okay I pretty much know what this person’s next words will be because of I’ve been following along so well.

David: Well we do it all the time in conversations and interactions.

Jay: Finish each other’s sentences.

David: Well finishing each other’s sentences but also anticipate what people will say. So what you can do for example, if you look at discourse, is you can be in a conversation and some people can manage to say something which is totally unexpected.

Jay: Yeah, ha, that’s right.

David: And when they say that, what follows generally is silence.

Jay: Yeah that’s right.

David: Because what’s happening is the person you’re talking is recalculating what they think is happening based on what you’ve said. So yeah, all the time when you’re in conversation or when you’re talking to people or when you’re listening to extended speech, you’re actually predicting what is going to come next. So you get a news article about the political situation in America for example, you’ll be predicting what you’re gonna hear. You’re particularly going to be talking about the president, you’ll predicting that you’ll be talking about congress, you’ll be predicting that you’ll be talking about the elections coming up. A lot of listening is actually predicting because what you’re doing is not actually listening and hearing. What you’re doing is predicting what you’ll hear, confirming that what you thought you were gonna hear, you did hear and that’s how you then understand.

Jay: Fascinating, that’s interesting. You’re a step ahead. Okay then we’ve got highlight incorrect words and I’ve always thought that his PTE task was a bit weird but then someone at the conference yesterday said that there’s a big difference how what written text looks like and how spoken text sounds like. Is that what it’s a test of?

David: To be honest with you I was interested in that as well because I was doing the session – and also I think the point that they were making as well is that for learners of English this is a bigger distinction then people who learnt languages as a first language would make and I think its interesting from the point of view of people who have different scripts. Because some scripts are not realised in sound – well, they are realised in sound but they don’t have that sound word relationship and English, many people say that English is strange in the way that you look at a word and it doesn’t look as it might sound. So there’s an interesting area there. Again, to be honest with you a lot of this question still relates back to meaning and understanding the meaning of the passage as a whole will help you anticipate – it’s content words as well.

Jay: Content words, yes.

David: Though they’re not taking out the words which are not relevant to what the message of the whole passage is.

Jay: Sorry, can you explain what a content word is?

David: Well it’s one that – it’s relevant to the topic, carries meaning, carries significant meaning.

Jay: So nouns, verbs, adjectives, these ones.

David: Yeah, yep.

Jay: And put a picture in your mind, don’t they these words?

David: Well exactly and also often key to understanding. It’s not the words around the kind of grammar and kind of structure, it’s the vocabulary that is key to understanding what the concepts are.

Jay: Good one. The last task is an interesting one because it contributes points to writing and listening, Write From Dictation PTE task. It’s very similar to Repeat Sentence PTE task. Some people say that a good way to approach this one is to take notes or write something down as you listen. Me personally I just don’t think there’s enough time. I think again, like Repeat Sentence, it’s about understanding that meaning, holding it in your mind…

David: Memory.

Jay: …and then writing it down, is that what you would suggest?

David: Yeah, it’s short term memory that’s important and I think again it’s a similar thing that the more proficient you are, the easier it is for you to actually hold that and longer sentences in your short term memory and then write it down. I think – I mean, some people may find that writing something down helps but I would’ve thought getting the meaning of the whole sentence is probably going to help more.

Jay: Yeah, because you can just quickly type it out and get the spelling wrong, get the verb tense wrong it doesn’t matter then go back and fix it up.

David: Exactly. But a lot of these items that you may think they’re mechanical – that is just a case of knowing what the words are and knowing the order of the words but actually they’re not really mechanical because they require memory they’re based around meaning.

Jay: Right.

David: So again and as you say, very similar to the Repeat Sentence PTE task. Unless you’ve got the meaning you won’t really be very successful at these kind of items.

Jay: Great, yep.

David: So, it’s meaning focused, it’s not a mechanical regurgitation of text.

Jay: Yep, not memorisation.

David: Exactly, exactly.

Jay: Good one and in this section as well, in the entire listening section they have to manage their own time. It’s an interesting thing because once that lecture is finished and you’re at say, Multiple Choice Single Answer PTE task, there’s really no point in hanging around on those answer options and ruminating and thinking “well which one will I choose?” because you may as well select and move on.

David: Well also we have done research and in the past about when you listen once and when you listen twice for example, you know, and what we find is that the more time you spend thinking about the answer the more likely you are to change it and the more likely you are to change it from the correct answer….

Jay: No!

David: ….which is what you first thought to a wrong answer.

Jay: Right.

David: So we did some research, A guy that I worked with for a long time Glyn Jones? Is doing his PhD in Lancaster, did this research and you find that listening twice can actually impact negatively on your scores…

Jay: That’s interesting.

David: …because you doubt yourself, you go back and you start changing things.

Jay: Very interesting, so right, so candidates should sort go with their intuition of their first answer and go “I think it was B” and then stick with B.

David: Generally speaking, they will be right. Now of course if you do listen twice and we don’t listening twice in PTE Academic and if you are in a situation where you are listening twice then of course you can try and use that for confirmation but the evidence that I’ve seen is it tends to add confusion rather than actually make things clearer.

Jay: Very interesting, cool, well that’s the end of all twenty PTE tasks. Thanks very much for all your tips and suggestions. Do you have any last tips or suggestions you’d like to share?

David: Yeah, I mean, I think the key thing with any test that you’re going to take, I mean, these language tests are very important for people’s lives like you mentioned right at the beginning. It’s to further your career or to get to a different place where you want to live to make more of your life and I think that if you’re going to spend a significant amount of money and a significant amount of time doing that then preparation is a real key. Understanding what you’re going to face in the testing room, because what everybody wants – people who design the exam, teachers who prepare students for the PTE language task and exam, they all want the student to do the best that they possibly can. Something that really reflects their language ability, so if you’ve got a good language ability we want you to get a high score.

Jay: Yep, you deserve it.

David: Yeah, so all the items and the tasks are designed around that. They’re not designed to cheat you or they’re not designed to make it more difficult, they’re designed so that good students get good scores, and preparation is the key, if you walk into that test room, understanding the different items just like we’ve gone through today, know what you have to do on those different items, knowing how to get the best out of your own ability then you will do better.

Jay: Cool, excellent, thank you very much for the interview.

David: No worries, thank you.

Speaker: Thanks for listening to E2 Talks. Next month, Jay talks to Barrie Brown and Reza Tasviri from IDP about IELTS Writing Task 2. Remember to subscribe and check out for all your test prep needs.

[End of Episode 2]
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