There are dozens of different essay types that you might encounter in the PTE writing section. Whether you are blessed with submitting one or two pieces of writing on the day of your test, the more prepared you are for the task the better your test-day experience is likely to be.

I would strongly advise against even attempting to shoehorn your thoughts on any given topic into a preordained template: better by far to be properly prepared for the challenge of planning, writing and proofreading your essay by anticipating the sort of question about which you will be required to compose 200 to 300 well-reasoned, pithily chosen words.

So what are the types of essay you should familiarise yourself with? There are many, of course, and I shall list below a few of those essay question structures that are more commonly encountered. I’ll also strive to give you a bit of an explanation about useful approaches to the planning and execution of this most intimidating of writing tasks.

Below I will list the 5 most common essay types you may encounter in the PTE exam. Remember them, practice and get used to the process of brainstorming, no matter the topic.

1. The “Many people think” essay

This kind of essay is a way of introducing a topic with a broad statement of fact, followed up by a question about your opinions of the topic. An example would be: “Many people think that the place you were born affects your success in later life. What is your opinion about the relevance of one’s place of birth upon future success?” Birthplace relevant: people in developed countries wealthier and healthier; kids in upper-class neighbourhoods get better jobs. Birthplace irrelevant: most countries now meritocracies; qualifications/experience more important than family ties.

2. The “It is argued that” essay

The passive structure of these questions are attempting to see if you are able to make a reasoned argument for the given topic, which is your key to scoring well in the PTE. Just to be clear, who is arguing is far less important than what precisely is being argued. To wit: “It is argued that attending a full-time undergraduate degree course is less worthwhile nowadays than learning a trade, such as a builder’s labourer, plumber or electrician. To what extent do you agree or disagree?” Uni degrees positives: lead to greater variety of jobs in future; more intellectually stimulating. Uni degree negatives: most courses a waste of time/money with no tangible outcome. Trades negatives: lack of stimulation. Trades positives: guaranteed work for a lifetime; general lack of supply in the job market.

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3. The “Do you think” essay

Unsurprisingly, another means of eliciting an opinion from you, possibly about a topic you have never given much consideration to before. For example: “Do you think consumers should be held responsible for their poor nutritional choices, or do food manufacturers need to be more honest about the potential dangers involved in eating certain foods which are high in salt, sugar and fat?” You are then invited to give your views, such as they may be, on the topic regardless of your personal dietary preferences. Consumers responsible: they are educated and have free will; sugary food makes them happy. Manufacturers responsible: deliberate manipulation of ingredients; only motivated by profit not well-being of consumer.

4. The “benefits and problems” essay

It isn’t always easy to express either the benefits or the problems of a PTE essay topic, but it is essential that you rise to the challenge. “What are the benefits and problems involved in introducing compulsory sport in schools throughout your country?” Whether you’re a couch potato or a gym-obsessive, your opinion is called for. Positives of compulsory sport: healthy body = healthy mind; team-building and school spirit are reinforced. Negatives of compulsory sport: games are a waste of learning time/resources, save it for after school; lack of space in inner-city schools.

5. The “Do you agree or disagree” essay

The chances are it will be one way or the other, but some topics can be pedestrian. “Do you agree or disagree that English will become more important to learn as the world becomes more globalised?” It may not be a subject that sets your heart on fire, but surely you can find it within you to devote 220 words to bemoaning the overreach of America’s linguistic influence or suggesting that minority languages are doomed anyway so we should all just get on board.

Suffice to say, in the PTE, you are required to be the Jack-of-all-trades yet the master of none. In practical terms, this means you need to be able to write about any topic thrown at you. A two-minute brainstorm should provide you with an embarrassment of riches for you to draw upon during the 16 minutes you’ll be writing your essay.

Don’t overthink!

It never ceases to amaze me how much PTE candidates and those preparing for their tests beat themselves up when it comes to approaching the essay topic. Don’t forget, whatever your own personal opinions are about the issue at hand is of absolutely no relevance to the algorithm that is grading your efforts. The topics are never truly contentious or controversial but it remains a weird fixation for most people that everything has to be reduced to your own life experience, your genuinely held opinions and ‘facts’. It doesn’t.

Your ability to see both sides of anything and express yourself appropriately is what is being tested. Disassociating yourself from the issue will help. If you were asked whether children should be given free donuts every day at primary school, your gut instinct would probably be to reject such a silly notion. But have you stopped to consider the numerous benefits of high blood sugar levels on a child’s brain activity? Studies have shown that overweight and obese children consistently outperform their thinner colleagues on academic tests by 37% on average. Providing children with donuts would be a sure-fire way of improving the nation’s overall intelligence.

It’s important to prepare for these essay types. My advice when it comes to confronting the PTE essay is – regardless of the topic – free your mind. Let the ideas flow and get ready for a good argument, even if it is with yourself. For more tips, methods, material and more, sign up to E2Language today!

Colin
PTE Expert
Dip TESOL

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