Fast facts – Pearson Test of English Academic (PTE Academic)

What is PTE Academic?

PTE Academic is a 3 hour long, computer-based assessment of a person’s English language ability in an academic context. The test assesses an individual’s communicative skills of Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking skills through questions using authentically-sourced material. In addition, the test provides feedback on enabling skills in the form of Oral Fluency, Grammar, Vocabulary, Written Discourse, Pronunciation and Spelling.

When was PTE Academic launched?

PTE Academic was launched in 2009 after a comprehensive research program led by some of the world’s leading experts in language assessment.

Where is PTE Academic recognised?

Since 2009 PTE Academic has been rapidly accepted by universities, governments, professional bodies and employers around the world as a valid and reliable assessment of academic English proficiency.

How is PTE Academic scored?

PTE Academic is assessed using automated scoring technology and test takers are provided with a score from 10-90 overall and across all skills. Pearson’s 10-90 scale is based on the Global Scale of English.

How accurate is PTE Academic?

The scoring systems use complex algorithms which are initially trained using human rated samples. Thousands of marks and examples of performance are used to train these automated scoring systems until sufficiently high enough levels of reliability are achieved.The field testing of PTE Academic involved assessing responses from over 10,000 candidates from more than 120 different language groups. For the speaking component nearly 400,000 responses were collected and marked by human raters. The correlation between the human scores and the machine scores for an overall measure of speaking was 0.96 thus proving the reliability of the measure of speaking in PTE Academic.

The measurement applied to assess how accurate a language test is at assessing an individual’s ability is known as the ‘Standard Error of Measurement’ or SEM. Comparing data published by some of the other major English tests recognised by Government bodies and Higher Education Institutions, PTE Academic has the highest reliability estimates for both the overall score and the communicative skills scores based on the SEM of all the major academic English tests.

For more information on Standard Error of Measurement (SEM) and scoring concordance of PTE Academic with other major English Language Assessments, please refer to p42-50 of the PTE Academic Score Guide.

Why is automated scoring considered a more objective form of assessment?

It is widely recognised that human marking can be influenced by a range of factors, particularly when only one person rates the test taker’s performance. Automated scoring has the benefit of removing this effect as it is indifferent to a test taker’s appearance and personality, and is not affected by human errors due to examiner tiredness, mood, etc. Such impartiality means that test takers can be confident that they are being judged solely on their language performance and that they would have earned the same score if the test had been administered in Beijing, Singapore or Delhi.

Automated scoring allows individual features of a language sample (spoken or written) to be analyzed independently, so that weakness in one area of language does not affect the scoring of other areas. Human raters often exhibit “transfer of judgment” from one area of language to another. For example, test takers who speak smoothly may be marked as proficient even though their grammar is very poor. Automated scoring, on the other hand, assesses the different language skills objectively.


How confident can test takers be that Pearson’s automated scoring technology is a valid form of assessment?

We are confident in the reliability of our automated scoring system. Automated assessment of spoken performance uses very sophisticated technologies (Latent Semantic Analysis) and complex scoring models trained with human ratings and is an established technology that has been used since the 1990s to assess millions of test-takers responses. The speech recognizer is able to capture many nuances related to fluency using a number of parameters which are empirically measurable (e.g. hesitations, pauses, silences, etc.). Other spoken traits such as vocabulary measure the linguistic content of the response based on the instructions presented in the question. Our approach is to measure how a test taker responded to a question, much like a human would assess a response, but by applying much more objectivity in capturing what and how a test taker responds.

If you are a well-educated, English language speaker natively born and raised with English, should you expect to receive very high (80+) to perfect (90) marks for the speaking section of PTE Academic?

Not necessarily. It is important to distinguish between native speakers’ implicit knowledge of the language and their ability to perform meaningfully with the language in a testing situation. The performance of native English language speakers is often imperfect and factors such as a lack of focus from the candidate on the question being asked, motivation, clarity of their response/explanation can all have a bearing on the candidate’s score outcome.

Research by a number of eminent academics in the field of Applied Linguistics provide credence to this argument:

“[…] native speakers show considerable variation in ability, particularly with regard to abilities such as cohesion discourse organization, and sociolinguistic appropriateness. For these reasons, it seems neither theoretically nor practically possible to define either an absolutely ‘perfect’ level of actual language performance, or an

individual with ‘perfect’ language ability”.

Source: Bachman L. F. (1990). Fundamental Considerations in Language Testing. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1990

“Native speakers may have a cognitive advantage over native users but that does not mean that they necessarily have an advantage in its uses”

Source: Davies A. (2011): Does Language Testing Need the Native Speaker?, Language. In Assessment Quarterly, 8:3, 291-308

“Our findings point to substantial differences among native speakers both in linguistic subskills and in speaking proficiency, suggesting that it is impossible to define the prototypical native speaker in terms of language ability. We presume that such differences reflect the level and amount of verbal activities in people’s daily lives, of which level of education and level of profession may only form an imperfect index”

Source: Mulder K. & Hulstijn J. H. (2011). Linguistic skills of adult native speakers, as a function of age and level of education. Applied Linguistics, 32(5), 475-494. DOI: 10.1093/applin/amr016

What continual forms of research does Pearson undertake to ensure the test remains relevant and accurate?

There continues to be ongoing research conducted both internally and externally to validate and quality assure PTE Academic. Details of our research groups and external research are listed here


Pearson Test of English Academic: Automated Scoring

PTE Academic Score Guide