IELTS or PTEA, which test should I take?

Introduction

If you are going to study, work or migrate to the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Canada or Ireland, but you don’t come from an English native speaking country, you need a proof of your English language proficiency. Which English proficiency test should I take? You may ask. Is it IELTS or PTEA? Which one is better?

In this article, I will go through some important factors you need to consider, to help you make a more informed, and therefore wiser decision on which test is better for you.

Never heard of PTEA (Pearson Test of English Academic) or not familiar with it

I believe all of you have heard about IELTS (if not, why did you click on this article???) But PTEA? If you have not heard of it or are not very familiar with it, you are not alone. Many students or working professionals I have spoken with in Vietnam, where I am based, have not heard of it. That’s because

PTEA has a much shorter history compared to IELTS. PTEA was established in 2009 whereas IELTS was established in 1989. Click on the link below to get some quick facts on PTEA:

https://pearsonpte.com/fast-facts-pearson-test-english-academic-pte-academic/

Factors that you need to consider

  1. Acceptance:
    Which English proficiency Test(s) are accepted by the university I am applying for? Or accepted by the country’s immigration authority that issues my visa?
  2. Cost :
    Which test is cheaper? What if I have to take the test more than once? (Please, don’t!)
  3. Time:
    Which test has a shorter duration? How fast can the results be released?
  4. Availability of Test Venues / Convenience:
    Is there a test center near my home? Will I need to travel tens or hundreds of kilometers to the venue?

Those are four important factors which I will talk about below.

Acceptance


Refer to the table below on whether the universities or immigration authority of the major English speaking countries accept IELTS and / or PTEA:

Countries

Test(s) accepted by universities

Test(s) accepted by immigration for work or migration

Australia All universities accept either IELTS or PTEA [1] Department of Immigration & Border Protection accepts either IELTS or PTEA [2]
New Zealand All universities accept either IELTS or PTEA [3] Immigration New Zealand accepts either IELTS or PTEA. [4]
The United Kingdom IELTS is accepted by all universities; PTEA is accepted by 98% of universities[5]

The UK Home Office accepts either IELTS or PTEA for work or residence. [5]

Ireland All universities accept either IELTS or PTEA [6] To work in Ireland, you do not need to produce any IELTS or PTEA test results BUT you need to get a job with an Irish employer. [7] Anyway, Ireland is one of the toughest countries in the EU to land a job, so good luck! [8]
USA

IELTS is accepted by approximately 99% of universities. [9]

PTEA is accepted by thousands of universities. Click on the link to see the full list. [10]

To work under the H1B visa, you do not need any IELTS or PTEA. But you need your US employer to sponsor you and show your English language competency to US immigration during your interview. [11]
Canada PTEA is accepted by approximately 80% of universities. Click on the link to see the full list. [12] Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada accepts IELTS for immigration purpose but not PTEA. [13]

Cost

Unless you come from a rich family or have a highly paid job, cost is another important factor when deciding which test to take. English language tests don’t come cheap. If you have to take the test several times to achieve the desired scores, it will definitely break the bank. I will compare the cost of the two tests in a few selected Southeast Asian countries:

In most of the countries I have researched, the test fee for PTEA lower than that of IELTS by 5% to 20%. If cost is your main concern, do the PTEA test.

Time

Next is the time factor. How long does it take to be over and done with, including getting the results?

For PTEA, all four skills – listening, reading, writing and speaking – are tested in one sitting in a three hour long session. For IELTS listening, reading and writing sections, the total duration of the test session is 2 hours and 55 minutes. The speaking test is done in another separate session, which will take another 15 minutes. Some test centers may arrange the speaking test to fall on the same day, in the afternoon between 1 pm to 5 pm. That means, you may take the listening, reading and writing test in the morning, go for lunch and then go back to the test center in the afternoon for the speaking test. So yep, the IELTS test will be a whole day affair. In other test centers, the speaking test may be arranged on another day within one week before or after the listening, reading and writing test.

You also need to be aware of the waiting time before the commencement of the test. It is not uncommon to have to wait for more than 30 minutes before being called in for your IELTS speaking test.

After taking the test, you have to wait to get your results. If you are taking the IELTS paper based test, your results will be made available 13 calendar days after you complete all sections of the test. For computer-delivered IELTS test, your results will be out between 5 and 7 days after you complete all sections of the test. For PTEA, your results are out within 5 working days after your test session.

If time is really important to you, take the PTEA.

Availability of Test Venues / Convenience

The fourth factor I will talk about is the convenience of the test center. In a small country like Singapore or Bahrain, going to an IELTS or PTEA test center should not be much of a problem. An IELTS or PTEA test center should be within 2 hours reach from your home. In a larger country such as Vietnam or Thailand, test centers are only located in the major cities. Before deciding which test to take, be sure to look up a test center near your hometown, if it does not have any IELTS or PTEA test center. Generally speaking, IELTS will have more test centers than PTEA, since the test is administered by the British Council and its many partners. PTEA generally has fewer test centers in many countries.

Which test is easier?

I know some of you will ask this question. There is no definite direct answer. Some people I know swear that IELTS is “easier” because they are very familiar with the structure – there are hundreds of mock exams available; their ESL teachers have done loads of IELTS preparatory exercises with them. I will make a discussion on the structure of each test.

IELTS and PTEA have different test structure.

IELTS test is structured in 4 sections:

  • Listening: 30 minutes. You will listen to four recordings of native speakers. Afterwards, you’ll need to answer 40 questions.
  • Academic Reading: 60 minutes. You will read 3 texts, and then you’ll have to answer 40 questions.
  • Academic Writing: 60 minutes. There are 2 tasks. For the first task, you have to describe a table, graph, chart or other visual information in your own words. For the second task, you write an essay as a response to a point of view, problem, or argument. You need to write in a formal style for both writing tasks.
  • Speaking: 11-14 minutes. There are three parts. First you will talk with the examiner about yourself. Then you will describe or express your opinion about a particular topic. Finally, you discuss more abstract ideas or concepts.

The listening, reading and writing sections may be paper-based or computer-based. The speaking section is done face to face with a human examiner.

The PTE A has 3 sections:

  • Speaking & Writing: 77 – 93 minutes. You will have to complete several tasks, including introducing yourself, reading aloud, describing an image, summarizing a text, writing an essay.
  • Reading: 32 – 40 minutes. You’ll have to complete tasks like filling in the blanks, answering multiple-choice questions, and re-ordering paragraphs.
  • Listening: 45 – 57 minutes. You’ll have to answer a series of questions after listening to an audio clip or watching a video clip.

PTEA is entirely computer-based. You put on a headset and talk to the computer throughout the test.

If you can write faster and / or more accurately than you type, then the IELTS paper-based test is a better test for you.  If you are more comfortable (and therefore more expressive) talking to a real person than to a computer screen, then pick IELTS test.

Conclusion

  • Acceptance (by universities and for work and migration purposes) – PTEA is almost as widely accepted as IELTS
  • Cost – PTEA is generally cheaper than IELTS.
  • Time – PTEA takes shorter time to complete and for the results to be released.
  • Availability of Test Venues – IELTS generally have more test centers than PTEA.
  • Which test is easier? – depends on the individuals taking the test.

Contributed by Eric Ong

Eric has been in the education industry for more than 25 years. He is a lecturer in private colleges in Vietnam as well as a corporate trainer in soft skills. He holds a Bachelor Degree in Banking, a Master in Business Administration and Master in Professional Accounting. He also taught business English in China for three years.
  1. https://www.studiesinaustralia.com/Blog/about-australia/english-language-requirements-faqs
  2. https://migrationdownunder.com/english-requirements-for-australian-visas/
  3. https://www.immigration.govt.nz/new-zealand-visas/apply-for-a-visa/tools-and-information/english-language/acceptable-english-language-test-results
  4. https://pearsonpte.com/articles/pte-academic-now-accepted-100-new-zealand-universities/
  5. https://in.pearson.com/blogs/2020/01/pte-uk.html
  6. http://www.inis.gov.ie/en/INIS/eng-lang-reqs-study-visas.pdf/Files/eng-lang-reqs-study-visas.pdf
  7. https://dbei.gov.ie/en/Publications/Publication-files/General-Employment-Permits-Checklist.pdf
  8. https://www.irishtimes.com/business/economy/ireland-one-of-the-toughest-countries-in-europe-to-get-a-job-1.2485983
  9. https://www.ielts.org/usa
  10. http://www.f1usavisa.com/blogs/List-Of-Institutions-That-Accept-PTE-Academic/A
  11. https://workpermit.com/immigration/usa/us-h-1b-visa-specialty-workers
  12. https://hotshot24.com/pte-academic-program-canada-student-visa-spp.html
  13. https://www.ielts.org/what-is-ielts/ielts-for-migration/canada

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