OK, let’s be clear about this from the beginning – the way the PTE test is scored is extremely unclear, seems pointlessly confusing and has multiple layers. It is also very unfair to candidates that are trying to have a logical goal to follow. Let’s start by looking at some of the language used in the PTE scoring system.
Your overall PTE score
On your official PTE results form, you will be given an overall score of between 0 and 90 points for the PTE test. That seems relatively clear and straightforward. However, on the official results you are then given 10 other scores. The first 4 are the commonly accepted skills – reading, writing, listening and speaking – with 90 points as the maximum score for each skill. These are called the COMMUNICATIVE SKILLS. OK, so far so good. Underneath these 4 communicative skills you are given 6 more scores (again, with a maximum of 90 points for each one). These are called the ENABLING SKILLS, and are categorised as grammar, oral fluency, pronunciation, spelling, vocabulary and written discourse. Still with me? Good, because this is where it starts to get really confusing…!
You would think that your overall score would be the average of the 4 Communicative Skills and the 6 Enabling Skills, but it isn’t. OK, so is it the average of just the Communicative Skills? Again, no… Instead, the PTE now introduces ANOTHER layer of scoring, which they refer to as ‘Traits’.
So what are ‘traits’?
These are the aspects you are actually marked on. Now some of these traits are the same as the Enabling Skills. For example, pronunciation is an Enabling Skill and is also a trait. However, some of these ‘traits’ are sub sections of the Enabling Skills. For example, the Enabling Skills ‘Written discourse’ is broken into 2 traits – Development, structure and coherence AND general linguistic range.
So there are Communicative Skills and Enabling Skills (divided into traits). That’s it, right?
No…! There are also parts of the test that are rated based on something else called Content and Form. Although it’s now become pretty confusing, Content and Form are relatively straightforward. For example, if you write an essay that’s completely off the topic, you get 0 points for Content and therefore 0 points for the entire question. If you write an essay that is relevant to the question (good content) but too short (it needs to be between 200 and 300 words), you lose points for ‘form’.
Phew! That’s extremely complicated! How about each question in the test? What score do I get for those?
Well, first off, the PTE refers to questions as ‘Items’. For some items (especially those that test your reading skills), each item has a simple scoring guide – if it’s right, you get a point, if it’s not you get no points. However, for other ‘items’ (questions), you can actually score minus points (multiple choice questions for example – choosing the wrong answer will cost points!). With other questions, the scoring becomes more complicated again. For example, in Part 1: Speaking & Writing, item #4 (describing an image) will give you a score based on three aspects – content, pronunciation and oral fluency. For each of these three aspects, you can score anything from 0 to 5 points, meaning you could score anywhere from 0 to 15 points. However, in Part 1: Speaking & Writing, item #8 (writing an essay), you are assessed based on SEVEN different criteria (content; form; development/structure/coherence; grammar; general linguistic range; vocabulary range; spelling). Scores for each of these criteria are from 0 to 2 or from 0 to 3, meaning that a perfect score for this question also gives you a maximum of 15 points.