STUDY ABROAD: Why PTE is rising in the popularity stakes

Globally, its volume grew by approximately 50% in 2023, administering over 1 million tests per year as per Pearson’s annual report 2023

Proficiency in the English language plays a crucial role for overseas aspirants who need to mandatorily take English proficiency tests in their pursuit of higher education abroad, better job opportunities, higher salaries and a better social life. In the context of colleges worldwide, these tests ensure that students can understand lectures, read academic materials, participate in classroom discussions, and write research papers.

Globally, the English assessment market is £1 billion. “In India, over 1.8 million English proficiency tests were conducted in 2023 specifically for opportunities to study, immigrate, or work abroad,” says Özhan Toktas, senior vice president, Pearson English Language Learning (ELL), who is in India for the launch of two products: Versant English Certificate and MondlyWORKS, which are targeted at corporate employees' learning and development (L&D). “The newly launched products integrate AI as the key component in language learning and assessment, enabling the streamlining of recruitment and the accurate evaluation of candidates' language proficiency,” he says.

AI is a key enabler of the Pearson Test of English (PTE) as well, which is a part of the company’s global mobility initiative and witnessing growth in India. “The two-hour assessment, being AI-enabled, is unbiased,” emphasises Toktas highlighting the exam’s recognition in destinations such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the US and the UK. Total 99% of Canadian universities, 100% of Australian universities, and over 3,300 universities worldwide including Oxford University, Harvard Business School, Yale, Stanford University, University of British Columbia, among others, accept PTE Academic scores. “The popularity of the test has increased, with PTE’s acceptance by the Canadian government for economic migration and student visas. Globally, its volume grew by around 50% in 2023, administering over 1 million tests per year as reported in our annual report 2023,” Toktas says.

As to its demand across various programmes for overseas study, he explains, “The United States offers numerous opportunities for STEM courses, while countries like France and Switzerland are preferable for hospitality programmes. PTE is used by a diverse range of learners for their study abroad plans, not limited to any specific field or course.” Talking about the effectiveness of the exam’s format, Toktas explains test takers can book online up to 24 hours in advance, take advantage of the year-round worldwide test centre slots and receive their results on average within 1.3 days. This seems to make it the fastest among the other proficiency tests that release the results anywhere between 7-13 days.

While the two other assessment tests – IELTS and TOEFL – are in both pen and paper, and online formats, PTE, however, is a fully computerised AI-based test. “This makes the exam stress-free for the test taker, without the need for human intervention,” Toktas adds. Highlighting the difficulty levels of the assessment exams, he says different tests have different scores, but they are all mapped to a single score (which is the standard) as laid down by the regulatory authorities of a particular country where the tests are recognised. “We do have a suite of preparation materials, from books to question banks and practice papers but ultimately it is the skill and practice which will help candidates do better in the exams,” he adds.

Evidently, Punjab, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana are the leading areas for study-abroad opportunities in India. Moreover, India sends the maximum students abroad followed by China.

English is a strong employability skill, Toktas says, further adding, the use of AI or ChatGPT has increased the need for English language proficiency in recent years. “The demand for English language learning has consistently risen globally, driven by increasing globalisation, cross-border trade, and communication. Our recent report highlights this trend, with 85% of respondents stating that English is important for their work life and will continue to be so in the foreseeable future. Additionally, 79% believe that English is important today, with this number rising to 81% for personal life importance in five years,” he elaborates. “While we see AI as an enabler, a language skill developed with English makes a learner more resilient and adaptive. Combining both AI and English proficiency, learners can become globally competitive,” he adds.

Key differentiators

Based on the purposes and catering to distinct audiences depending on the countries’ requirements, PTE can either be PTE Academic or PTE Core. Both tests assess the four key English language skills: speaking, listening, reading, and writing. However, the content and structure of the tests differ.

PTE Academic primarily targets academic test takers, such as students applying to universities or colleges, focusing on evaluating language skills within academic contexts. In contrast, PTE Core is specifically designed for vocational test takers, emphasising real-life, non-academic scenarios relevant to professions and daily interactions. Additionally, the scoring criteria and test format may vary between the two tests to accommodate their respective target audiences.

Further, PTE Core is for Canadian economic visa purposes only at present. People wanting to study in Canada for both Student Direct Stream (SDS) visas or worldwide and to live or work in the UK, Australia or New Zealand need to take PTE Academic as usual. Test takers should consider their specific objectives and linguistic competencies when choosing between the two tests.