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The perfect PTE Reading and Listening questions are one that seems very straightforward. One of the answer choices screams out to you, “Pick me, I make perfect sense.” You choose this answer, and a feeling of relief washes over you. Blithely, you continue on, totally oblivious to the fact that you walked straight into a trap.

Questions on PTE are rarely that easy. The test makers spend a long time choosing the distractors (which is test-speak for the wrong answer) so that if you are not careful, you will get the question wrong. One obvious solution is to be more mindful and spend fifteen seconds thinking over the alluring answer choice. Part of this process should include rereading the question (unfortunately, you cannot listen to the recording in the listening section). Oftentimes, there is one little word or a group of words that changes everything. For example:

Read the text and answer the multiple-choice question by selecting the correct response. Only one response is correct.

Indigenous Americans: The Sioux

Sioux or Dakota, is a confederation of Native North American tribes, the dominant group of the Hokan-Siouan linguistic stock, which is divided into several separate branches. The Sioux, or Dakota, consisted of seven tribes in three major divisions: Wahpekute, Mdewakantonwan, Wahpetonwan and Sisitonwan (who together formed the Santee or Eastern division, sometimes referred to as the Dakota); the Ihanktonwan or Yankton, and the Ihanktonwana or Yanktonai (who together formed the Middle division, sometimes referred to as the Nakota); and the Titonwan or Teton (who together formed the Western division, sometimes referred to as the Lakota). The Tetons, originally a single band, divided into seven sub-bands after the move to the plains. These seven sub-bands include the Hunkpapa, Sihasapa (or Blackfoot), and Oglala.

The major divisions of the Sioux people of North America are ___________.

  1. A) the Wahpekute, Mdewakantonwan, Wahpetonwan and Sisitonwan
  2. B) the Santee, the Nakota and the Lakota
  3. C) the Hunkpapa, Sihasapa (or Blackfoot), and Oglala
  4. D) the Santee, the Eastern Division and the Dakota

(Question Source: The Official Guide to the Pearson Test of English Academic, Publisher: Pearson Education; 2 edition (21 June 2012), ISBN-10: 1447928911)

In this question, many of us are tempted to select (A), after we rush through the “passage” in our temptation to find the right answer quickly – only to get the answer wrong. See, the question is asking ‘the divisions of the Sioux people’. Wahpekute, Mdewakantonwan, Wahpetonwan, and Sisitonwan are tribes who together form the Santee or Eastern division. So, Eastern is one division. Now, you have to find two other divisions. The correct answer is B. Many questions will contain such lures which will force you to decide the answer hastily. That’s because the test makers know that many people are in a rush to find the answer and they will keep the obvious answer choices on the top of answer options. In a sense, many such questions are more about being careful than about raw comprehension skills. Of course, comprehension skills help. If you burrow down and spend a little more time looking for an alternative answer, you don’t fall into a classic PTE trap.

Not all such tricks are limited to Choose Single Answer questions. The Fill in the Blanks section is filled with potential pitfalls so that if you are rushing through the question, or simply not reading it accurately the first time, you will get the question wrong. Let’s take the following question.

Below is a text with blanks. Drag words from the box below to the appropriate place in the text. To undo an answer choice, drag the word back to the box below the text.

Many who talk about James Joyce and his books have a(n) __________________  relationship with his work: they can tell you about Finnegan’s Wake or Ulysses, and how inscrutable either novel is, though few, if any, have actually read these works.

(A) intimate

(B) superficial

(C) unstructured

(D) direct

(E) tortuous

(Source: Progressive Study Centre classroom teaching material)

In the inevitable time crunch of PTE, many of us skim really quickly. Often we don’t even read the entire sentence before our eyes dart towards the answer choices. But the answer choices are not manna from heaven; they are diabolically crafted to confuse and trap us.

Take this Fill in the Blanks text. We read to the first blank and are tempted to go to the answers and plug them in to see which words “feels” right. If you only read to the first blank and put in (A) intimate, it makes sense. People who talk about a writer and his or her books have an intimate relationship with his writing.  That answer turns out to be the opposite of the correct answer. If we read the last part of Fill in the Blanks text, we can see that those who talk about Joyce’s books haven’t actually read them (so much for intimate knowledge!). The answer is actually (B) superficial.

First off, notice how (A) is the answer choice at the top, and thus one the most likely to catch your eyes. That is not to say that (A) is always wrong, or the most tempting wrong answer choice. Yet, this is one trick that the test makers use. That said, distractors, or wrong answer choices, get us regardless of where they fall.

It is interesting to note that the most difficult questions—as ranked by the number of students who answer them correctly—are questions in which (E) is the answer. That is not to say that the test writers go out of their way to make (E) questions the most difficult. The thing is many students never even get to (E) because they are distracted by the neon sign flashing next to the answers and screaming, “Pick me!”

A good way to avoid this on the Fill in the Blanks questions is to think of your own word for the blank, once you’ve read the entire sentence. That way, you logically come up with a word instead of letting the wrong answers do the thinking for you.

The Listening section is out of the scope of this blog. If you are interested in learning more about the traps in PTE, access our Online Training Classes.

P.S. Ready to improve your PTE score? Get started today.




Eric Shrestha

About the Author

Eric scored 90 in all four Communicative Skills of PTE with 90 in all of Enabling Skills. He scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT with 117 out of 120 in TOEFL. He went on to graduate with a degree in Genetics and Biochemistry followed by 7 years of post-graduate study in Biomedical Sciences with a focus on cancer research. His GRE score was in the 99th percentile. Before migrating to Australia from the US, he attained 9 in Reading, 9 in Listening, 8.5 in Writing, and 8 in Speaking in IELTS. He is passionate about bringing education and the tools to succeed to students from all backgrounds and walks of life. He has years of tutoring experience and researches Natural Language Processing, Machine Learning, and Automated Essay Scoring in his free time.