PTE Preparation Blog

Re-tell lecture - How to get the scores you need in one attempt

In this blog, you will find tips and strategies that will make the re-tell lecture question type seem like a walk in the park and help you score well, consistently...

Author: GLS LLP       Date: 10-03-2017

In this blog, you will find tips and strategies that will make the re-tell lecture question type seem like a walk in the park and help you score well, consistently. However, before you proceed further, I strongly recommend that you read "Re-tell lecture - Understand the Game" blog. It will give you a strong basis to understand and implement the tips and strategies in this blog.

If you have read "Re-tell lecture: Understand the Game" blog, you would have learned that the enabling skills of content, pronunciation and oral fluency comprise the following sub skills:

  • Speaking with a purpose (to repeat, to inform, to explain)
  • Supporting an opinion with details, examples and explanations
  • Organizing an oral presentation in a logical way
  • Using correct grammar
  • Speaking at a natural rate
  • Producing fluent speech
  • Using correct intonation
  • Using correct pronunciation
  • Using correct stress
  • Speaking under timed conditions

These sub skills are the same as for describe image; however, the context in which you display these skills is quite different. In describe image, the goal was to describe what you see. In re-tell lecture, the goal is to describe what you hear. So, the preparation part is different but what and how to speak part will remain same for both these items. However, for completion sake we have repeated tweaked up strategies and tips for the speaking part in this blog.

Speaking with a purpose

Speaking with a purpose is an interrelated skill. To be able to speak with a purpose, you have to first understand what you hear. If you understand what you hear, you will automatically speak in an organized manner, speak clearly, use correct grammar, intonate and stress correctly. This one skill is key to all other enabling skills.

Now Speaking with a purpose is something that we do every day. You may not be doing it consciously and in English but you certainly are speaking with a purpose when you vocalize your thoughts and feelings, no matter the language you use. When you speak with a purpose, you subconsciously, understand the topic; speak in an organized manner; speak clearly; take appropriate pauses; and use correct intonation and stress. You do this, so that the listener not only understands the words but also understands the meaning of your words in context of the emotions that you have about the topic.

The machine scoring system expects you to do the same, except you have to express what you understood from listening to a lecture. The broad purpose with which you speak will often be a mix. A part of the lecture could be to repeat; another part could be to explain while the remaining could be to inform. The purpose with which you speak will come naturally if you understand what you hear.

While preparing

The 3 seconds time before the lecture plays plus the duration of the audio recording plus the 10 seconds time before the microphone opens is your preparation time. To make most of this time, keep a note pad and pen handy. Now, do not listen with intent to memorize or make note of sentences or random words, which you think will enable you to speak for 40 seconds. This exercise will be futile, for the simple reason that you will not be able to memorize or make note of everything the speaker says and secondly, you have to use your own words to retell lecture.

What do you make notes of? You make notes of macro and micro topics; what information and explanation about these topics are being put forward; interrelations; implications and conclusion. Do not try to note whole sentences; you may miss important points while you are writing these sentences. Just write one to two words at max. These words should be such that you will most strongly associate with the point in the speech and when you come across it while revisiting your notes, you will recall what the speaker said about that topic.

Now, you may have an image that will tell you about the macro or primary topic of the lecture. Macro topic is the primary topic which text or speech intends to explain or inform its audience about. For example, if you see a picture of a process representing Australian economy, your macro or primary topic is Australian economy. Write down Australian economy at the top of the page and on left side of the page draw a line, from where you wrote the macro topic to the bottom of page. Do this in the first 3 seconds before the lecture starts playing.

Next, listen to the lecture with a goal to understand the micro or sub topics covered and what is being said about these micro or sub topics. For example, Australian economy is the macro or primary topic. This topic has a number of aspects. All of which cannot be covered by a speaker in 90 seconds. So the speaker chooses to speak about Australian economy in the context of fiscal and monetary policy only. So, fiscal and monetary policies are your micro or sub topics. draw a short horizontal line along the left vertical line that you drew earlier and write fiscal policy. Leave a few rows down the vertical line on the left, draw another short horizontal line and write monetary policy. If there are more micro or sub topics repeat the same process for them.

Next, as you listen identify what points are being made about the macro and micro topics. Make a note of these points in separate lines, in the order that you hear them, below the macro or micro topics that these points relate to. If you hear, something that relates to more than one micro topic, write these points on a separate section of your notepad that will indicate what micro topics these points relate to. These will form part of interrelations or implications that you have to retell in your lecture to score full points for content.

About the conclusion. Many test takers complain that they are unable to find conclusion in some lectures. My guess is because there is none. However, these students still manage to do very well in retell lecture. My advice is keep your ears out for conclusion, if you do get it, note the primary point of the conclusion.

Keep listening and making notes till the end of lecture. At the end of the lecture and before the microphone opens you will have 10 seconds to prepare your answer. One way to utilize this time is to quietly practice retelling the lecture in your own words. You look at your notebook only to recall the next point. At first, you may not be able to practice the entire speech. However, with practice, you can learn to practice the whole speech quietly in 10 seconds. Another way to utilize the 10 seconds is to go through what you noted down and see if you can recall the points the speaker made and quietly decide what and how you are going to make the same points in your own words.

If there are too many points to say in your speech along with the interrelations and conclusion. Highlight the most important points and prepare to speak about them along with their inter-relationships and conclusion.

While speaking

After the micro phone has opened do not speak as someone who is not sure of the words and sentences to use to express the image. Even if you are speaking in incorrect grammar; pronunciation and stress; speak confidently. Hesitation or correcting, lack of confidence will not get you points but will definitely cost you.

Furthermore, use your most powerful tool, IMAGINATION, speak as if you are speaking to an audience, speak as a lecturer; with conviction; speak as if you are providing them with information that no one has ever heard of before; or you are trying to explain something that nobody has ever understood before. Be excited about what you are speaking and imagine that your audience is just as excited to hear your words. When you do this you will automatically be speaking with a purpose and clearly, with correct intonation and stress. So focus on speaking with purpose, rest will come automatically.

Supporting an opinion with details, examples and explanations

There are facts and then there are opinions. Opinions are drawn from facts. Facts remain constant but opinions that one draws from those facts will vary for every individual.

Similarly, the information and explanations that the speakers provide in retell lecture questions will consist of facts and opinions. You need to decide whether the point that the speaker makes is a fact or his opinion. This is not a science for which I can give you a formula. It is an art. It requires good judgment which comes with practice. If you understand the lecture you should have no problem allocating topic points to fact and opinions. You can provide the speakers opinion by saying something to the effect "The speaker is of the opinion ....". If the speaker has given arguments and examples in support of his opinion then mention those arguments and examples in your speech. You can do so by using the phrases "The speaker argues..."; "To support his opinion the speaker argues..."; "According to the speaker...","For example..."; "The speaker provides an example/gives an example... to support his point".

Organizing an oral presentation in a logical way

When you vocalize your thoughts, you do it so that your audience understands you. To achieve this goal, you present your ideas in a coherent manner that will make sense to your audience. Similarly for the retell lecture question, you need to present your ideas in a manner that the machine scoring system understands. To give this effect, it is important to imagine that you are speaking to an audience and you wish them to understand the original speaker through your words. This is actually quite easy.

While preparing

To be able to retell the lecture in a logical manner you must prepare, logically. If you follow the advice in the "while preparing" section of "Speaking with a purpose" in this blog, this is quite simple. In this section, you will learn how to sew your notes together in a coherent manner and compose the introduction, body and conclusion part of your speech.


In introduction, you describe what the lecture is about. In the introduction you simply mention the macro or primary topics and the micro or sub topics. Since you have only 40 seconds your introduction should not be more than one sentence long and not take more than 7 seconds. For example, if the macro or primary topic of the essay was Australian economy and the micro or sub topics were fiscal and monetary policy with one implication, your introduction could be something to effect of "The speaker is talking about Australian economy in the context of its fiscal and monetary policy and it's implication on wider regional economies".


In the body, you present the elements of the lecture in the order that the speaker used and in the order that you have them in your notes. In your own words inform or explain what the speaker had to say about the various topics covered. If the speaker described more than one implication or interrelationship; mention these implications and interrelationships after you have covered those points and then move on to other points.

If there are just 4 points and 1 implication and you devote no more than one sentence for each point/element, you can easily finish the body section within 26 seconds depending on complexity of sentences. If there are more than 4 points, try to combine points in one sentence or choose the most relevant points. The relevant points will be the ones without which the implication or conclusion cannot be logically presented.


Conclusion is the last part of speakerís speech and will be last part of your speech. If no clear conclusion is given than an implication or interrelationship could very well form a conclusion. Keep conclusion short and simple. Which means do not devote more than one sentence unless you have more than 5 seconds left to finish registering your answer.

Using correct grammar

Do not be experimenting with complex grammar for retell lecture question type in the actual test. Such experimentation could cost you points. Use grammar that comes naturally and you are comfortable with.

Speaking at a natural rate

We have observed students either speak too fast to cover all the points in the lecture or too slow so that they speak the full 40 seconds. These strategies will cost you points. Speak at a volume and rate of speech that comes naturally to you if you were speaking to a classroom full of non-native users of English language. If you do this, you will sound pleasant, pronounce clearly, intonate and stress correctly.

Producing fluent speech

All the machine wants to know is if you can retell lecture with a constant, smooth rhythm without hesitations, repetitions, unwanted pauses and false starts. If you are well prepared and you know with clarity the elements you will be describing and the syntax you will use, fluency will flow automatically. Most important of all, to achieve fluency speak with a purpose and at a natural rate.

Using correct pronunciation

Scoring high is easy for retell lecture question type. For this task, just use the words that you are familiar with and can pronounce correctly. If you come across complex unfamiliar words in the course of listening; practice pronouncing these words quietly as you take notes. We have observed students with less than reasonable English skills score full marks for pronunciation. So do this right and you will have 5 points in your score bag.

Many test takers assume that correct pronunciation means pronouncing in native speakers accent. If you try to copy any accent, you may not sound natural or appear speaking with a purpose or pronouncing correctly. This may cost you points. Now, all the machine scoring system wants to know is if you can pronounce words in a manner that could be clearly understood by general users of the English language. This means, while you do need to pronounce correctly you will not be penalized for your accent. So be advised, do not try to copy any accent, speak naturally and pronounce the words correctly in your own accent. Please, read our blog "Improve English speaking and pronouciation skills while having fun" to learn how to pronounce any word correctly.

Using correct intonation and stress

Intonation is the rise and fall of voice while speaking. Intonation could be a major problem for some non-native speakers of English. Non-native speakers tend to use intonation as in their native language, which may not be appropriate when speaking English.

While speaking

As a general rule, always remember to start a sentence high and end low. To give this effect, practice by taking a deep breath at the start of every sentence. Stress on words that reflect your opinion or reflect a change in trend or to highlight a value or process.

Speaking under timed conditions

This is not as easy for retell lecture question type as it is for other speaking question types. You have 40 seconds to give your answer and you must finish your answer within that time. Many test takers, tend to keep speaking till the end of countdown and do not finish their response. This does not abode well for your score.

To answer the question in totality and within 40 seconds you have to be well prepared. Devote no more than one short sentence for introduction, each important element and conclusion. If there are many elements choose 4 most important elements. If you finish speaking about all elements within 26 seconds, describe another and keep adding elements to describe till you reach 26 seconds. If you finish speaking within 34 and 40 seconds, stop. If, you finish your conclusion in less than 34 seconds, add another line to your conclusion. Please note that the cut off times that I have presented depend on rate of speech and will vary for each individual. So, prepare a similar timed speaking strategy for yourself.

I hope you found the tips in this section helpful. For complete PTE preparation, I strongly recommend that you enroll for one of our PTE preparation courses to practice your skills in an environment that stimulates actual PTE test. You will get G-Analytics to tell you what skills you need to focus on most and personal tutor coaching to help you with any difficulties that you face. So you get the scores you need in one attempt.

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