PTE Preparation Blog

Describe Image - Understand the Game

To many PTE test takers, describe image question type appears difficult. The reason for this is because they are confused about how to prepare in 25 seconds; what aspects of the image to describe in...

Author: GLS LLP       Date: 10-03-2017

To many PTE test takers, describe image question type appears difficult. The reason for this is because they are confused about how to prepare in 25 seconds; what aspects of the image to describe in 40 seconds; what is the appropriate English syntax to use and lack of practice. The first step to overcome any problem is to understand the problem. When you understand the problem, it is then possible to come up with strategies suited to yourself. Understanding these difficulties in describe image question type is the focus of this blog. Once you understand the challenges that you will face in this question type from this blog; it will prepare you to move on to our other blogs in this section, describing various strategies to overcome these problems. After some practice, you will realize that describe image is just as easy as repeat sentence or read aloud question types and you will be ready to face the biggest describe image monster questions that PTE may throw at you with ease.

The task

Describe image is a long answer speaking item type that has 6 or 7 questions. You will be assessed only on your speaking skills. The task entails that you describe an image on screen within 40 seconds. In this item type, PTE Academic tests your ability to describe an image from an academic source.

The top section of the screen for the describe image question will contain instructions. These will almost always be the same and will say something to affect that "Look at the graph below. In 25 seconds, please speak into the micro phone and describe in detail what the graph is showing. You will have 40 seconds to give your response". The time to prepare is 25 seconds, and time to give your answer is 40 seconds. The instructions will remain constant for all auestions in this item type. The only piece of information that varies and is important to note in instructions is the type of image. The image could be a graph, picture, map, chart or table. The reason you must make note of this information is because you may use this same word in your response to describe the type of image in the introduction part. Many test takers are confused about what to call the image in their response. Be confused no more.

At the center of the screen, on the left there will be an image that you have to describe and on the right, there will be the audio recorder with a timer. The timer will count down from 25 seconds. After, the preparation time of 25 seconds, you will hear a short tone. Soon after tone, the audio recorder status will change to "recording" and the microphone opens to record your answer.

Be Advised, the PTE recorder automatically stops recording after 3 seconds of silence. Students often try to beat the recorder by making a humming noise. This does not help. The machine scoring system will identify this noise and your score will be affected.


We have found that PTE test takers equipped with the knowledge of PTE machine scoring system do far better than students who are not. No matter the level of your English Skills, If you understand the machine scoring system and apply this knowledge in the context of English skills that you lag in and if you are smart enough, you can develop strategies and techniques suited to yourself, to beat the machine and maximize score.

The communicative skill scored in this section is Speaking.

The sub skills tested in this section are Speaking for a purpose (to repeat, inform, explain); supporting an opinion with details, examples and explanations; organizing an oral presentation in a logical way; developing complex ideas within a spoken discourse; using words and phrases appropriate to the context; using correct grammar; speaking at a natural rate; producing fluent speech; using correct intonation; using correct pronunciation; using correct stress; and speaking under timed conditions.

To measure your aptitude in the above sub skills, the machine scoring system will mark you on the following 3 enabling skills.

  • Content
  • Pronunciation
  • Oral Fluency

These 3 enabling skills comprise all the sub skills mentioned earlier that the machine scoring system will be looking at. The total score for describe image question type is got by adding the score for enabling skills. This score is than allocated to communicative skill of speaking and overall score.


Content, is the first enabling skill that the machine scoring system will be looking at. The maximum score for content is 5 and the minimum score is 0. If you score 0; which is quite difficult unless you don't attempt the question; the machine scoring system will not mark you on other enabling skills and your score for that particular question will be 0.

You get the maximum score 5, if you identify and address all the aspects and elements of the image and their relationships, possible developments, conclusion or implications.

You score 4, if you identify and describe all the key elements, their relations and their implications or conclusions.

You score 3, if you describe the most key elements of the image with their implication or conclusions.

You score 2, if you deal with only one key element and one conclusion and display basic understanding of several core concepts of the image.

You score 1, if you describe some basic elements of the image, but do not make their interrelations and implications clear.

You score 0, if you mention some disjointed elements of the image

By now most of you will be wondering what elements or aspects of an image are and how to identify these. Believe it or not, this is the easiest part and scoring full marks for content, in our opinion, is just as easy as for repeat sentence or read aloud question types. Read our next blog "Describe Image - how to get the scores you need in one attempt" and by the end of it, you will have the skills to identify the elements and realize that indentifying and describing elements of an image is just like reading a text aloud.


After content, You will be marked on the enabling skill of pronunciation. Scoring for Pronunciation is easy and probability of scoring high is more compared to other speaking items, such as, read aloud and repeat sentence. You can score a maximum 5 and lowest 0 for pronunciation. According to the PTE score guide, to get the maximum score 5, pronounce all vowel and consonants in a manner that is easily understood by regular speakers of English. You have to display that you can combine sounds or delete sounds, where needed, in words, in a manner that is appropriate to continuous speech. Furthermore, you should display correct stress on individual words and words in context of a sentence. You score 0 only if more than half of what you speak is not understandable and your speech sounds like another language. You can learn more about pronunciation in our blog "Improve English speaking and pronouciation skills while having fun".

Oral Fluency

The scoring for Oral Fluency is quite simple. All the machine scoring system wants to know is if you can speak in a constant, smooth rhythm without hesitations, repetitions, unwanted pauses and false starts. You get maximum score of 5 if you can display the above skills in your speech without any errors and minimum score 0, only if you speak too slowly and display characteristics of a person who has problem comprehending English.

Since one has to speak impromptu, scoring high for oral fluency could seem a bit difficult to test takers with no proper PTE preparation. However, despair not, for in our next "Describe image - how to get the scores you need in one attempt" we will give you tips and strategies, which when perfected with proper practice will make describe image question type seem like child's play.

If you understand the game for describe image question type, continue to our next blog to get tips and strategies that with practice will build the essential sub skills that will help you maximize score in each of the enabling skills of content, pronunciation and oral fluency and communicative skills of speaking for this item type.

If you are ready for practice of describe image item type, you can take the next step in your PTE Preparation by enrolling in one of our PTE preparation courses. You will get to practice your skills in an environment that stimulates actual PTE test. You will have the G-Analytics tool to tell you what skills you need to focus on most and personal tutor feedback to help you with any difficulties that you may face along the way. So you get the scores you need in one attempt. Have a look at our courses section to learn more.

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