PTE Preparation Blog

Describe Image - How to get the scores you need in one attempt

In this blog, you will find strategies and tips that will make describe image question type seem like a walk in the park...

Author: GLS LLP       Date: 10-03-2017

In this blog, you will find strategies and tips that will make describe image question type seem like a walk in the park. However, before you proceed further, I strongly recommend that you read the blog "Describe Image - Understand the Game". It will give you a strong basis to understand and implement the tips and strategies in this blog.

If you have read "Describe Image - Understand the Game" blog, you will know that to score pull marks in the enabling skills of content, pronunciation and oral fluency; you will have to display 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

The questions that arise and often confuse test takers is how does one speak with a purpose? How does one organize oral presentation in a logical way? What is natural rate of speech for describe image? how does one use correct intonation, pronunciation and stress? Well, your curiosity will be laid to rest in this blog.

Speaking with a purpose

Speaking with a purpose is not difficult. It 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, you subconsciously take appropriate pauses, use correct intonation and stress, so that the listener not only understands the words but also understands the meaning of your words along with the emotions you have about the topic.

The machine scoring system expects you to do the same except you have to express what you see in an image. The macro or broad purpose with which you will be describing image will always be dual; to inform and to explain. What the machine scoring system is interested in if you can show attitude in your speech by using correct intonation and stress in your own individualistic way.

While preparing

You will have 25 seconds of preparation time. During this time do not take your eyes off the image. Make notes, but without taking eyes off the image. As you make small bullet points on paper or notes in your head of all the important elements in the image that you will present in your speech, also plan, what words and sentences are you going to present those ideas in. If you have time, quietly practice in your head; how you are going to express the image in your words when the micro phone opens.

While describing image

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 any points but will definitely cost you.

Use your most powerful tool, IMAGINATION, speak as if you are speaking to an audience, speak as a woman/man of 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 has never been understood before. Be excited about what you are speaking and imagine that your listeners are even more excited to hear your words. When you do this you will automatically be speaking with a purpose and clearly, with correct intonation and stress.

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.

In the context of describe image questions you will have to draw opinions. You will have to express opinions about the trend that line chart shows whether it was a dramatic or gradual increase or decline in trend or opinions about the highest and lowest values in case of bar charts or pie charts or a comparison of the elements in the image. The conclusion that you draw from the image is also an opinion.

Supporting an opinion in the context of describe images mean that you give all the details, examples and explanations, from what you see in the image. Do not give details, examples and explanations from your personal experiences. If the line charts shows a dramatic increase, explain why you think it's a dramatic increase. You can say something to the effect that "in 2002 - 2003 period the production of apples increased dramatically by 50% from 20% to 70%". The same goes for conclusion. If the line chart shows trends in apple production for 4 countries, your conclusion should comprise the strongest and weakest trends and support it with values from the chart. For example, you can say something to the effect that "In conclusion, Brazil showed the highest increase in apple production from 20,000 MT in 2000 to 80,000 in 2005; while Russia's production was lowest and actually declined during the same period from 40,000 MT to 28,000 MT" if you have time to finish another sentence, give the second highest and second lowest producers of apples.

Since you have only 40 seconds to finish your answer do not devote more than one sentence to each important element of the image. If there are too many elements in the image choose only the most significant and no more than 4 elements, such as the 2 highest and 2 lowest values.

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 describe image 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 and see the image through your words. This is actually quite easy.

While preparing

To be able to present the image in a logical manner you must prepare, logically. This is quite simple. During your preparation time, the first piece of information that you prepare is "introduction". You than prepare the body of your speech, that is the elements of the image in the order of their importance to defining the image. "Conclusion" is presented at the end and should be the last part that you prepare.

Introduction

In introduction, you describe what the image is about. If it is a chart describe what kind of chart it is. Let's assume it is a line chart. What does the chart show? Let's assume it is trends in apple production in 4 countries. What values are used in the chart? Let's assume it is metric tons for quantity and years for period. So your introduction for such an image could be something to the effect "The image shows a line chart which depicts the trend of apple production in (name of countries)/4 countries between/during 2000 and/to 2005". Easy isn't it. Similarly for an image that shows a process, just say what process is it describing.

Body

In the body, you present the elements of the image in the order of their importance. Similarly while preparing; you prepare the elements in order of importance. If there are many elements, you will have to choose the most important elements to speak about. As a general rule in a chart choose elements with the highest and lowest values. This could be difficult in some line charts. For line charts simply choose the elements that have highest and lowest values at the end of the trend period. For long processes, describe in summary only the important and biggest processes and just briefly mention other small processes in the process chain.

Conclusion

Conclusion is the last part of your speech and should be prepared last. If you run out of time to prepare for conclusion just speak impromptu or leave it out of your speech. In conclusion, you only present the ideas that can be drawn from the image. Your conclusion should not be affected by your personal knowledge and opinions.

Your conclusion should be short and simple. For example in the apple production example your conclusion could be something to the effect "In conclusion, (name of country) showed the largest increase in apple production of 80,000 MT, while, (name of country) showed the greatest decline in apple production of 20,000 MT."

Using correct grammar

If you are well prepared and practiced, correct grammar will flow automatically. You know what the general content of the images will be. It can either be a line, bar or pie chart or a process. Now, you can learn sentences that you can repeatedly use in various combinations to present parts of introduction, body and conclusion for these images. For example no matter the content of the image, you always start with "The image shows...", "the image depicts ...", or "The image presents...". Similarly you can prepare a group of words or sentences for various parts of your speech to describe the content of the images. Please be advised, that you will have to show variety in your vocabulary and phrases. In our next blog "Vocabulary and phrases for describe image", we have presented a variety of words and common phrases that you can use for this task. However when you speak with these prepared phrases, do not sound monotonous, remember to sound natural and speak with a purpose. Remember, the key to correct grammar in describe image question is good preparation and practice

Speaking at a natural rate

We have observed students either speak too fast to cover all the elements in the image 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 will come naturally to you if you were speaking to a classroom full of non-native users of English language. This is easy but requires practice. 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 describe image with a constant, smooth rhythm without hesitations, repetitions, unwanted pauses and false starts. If you are well prepared and know with clarity the elements you will be speaking about and the syntax that you will use, fluency will flow automatically. Most important of all, to achieve fluency speak with a purpose and at a natural rate.

While preparing

Good preparation is the key to success in the describe image question type. So, make most of 25 seconds preparation time that you get. Identify the elements you will be speaking about. As you identify elements, quietly choose and practice the syntax you will be using to describe these elements. While these tips and strategies are useful, there is no alternate to practice.

Learning to use preparation time efficiently for describe image is a learned skill and requires practice. We have observed students mastering this skill through practice. So, practice describe image as much as you can and if you do it right, you too can be masters of describe image question type.

While describing image

Do not devote more than one sentence for the introduction, each element's description, the inter-relations if any and the conclusion. If you do make a mistake while describing image, do not correct yourself, just carry on. Correcting will not get you any additional points but will definitely cost you points.

Using correct pronunciation

Scoring high is easy for describe image question type. For this task, just use the words that you are familiar with and can pronounce correctly. 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 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 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 the intonation as in their native language, which may not be appropriate when speaking in English.

While describing image

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 describe image question type as 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 and practiced. 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 25 seconds, describe another and keep adding elements to describe till you reach 25 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. For example, add the second highest and lowest value 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 coaching to help you with any difficulties that you may face. So you get you the scores you need in one attempt.


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