English spelling can be difficult and inconsistent. As a child growing up in the UK and Australia, I was taught to revere good spelling, and I was forced to drill it on a regular basis. Surprise spelling tests, dictation exercises and competitions were commonplace. When I was growing up in Western Australia in the 1980s, a mildly sadistic form of punishment for tardiness or bad behaviour was having to write out the ‘100 demons’, a list of the hundred most commonly misspelled words in the English language. (If you ever meet a 40-something from Perth, do ask them about it!). Archaic anecdotes aside, PTE spelling is still of vital importance to those who dream of achieving a perfect PTE 90!
In the United States, children take part in ‘Spelling Bees’ from an early age. The biggest annual event of its kind is the Scripps National Spelling Bee, a massive, televised event that offers tens of thousands of dollars in prize money to the lucky winners.
Meanwhile, while English grammar is usually taught poorly to native speakers of English, spelling is a different story. We were taught rules which we remember to this day, but the abundance of exceptions made it a tricky business. Some of these memorable rules have been jettisoned completely, such at “’I’ before ‘E’ except after ‘C’”, because of the overwhelming number of exemptions including atheist, leisure, society and neighbour.
The advent of Microsoft Word has been devastating to people’s spelling skills. Even as I write this article, words are automatically corrected or underlined to indicate one issue or another. The result is that we have become lazy about how we spell, delegating accuracy to artificial intelligence and turning our brains to a thoughtless mush.
PTE SPELLING TIPS AND RULES
That said, there are still some tips and rules you will find enormously helpful in your pursuit of improved PTE spelling outcomes. (And don’t forget, there are exceptions to every rule!)
- Stop writing in Microsoft Word. As soon as you know you’ll be taking the PTE, start using Note or Notepad, programs that won’t highlight your errors. In the PTE you’ll be typing out your answers on a keyboard, so it’s good practice to do this as often as possible. If you want to check your work, copy and paste the text into Word. For added accuracy, you can use a free plugin like Grammarly.
- Make a log of your 100 demons. You should even consider doing this old-school style in an exercise book:
i) write down the word;
ii) write out its definition and a couple of synonyms;
iii) write out one or two sentences using the word in context.
- Spend a few minutes each day writing these words out. If you have someone to dictate the words at random, that’d be most helpful.
- In the PTE, spelling is but one aspect of your writing assessment. Spelling accurately does matter, of course, but it’s not the end of the world if your Enabling Skills spelling score is relatively low. Apocryphal evidence suggests that it is possible to attain a perfect 90 in writing despite a poor showing in spelling.
- Beware of homophones. These are words that are pronounced the same as another word but have a different meaning: they might also be spelled differently. Here are some examples of common homophones:
- ad, add
- ate, eight
- be, bee
- I’ll, aisle, isle
- blew, blue
- buy, by, bye
- cell, sell
- hear, here
- hour, our
- its, it’s
PTE SPELLING RULES
About those PTE spelling rules I mentioned, there are many more than the ones listed below, of course, but these
- English words are often non-phonetic. This means that they often don’t sound as they are written (e.g.: head, find, loan). Sometimes, you do spell ‘em as you say ‘em, though (e.g.: cat, bed, hit).
- When you have a consonant-vowel-consonant word (e.g.: big, hit, pot) the vowel in the middle makes a short sound. When these words are built upon, the consonant must be doubled to preserve the short vowel sound:
- big/ bigger/biggest
- Every word has a vowel (sometimes using a ‘Y’ instead, which is a vowel sound).
- Every syllable has a vowel (again, sometimes using a ‘Y’). Practice breaking words down into their con-sti-tu-ent parts.
- Change the ‘Y’ to ‘I’ when adding a suffix.
- Beauty – beautiful
- Happy – happiness
- Apply – application
- Ready – readiness
- Add ‘ES’ to words that end in -S, -SS, -Z, -SH, -CH, -X
- Drop the ‘E’ when adding a vowel suffix.
- Write – writing
- Hope – hoped
- Sense – sensible
- Oppose – opposition
- Like – likable
- Drop one ‘L’ from ‘ALL’ at the start of words.