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Overview of OET

  • October 09, 2020

Occupational English Test

The Occupational English Test (OET) is one way way for doctors to demonstrate their English language competencies. OET is designed specifically for healthcare professionals globally.

The OET exam assesses the language and communication skills of healthcare professionals who wish to receive a licence to practise in an English-speaking work environment. The test will provide a valid and reliable valuation of all four language skills – reading, writing, listening and speaking. However, they place prominence on testing candidate’s communication in professional healthcare settings.

The exam is available in over 100 locations and 45 countries, with a test date available every month. For details on which countries the OET exam is available click here.

After your OET exam has been graded you will receive a statement of results which will state each grade you received for each sub-test, from A (highest) to E (lowest). You must receive a grade B or above in all sub-tests to demonstrate your English language proficiency to the GMC.

What should I expect in the exam?

Listening (50 minutes)

The listening element of the exam consists of three parts, and a total of 42 questions . The question topics will be of general healthcare. The total length of the Listening audio is about 40 minutes, including recorded speech and pauses to allow you time to write your answers. You will hear each recording once and are expected to write your answers while listening.

Part A Consultation Extracts: In this part of the exam, you will listen to two 5 minute recordings of Consultations. You will be assessed on your ability to identify specific information and will be expected to complete the health professionals notes using the professional-patient consultation you hear.

Part B Short Workplace Extracts: In this part of the exam, you will listen to six 1 minute recordings. You will be  assessed on your ability to identify the detail, gist, opinion or purpose of the short extracts from the healthcare workplace. After listening to the workplace extracts (e.g. team briefings, handovers, or health professional-patient dialogues), you will answer one multiple-choice question for each.

Part C Presentation: Part C assesses your ability to follow a recorded presentation or interview on a range of accessible healthcare topics. You will listen to two different extracts (around 5 minutes each) and you will answer six multiple-choice questions for each extract.

Reading (60 minutes)

The reading element of the exam has three parts, and a total of 42 questions. It will take 60 minutes to complete and the topic will be of general healthcare interest.

Part A Expeditious Reading: Part A assesses your ability to locate specific information from four short texts in a quick and efficient manner. The four short texts relate to a single healthcare topic, and you must answer 20 questions in 15 minutes. The 20 questions consist of matching, sentence completion and short answer questions.

Part B Careful Reading Task 1: Part B assesses your ability to identify the detail, gist or main point of six short texts sourced from the healthcare workplace (100-150 words each). The texts might consist of extracts from policy documents, hospital guidelines, manuals or internal communications, such as emails or memos. For each text, there is one three-option multiple-choice question.

Part C Careful Reading Task 2: Here, you will be assessed on your ability to identify detailed meaning and opinion in two texts on topics of interest to healthcare professionals (800 words each). For each text, you must answer eight four-option multiple choice questions.

Writing (45 minutes)

The writing part of the exam will take 45 minutes and will be healthcare professional-specific. There will be one set task, usually to write a referral letter for a patient. In addition to the task instructions, you will receive stimulus material such as case notes to help you write the letter.

Speaking (20 minutes)

Each OET candidate will take their speaking test individually and will take around 20 minutes. The test will form as a patient/client role-play. The exam will begin with a short warm-up conversation about your professional background and then the role-play will be introduced. You receive information for each role-play on a card that you keep while you do the role-play. The card explains the situation and what you are required to do. There will be two-role plays and each will last for about five minutes each, with 3 minutes given for preparation. Your presentation in the speaking exam will be scored against the following criterion: communicative effectiveness, fluency, appropriateness, fluency and intelligibility. 

How should I prepare for my OET exam?

Everyone learns differently and preparation for your OET exam will differ dependent on your skill set in each of the communication areas. However, below are useful tips to aid you in passing your OET exam.

  1. Assess your English skills – the first port of call is to assess your English skills and find out what your strengths and weaknesses are. Once you know what area you need to improve on you can create a revision timeline and then find an appropriate date to book your exam.
  2. Learn the exam format – if you practice all elements of the exam in the correct format prior to doing the actual exam you will not come across any unexpected questions, feel calm and will be able to put all your energy into excellent answers.
  3. Learn to identify key pieces of information – when reading through long text passages make sure you skim the information to pick up the most important pieces of information – this will save you a lot of time and will allow you to focus on your answer.
  4. Preparation in the speaking roleplay – Often, the role-player in the speaking exam will ask you to start the conversation. Therefore, you should know how to introduce the situation confidently and appropriately. For instance, if you are a Doctor in the Emergency Department you could say ‘Hello, I am the Doctor who will be looking after you today. I can see from your notes that…. How are you feeling?’.
  5. Reading will help your language skills – Try to read varied pieces of English publications before your test, such as newspaper articles and academic journal articles – because reading will improve your English in all communication areas. When reading your comprehension will progress in addition to your vocabulary widening and improvements on your spelling and grammar. Extra English reading can even be fun! Why don’t you try buying your favourite book in English or switching your Facebook language to English to give yourself a challenge!

Are there any similarities between OET and IELTS?

  1. Each test has four sub-tests, one for each form of communication: reading, listening, writing and speaking.
  2. Each test provides a graded score, there is no pass/fail but different institutions need test takers to achieve different scores. I.e. The GMC require a B in OET and a 7.5 in IELTS to qualify for GMC registration.

Are there any differences between OET and IELTS?

  1. Content – The main difference between the two tests is that IELTS is an academic English test. The exam will test your ability to write essays, understand academic articles and debate a wide range of topics from cultural trends to news headlines. However, the OET will test your healthcare English. The exam will test your ability to successfully communicate in medical scenarios, understand a patient consultation and write a referral letter.
  2. Preparation Requirements – Your preparation for IELTS will involve learning vast amounts of vocabulary on a wide range of academic subjects so you are fully prepared to read all academic texts quickly and effectively, discuss abstract questions and provide your opinions in detail. Whereas preparation for OET will involve you learning a wide range of healthcare and professional-specific vocabulary so you can easily engage with and participate in various clinical situations whilst understanding medical texts and talks.
  3. Scoring – IELTS is marked out of 9 and the GMC declare you must achieve a 7.5 overall and 7 in each sub-test. OET is graded from A (best grade) to E and the GMC requires a grade B to satisfy GMC registration.
  4. Cost – The cost of both tests varies by country, however, typically IELTS is around £170 and OET is around £330.
  5. Frequency of test dates – IELTS offer test dates in 140 countries, in over 1000 test locations and tests dates are offered 2-4 times per month. Whereas OET offers the exam in 45 countries, in over 100 locations and has only one exam date each month.

If you are unsure of what English language test to take or have already received your IELTS or OET result and are looking to relocate to the UK then get in contact with us at [email protected] – and one of the team will be happy to provide you with tailored advice.

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Originally posted: 21/03/2018
Updated: 09/10/2020


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