The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is the usual path taken by IMG’s to evidence their English language proficiency to the GMC. IELTS is a general English language assessment and is available to all professionals globally. However, from 6th February 2018 the GMC started routinely accepting Occupational English Test (OET) as a way for doctors to demonstrate their English language competencies. OET is designed specifically for all healthcare professionals globally who want to evidence their English capabilities.
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 40 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?
The listening element of the exam consists of two parts with around 20-28 question items. The question topics will be of general healthcare.
Part A and Part B of the exam will be around 20-25 minutes long each. The recording will contain pauses to allow you time to write your answers. The task will provide a wide range of task types, such as multiple-choice and short answer responses so a good sample of your listening ability is tested.
Part A Consultation: The first part of the listening exam will test your ability to follow facts during a healthcare professional-patient consultation.
Part B Presentation: The second part of the exam will test your ability to understand a short speech on a health-related topic that may occur in a workplace.
The reading element of the exam has two parts, it will take 60 minutes to complete and the topic will be of general healthcare interest.
Part A Summary Task: The first part of the exam will take you 15 minutes to complete and it will test your ability to source information from multiple texts and skim and scan information. In this task you will be asked to read several passages and then fill out a summary paragraph by filling in the missing words.
Part B Multiple Choice: The second part of the exam will assess your ability to understand comprehensive texts, such as those in an academic healthcare journal and then answer a set of multiple-choice questions.
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.
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. There will be two-role plays and each will last for about five minutes each. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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?’.
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?
Each test has four sub-tests, one for each form of communication: reading, listening, writing and speaking.
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?
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.
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.
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.
Cost – The cost of both tests varies by country, however, typically IELTS is around £160 and OET is around £330.
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 40 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.