Insights for OET Aspirants

The OET: Advice for Doctors

A short guide for fellow doctors who are considering the OET, but unsure of where to start — personal resources & tips included.

Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash
Table of content

What is the OET? 👀

OET, short for Occupational English Test, is an English language test that accesses the healthcare professional’s proficiency within an English-speaking environment. What makes this proficiency test stand out is the way it’s structured specifically for 12 types of healthcare professions, where their language abilities are tested with simulated scenarios of an English-speaking workplace.

Who is this test for? 👥

For healthcare professionals (specifically these 12 professions: medicine, nursing, occupational therapy, optometry, pharmacy, physiotherapy, radiography, speech pathology, podiatry, dentistry, dietetics, and veterinary science) who need to prove their abilities to communicate in a healthcare setting to regulatory healthcare boards, councils and hospitals. A comprehensive list of organizations that recognize this credential can be seen on the official website.

Test Structure 📜

The OET is available in three modes: A paper format at a test venue, a computer format at a test venue, and OET at Home (a new format that was implemented near the end of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic).

The test comprises of four sub-tests that accesses the following domains of language:

  • Listening (45 minutes)
  • Reading (60 minutes)
  • Writing (45 minutes)
  • Speaking (20 minutes)

These sub-tests closely mimic real-life scenarios you’d encounter in the workplace — e.g., for the listening sub-test, you may be asked to listen a dialogue between a general practitioner and a patient with asthma, and tasked to fill in the blanks of the patient notes on your exam paper; for the writing sub-test, you may be asked to write a letter of referral to a specialist for a patient contemplating bariatric surgery. Samples of the question paper can be found on the official website.

GMC’s English Proficiency Requirements & OET vs. IELTS 🔥

At the beginning of 2020, I planned to sit for the OET after my clinical placement ended at Oxford, but due to the pandemic, my test was cancelled. As a result, it was unanimously deferred to a later date, in which afterwards, I managed to re-schedule it in my home country instead. Despite the setbacks and uncertainties, I obtained 2A’s and 2B’s, which are needed for PLAB application (Professional and Linguistic Assessments Board, the UK medical license exam) and GMC (General Medical Council) registration, where the minimum requirement is scoring B’s (350–440) for all sub-tests.

Alternatively, you may opt for IELTS (International English Language Testing System), where you need a minimum score of 7.0 in each domain (i.e., listening, reading, writing and speaking), and an overall score of 7.5 for GMC registration.

However, if you’re planning to apply for UKFP (UK Foundation Program) after completing PLAB, the minimum requirement is slightly higher than GMC registration — you’re required to score at least 400 for each sub-test for OET, while you need a minimum score of 7.5 in each domain for IELTS.

Although IELTS is much cheaper than OET (around 206 USD and 440 USD respectively), I personally recommend taking the OET for three main reasons:

  1. You’re more likely to pass (i.e., get B’s for all sub-tests as per GMC registration requirement) within your first attempt, by practicing with the right sources (more on that below).
  2. Studying the OET will feel like a breeze! 🙌 This test contains familiar topics you’ve dealt with throughout your medical school and have seen or heard during internships in hospitals. On the other hand, IELTS contains a wide variety of topics ranging from climate change to economics and technology, just to name a few.
  3. Having done my research on both English tests and connecting with peers, as well as colleagues from online PLAB communities, I’ve seen my fair share of candidates investing a large sum of money (and time) in applying for re-checks (costing around 140 USD), as well as re-taking the IELTS altogether, but to no avail. Apparently, obtaining a score of 7.0 and above for the writing domain in IELTS is a difficult feat for numerous candidates, despite personally knowing how some of them are utterly fluent in the English language! As a result of the test’s stringent requirements, most candidates are often stuck with a score of 6.5 for the writing domain. Thankfully they took the OET afterwards, obtaining the scores they needed within a single attempt.

A Little Background & My OET Preparation 📝

  • Despite studying in international schools growing up, I have horrible spelling habits (last time I checked, I wasn’t dyslexic).
  • I prefer watching movies, reading articles and listening to songs in English — although being exposed to the language on a regular basis increases confidence levels and makes the test appear less daunting, it doesn’t mean I have an excellent command of the language. Practice makes perfect, which is one of the main reasons I started blogging. 😁
  • Looking back, I spent close to 2 months preparing for OET, while juggling with PLAB 1 revisions and work. I remember doing one timed sub-test per day, and watched E2language / Youtube videos on areas that I was struggling at, while making notes.
    When I was down to 3 weeks till test day, I practiced full mocks every other day, while spending 45 minutes on a writing sub-test every day. Over the weekends I would practice the speaking sub-test with a friend via zoom, followed by a debrief session, pointing out areas needing improvement.
  • Note that for the OET paper format at a test venue, the audio for listening sub-test is played with speakers, not headphones. During your practice, try to play the audio files via speakers as well, to mimic test day conditions.
  • As the test center is located in another city, I made arrangements to arrive there a day before test day, and booked a quiet hotel room within walking distance to the test center.
    (I recall traveling being excruciatingly difficult due to the constant changing flight regulations at the start of the pandemic.)

Useful Resources & Tips for each Sub-test 🍭🍬

  • E2language online course
    I signed up for the free course and found it sufficient for my preparation, though there are paid ones to tailor your needs. The free course consists of live classes, practice questions and lessons on test-taking methods.
  • YouTube videos
    Personally, I found the writing and speaking sub-tests quite challenging; these videos have helped me on how to approach the writing task and what to expect during the speaking sub-test.
  • If you have an E2language account, I highly recommend subscribing their newsletter — that’s how I found out about their mini-mock test for writing and speaking.
  • Alternatively, get someone to practice the speaking sub-test and ask for their feedback.
  • After learning how the test runs at the start of your preparation, do a timed mock for all sub-tests, including speaking, if possible. (You may find free samples on the official OET website.) Identify your weakest sub-test, then work on improving it by watching the respective teaching videos on E2language or YouTube, while doing more sample questions.

Listening 🎧

  • Parts A & B — Scan the notes (in part A) or questions and multiple choice options (in part B) first. Pay attention to key phrases (i.e., words alluding to the answer in the notes or question) as the audio plays. You’ll be able to pick up the answers with ease, if you know what you’re looking (more accurately in this case, listening) for. 😉
  • Part C — I found this section the trickiest. Pay close attention to transitions in the conversation based on the questions asked; it is easy to miss out if you lose concentration here.

Reading 📖

  • Part A — Scan the questions (not all at once, rather, work through this section block by block according to question type: e.g., for Questions 1–7, we’re asked to match the reading materials to each question), then scan the articles while searching for the answers.
  • Parts B & C — Read the questions first, then read the respective paragraphs. Ensure you fully understand what the paragraph has discussed before matching it to the correct multiple choice answer.

Writing ✏️

  • Make sure you know OET’s letter format by heart (i.e., the recipient’s address) and try not to exceed the word limit (180–200 words).
  • If you’re taking the paper-based test, practice writing daily on lined paper with black or blue pen; if it’s the computerized version, practice typing on a laptop or computer.
  • Start off your writing practice without a time limit for the first few sessions, then ease into a habit of completing the writing task within 45 minutes. This prepares you for the stress you’ll encounter on test day.
  • Get a friend or colleague to hold yourself accountable (for your writing practices), who is willing to offer you constructive feedback according to the writing tasks’ model answers.
    Based on personal experience, I noticed my friend improving her letter writing drastically after doing this with her for 2 weeks! She passed all sub-tests as well!
  • Get acquainted with writing different types of letters — e.g., letter of referral (most common), letter of transfer and a letter of discharge.
  • When you feel relatively ready and would like to gauge your writing (and speaking) performance, sign up for E2language’s mini-mock test at least 2 weeks prior to test day, so you have sufficient time to catch up on areas that need improvement.

Speaking 💬

  • It’s perfectly alright if you have an accent — just ensure you’re articulating and pronouncing the words clearly.
  • Avoid medical jargon — refer to a list that substitutes medical jargon with layman terms recommended by E2language in one their speaking pdfs.
  • Practice the sample speaking tasks with your friend or colleague, while adhering to the time limit (20 minutes). Refer to this video to get an idea of how the speaking sub-test is conducted.
  • Similar to the writing sub-test, I highly recommend you to participate in E2language’s mini-mock test to see where you stand, kinda like a forecast grade.
    Personally, the best part of this mini-mock was the feedback I received from the examiner — they allocate points to a list of criteria, which makes it easy to identify the parts that need polishing.

Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good.” — Malcolm Gladwell

I hope this article gives you a better idea on the OET and that you’ll find these recommended resources helpful for your preparation! If you have any questions, feel free to leave comments here or get in touch with me via Instagram @alicehalim. 💌

Best of luck on your OET journey! 🍻

Love, Alice

P.S.: To fellow IMGs reading this, I’ll be sharing my reflections and experiences on internships and the PLAB exams, as well as life in UK as I go along this journey with you. 😃

A Fudan University med grad sharing her journey in Shanghai and beyond. Since you’ve read all that, you might as well read on ;) Let’s connect on IG @alicehalim

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store