Preparing for the English Language Test (IELTS & OET) - a helpful guide for IMGs

  • July 19, 2020

Overseas doctors hoping to register with the GMC & find a job in the NHS will have to pass an english language test. 

This will demonstrate that they have the right level of English to practice safely in the NHS, and in this article we will look at how to prepare for both IELTS and OET examinations.

To help you decide the best way to prepare, we have included the following topics: 

The first thing to say – it isn’t easy! 

Preparing for any English Language Test, whether you have chosen IELTS or OET, requires you to learn a huge amount of vocabulary, write specific reports or essays, use a high level of grammar and structure, learn how to engage with a range of scenarios and acquire a set of key exam techniques. 

What should I expect?

Preparing for and sitting the exams is difficult, not least because of the overload of information that is out there, for example which sources do you trust? What is the best way to find information? 

Passing the exams can take months, and in some cases years of hard work. And don’t forget that each exam costs money, with many also choosing private tuition – the money and time can soon add up. 

Can I just take the exam? 

The exams costs money each time and are very specific in format, with the answers requiring certain structures and techniques. A lot of IMGs don’t get the required marks at first attempt and as such, we don’t advise taking the exam without sound preparation. 

Remember… failing to prepare, is preparing to fail.

In general, there are a few things that most IMGs tell us that they have improved on through preparing well: 

  • Overall general level of English – this takes time

IMGs who passed have told us that this takes the longest, but it is time well spent…

Overall improvements in general English skills, including broadening your vocabulary, grammar and punctuation, will help you to achieve the best score possible. Try to make a little progress every day.

  • Refining your test skills – this takes practice 

Each sub-test (reading, writing, speaking and listening) has a different style of question and answer, so each of them has a specific skill that you need to learn. 

  • Knowing how the tests are marked – this takes guidance 

To gain those valuable extra scores, get to know what the examiner wants and give it to them! 

Remember, this skill alone won’t get you a pass, but combined with the above it will be a huge help to getting the score you want.


How can I prepare? Can I do all of this at home? 

IMGs have shared many ways to practice for a pass and this doesn’t mean just repeating exam questions. 

Here are a few of our favourite examples that you can do every day, for free!  

  • Find a colleague at work, friend or family member, who you enjoy speaking English with and speak to them every day! 
  • Read a wider range of topics online, both medical and general. 
  • Find a regular news source you enjoy reading in English. 
  • Tune into UK radio stations, available online, or, on your mobile phone. Put the radio on before and after work, rather than your usual local station. 
  • Listen to Podcasts in English, there are thousands of topics to choose from. 
  • Watch YouTube channels about medicine and life in the UK. 
  • Watch movies and TV shows in English, both with and without subtitles. 
  • Start writing, it is key that you practice, but this can sometimes be the hardest to practice in natural contexts. IMGs have suggested writing a blog or writing letters and emails (in English) to friends and family
  • Watch Tedtalks, that both do and don’t interest you!
  • Take practice tests at home, mark your answers and check how you improve. 

Basically, find your passion and go for it! 

Where can I find training? 

There are excellent training sessions available, including face-face and online courses to help you to prepare. They can help you to build the skills you need to succeed in your exam. 

It is always good to tailor your learning to your own needs, so whether you are new to the tests, or looking for support to help you to study or retake the exams, find a training programme that suits you. 

Whilst not necessary, taking up an exam preparation course led by an experienced teacher or tutor who is knowledgeable on the test and the skills – is highly recommended

Most IMGs who attend courses in person, tell us that they saw quicker results. 

Knowing your level

Knowing your level is an essential part of the preparation for both IELTS and OET. Whether you decide to sign up for a course, or tutor, getting assessed and knowing your current level will help you identify your areas of weakness to focus on. 

We would recommend getting your speaking and writing assessed by a qualified teacher. They can tell you what level you are at and areas for improvement. 

Identify weaknesses, focus on these and get reassessed to check if you have improved. 

You can find courses or individual teachers online who have been trained directly by the examining body, which can give you the boost you need. But, speak to colleagues and see if they can recommend a trusted course or teacher.

What resources are available online to help with my preparation? 

The following sites will give you all the general information you need for your IELTS or OET exam preparation:

You can find video tutorials and support on YouTube, including official channels from both IELTS and OET:

You can find online practice papers at the following trusted sites: 

Consider working with an accredited tutor

As an International Brand dedicated to helping international doctors to register with the GMC and find work in the NHS - we have lots of partnerships in place with trusted companies in many areas. One of these key areas is English Language Testing and IMG Connect works closely with a company called Specialist Language Courses. You can take a look at their website here.

Specialist Language courses work very professionally and are the UK's leading provider of online courses and tutoring. They are also one of the few accredited providers of OET and have provided consultation and guidance to the GMC on english language testing. 

Success rates are 70% + for those who sign for their tutoring and you can receive a discount if introduced by IMG Connect.

Register with IMG Connect to request your discount on English Language Courses or get in touch with one of our IMG Consultants to discuss

So, broken down, here are our steps to success in the English Language Tests:

  • Understand the test structure and format
  • Set yourself achievable learning goals
  • Get to know the marking criteria 
  • Understand the various question types
  • Polish your exam skills
  • Improve your vocabulary
  • Take practice tests
  • Practice every day, and we mean every day! 
  • Not essential depending on your level of English, but you can also find a tutor or online course. 
  • Get assessed, identify weaknesses, work on these, get reassessed.

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