OET - a guide for overseas doctors

  • October 08, 2019
 

The Occupational English Test (OET) is specifically designed for healthcare professionals.

The exam tests your ability in reading, writing, speaking and listening and it is used by overseas doctors to demonstrate their ability to communicate effectively in English to support their application to register and practice medicine in the UK. 

For doctors who prefer OET, compared to IELTS, the good news is that OET is now accepted by both the GMC and the UK Home Office - meaning that only one test now required for both UK registration and visa purposes

As an IMG coming to work in the UK, there are different scenarios in which you’ll need to provide a pass in an English test. In this article, we outline the key facts about OET, including the following topics: 

What is the OET? 

The OET tests communication in English with an emphasis in medical and healthcare professional settings. 

It is recognised by the General Medical Council (GMC), and is fast becoming a common choice to prove a candidate’s ability to communicate in a healthcare environment, such as the NHS.

As an overseas doctor you must select and sit the medicine version of the test, this is the only one accepted by the GMC for the purposes of registration for a license to practice. 

Content and structure: 

The OET tests your ability in four areas of English language communication: 

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

Listening: 

This section consists of three parts and tests a candidate’s ability to understand a range of materials, such as lectures or consultations. 

Part A – consultation extracts (5 minutes each)

You will listen to two recorded patient consultations and will be assessed on identifying specific information. You will also complete the healthcare professionals’ notes using the information that you have heard during the consultation. 

Part B – Short extract of workplace discussion (1 minute each)

Here, you are tested on your ability to identify detail, understand conversation, meaning and reasons or purpose contained in the discussion. You will hear 6 short extracts and answer multiple-choice questions on each. Example extracts could be a consultation dialogue, team meetings or professional handovers. 

Part C – presentation extracts (5 minutes each)

This tests your ability to follow a recorded healthcare related presentation or interview. You will listen to two extracts covering different topics and will then answer 6 multiple choice questions on each extract. 

What does the listening sub-test assess? 

The listening sub-test assesses your ability to identify specific information and details, to understand conversations, reasons for comments and the opinions of the speakers. 

Reading: 

In this section you are expected to demonstrate your ability to read and understand texts related to healthcare. This sub-test consists of three parts.

Part A – expeditious reading task (15 minutes)

This tests your ability to quickly and efficiently locate specific information from short texts. The texts will all relate to the same topic, and you will answer 20 questions in total. 

Part B and C (45 minutes)

Part B consists of 6 short text extracts from a healthcare setting, sourced from the workplace. It assesses your ability to identify detail, understand context, main points and overall gist of a text. Example texts are hospital policies or guidelines, manuals, instruction guides, internal communications between staff. 

Answers are multiple-choice, and you will be asked three questions per text. 

Part C consists of two texts on topics of interest to healthcare professionals. Each text is 800 words in total. Here you will be tested on your ability to identify detailed meaning and opinion. Each text has eight multiple choice questions. 

What does the Reading sub-test assess?

Each reading sub-test assesses different skills: 

  • Part A, to read quickly, skim and scan across a variety of texts, in order to identify specific information. 

Top tip, familiarise yourself with the conventions of medical texts, the structures, presentation of both numerical and textual content. 

  • Part B, to understand detail and main points. 

Top tip for Part B is to excel at identifying ideas or points within paragraphs, or sentences. 

  • Part C, to understand meaning and opinion presented to you. This covers a longer text. 

Top tip, the focus here is to understand the wider context, from sentence to paragraph level. 

Writing: 

This tests your ability to communicate effectively in a healthcare context, such a writing a referral letter. You will be given one task with a healthcare focus relating to the usual demands in the medical workplace. 

The task is to write a letter, usually a referral. However, this can on occasion be a letter of discharge or advice for a patient. You will be provided with some materials to assist with context, and information to use in your writing. 

How is the writing assessed? 

  • overall execution and completion
  • use of the correct and most suitable language
  • overall comprehension and use of the materials provided
  • grammar, punctuation & spelling
  • cohesion, presentation, structure and layout

Top tip, reading more will considerably improve your writing skills. 

Speaking: 

This section tests your ability to communicate effectively in a role-play based on a typical healthcare scenario. Each role-play takes about five minutes each. 

The test will start with an introduction and short warm up conversation. Then the role-play will begin one-by-one and you have three minutes to prepare for each. 

How is the speaking assessed? 

  • intelligibility (pronunciation)
  • appropriate use of language
  • relationship building
  • understanding and incorporating the patient’s language
  • providing structure
  • information gathering
  • information giving

What scores do I need? 

For the GMC to accept your Occupational English Test (OET) certificate you will need to score a grade B or above in each test area.

These scores must be achieved in the same test, and this must be your most recent sitting of the OET. 


Remember, for the GMC to accept your OET certificate, you must take the medicine version of the test. 


Does time matter? 

Each sub-test is timed, and you will need to practice how to give each section the right amount of time. You will have to be efficient and work quickly, dedicating the right amount of time to each question and text. 

When and where can I sit the test? 

You can sit the OET in test venues around the world and they offer the tests 14 times per year. To find out if there is a test venue that suits you take a look at the official website.

How can I prepare? 

OET can be challenging. So, make sure you are as prepared as possible before sitting the exam. 

OET involves learning a wide range of healthcare related and profession specific language

To get the right score, this must be at an advanced level. 


Successful IMGs who have passed OET have told us that learning a range of exam techniques helps you to work quickly and effectively during the test day. 


You don’t need to pay take a course. However, it is highly advisable to attend a course, and/or language classes, successful IMGs have advised that this helped them improve their standards in all areas of the test, including improved general levels of English. 

Most overseas doctors advise that they improved by attending specific OET courses, and this also helps you to get used to the test format and timings.

We strongly recommend that you start preparing for the exams as far in advance as you possibly can. 

Establish your level of English, and work out what areas you will need to focus on. Identify your weaknesses, set goals for yourself and plan a revision timetable.

What resources are available online for each subtest? 

Listening online resources: 

A good start would be to watch and listen to extracts online, here are a few options:

Reading online resources: 

Read short, medium and long extracts online.

Why not try the following resources: 

Writing online resources: 

To improve writing skills, we recommend reading and writing! Read short, medium and long extracts online. Write short extracts, re-write articles and write on your own journal. 

Why not try the following resources: 

Speaking online resources: 

To improve speaking skills, we recommend speaking! Speak with colleagues and friends in English as much as you can. You can also record yourself reading aloud or speaking and then play back your recording, assessing yourself. 

Why not try the following resources:  

We have also created a useful blog series on Exam Tips and Revision Guidance, which includes tips for studying at home. 

Passed? What next?

If you have your OET in place you are in a prime position to apply and interview for jobs.

Take a look at our job search page if you have not already, alternatively get in touch with an IMG Consultant to put your CV to use!


For more useful blogs & articles on English Language Tests to help you find your dream job in the NHS - take a look at our IMG Library.

Don’t hesitate to get in touch with an IMG Consultant to discuss UK job options in the NHS, including discussions regarding a typical doctor salary in the UK and the most suitable locations for you. 


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