English Language Tests – what are my options? 

  • January 09, 2022

For IMGs passing an English Language test is an essential part of the GMC Registration process.

As an overseas doctor looking to work in the UK, there are different scenarios in which you’ll need to provide a pass in an English Language Test. This article should hopefully help you decide which one would suit you best and includes the following topics: 

Who needs an English Language Test?

If you are an overseas doctor wanting to work in the UK, you must prove your English Language capabilities to enable you to register with the GMC (General Medical Council). To prove your capabilities you must successfully pass an English Language test.

We advise all overseas doctors intending to relocate to the UK, whether via PLAB or postgraduate routes, to start their English Language Test preparations as early as possibl, you may not be able to pass at first attempt.

What are your options? 

In short, you have two options: 

Both are used to test the English language levels of healthcare professionals in different parts of the world. 

Importantly, both are used to demonstrate the correct levels of English have been attained for registration to work in the UK healthcare system. 

What are IELTS & OET? 

These English Language Tests are chosen by different regulatory bodies to ensure that doctors and other healthcare professionals have the correct level of English to communicate at a high level with patients and colleagues, so as to provide safe and effective care. 

For IMGs relocating to the UK, it is important to start by saying that both the IELTS and OET are accepted by the General Medical Council (GMC). 

However, it is also important to note that OET is not accepted for Tier 2 Visa applications, which we will explore later. 


IELTS is designed for people wanting to work or study in the UK. IELTS has a non-academic version, but be careful, for overseas doctors it is the Academic IELTS UKVI version that you want.  

IELTS consists of 4 sections, Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening. 

To pass an average score of 7.5 or above is required, with all areas scoring above 7.0. 


OET is language assessment designed for healthcare professionals. It has many versions, so be careful to select the relevant course for an IMG, the medical version. 

OET is fast becoming a popular choice and is equally recognised by the GMC as an accurate test of English for doctors. 

OET consists of 4 sections, Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening. To pass a grade of B (or above) is required in all areas. 

Which should you choose? 

IELTS gives a broader test of the English language, not just workplace specific. IMGs who took this option have told us that their preparation has had a positive impact on their life in the UK, outside of the workplace. 

However, it is also true that OET focuses more on the language that is relevant to healthcare professionals. Many overseas doctors tell us that they like this option as it tested their ability within the context of the medical profession. 

Both are accepted by the GMC, so for the purposes of GMC registration only, one is not better than the other. 

Both are now accepted for your Tier 2 Visa sponsorship with the Home Office. 

For EEA doctors, you do not require a visa and only need to satisfy the GMC’s English language criteria. 

If you have qualified outside of the EEA, your English Language Tests will need to satisfy both the GMC and the UK Home Office. 

We have created the table below to help you check if you are taking the right test:

YES (7.5 overall, no less than 7.0 in all sections)


GMC registration

Tier 2 Visa (CoS)

Academic IELTS

YES (7.5 overall, no less than 7.0 in all sections)



YES (7.5 overall, no less than 7.0 in all sections)

YES (4.0 in all sections) 


YES (Score of B+ in all areas) 


Which is easier? 

This really falls down to a matter of preference. 

Both are difficult and require hard work and exam study. Why not take a look at our tips for preparing for English Language Exams at home

Some will find the OET works well for them as it covers healthcare specific language, meaning that you can make good use of your existing healthcare knowledge and vocabulary. 

IELTS is not specific to the healthcare profession, it is taken by professionals from all industries. So, the topics covered are more general. 

If your English level is good enough, neither OET or IELTS will hold you back. 

There is no evidence to suggest that one test is easier than the other. 

Here is a comparison chart to help: 




Test time

2 hrs 45 mins

Approx. 3 hrs


30 mins

You will be asked to listen to 4 recordings and answer questions based on what you’ve heard. The recordings will be two lectures or monologues and have two spoken conversations. The questions will ask you to ‘fill in the blanks’ or ‘match the following’, as well as ask you to label, complete sentences and more. 

50 mins

This section is broken into two, part A and B. 

Part A will ask you to take notes on a consultation, and part B will ask you to fill in the blanks and answer multiple choice questions after listening to a healthcare lecture.


1 hr

You will be given three passages of text taken from journals and newspapers etc. You will then be asked to answer questions and complete tasks based on the reading material provided. Some of the questions may be multiple choice, true or false, note completion, identification etc. 

1 hr

This is split into two parts, part A and B. Part A is made up of 4 short texts – you fill in the blanks and complete a summary of the topic being discussed. Part B requires you to read two longer texts and answer multiple choice questions about each. 


1 hr

This includes two tasks. The first is 20 minutes, you will need to study and write about some data or graphs provided. 

The second task will ask you to write an essay based on a broad subject. 

45 mins

This test will require you to read some case notes and write a discharge, follow up or referral letter based on the notes.


15 mins

This is split into three parts. Each part is a general discussion. Firstly, this will be a discussion on topics such as family, hobbies and interests. This is followed by task card topics, which you will be given with a topic to speak about. 

20 mins

This task starts with a short warm up discussion with the examiner. The main test then comprises of two role plays, in which you will play a doctor, and the examiner will play a patient. The interaction will be based on a selected topic card. 

Accepted for GMC registration

YES if you take the Academic IELTS UKVI option (7.5 overall, no less than 7.0 in all sections)

YES if you take the medicine version (Score of B+ in all areas)

Accepted for Tier 2 Visa

YES if you take the Academic IELTS UKVI option (4.0 in all sections)


Cost (£)



Where and when can I sit the English Language Tests? 

IELTS is available in over 140 countries, with tests held up to 4 times per month. Check if there is a venue near where you live.

OET is available 14 times per year in 40 countries, with the number of cities and venues increasing each year. Check if is there is a venue near where you live.

How can I prepare for the English Language Tests? 

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

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

You should take time to research each area of the test in detail, but don’t worry, help is at hand, and we will explore some of the best resources online. 

Your preparation for each test will need to be different.

This doesn’t mean that one will require more or less preparation, just that you will need to study varied pathways and prepare different topics and vocabulary.

IELTS involves learning a much wider amount of vocabulary on a range of academic subjects so that you will be prepared to read academic texts quickly and effectively, understand lectures, talks and questions, giving opinion in detail. 

You will have to prepare how to write reports on a variety of data and essay types. 

Written texts are to be of a high standard, including complex structures and grammar. 

OET involves learning a wide range of healthcare related and profession specific language. The test will require you to follow clinical scenarios, understand medical texts and talks. You will need to write a healthcare letter, such as a referral. To get the right score, this must be at an advanced level. 

Successful IMGs who have passed, told us that learning key exam techniques helps you to work quickly and effectively during the test day. 

What resources are available? 

For IELTS, the British Council provide free online preparation on their website.

The British Council also offer the IELTS word power app. It's a great way to prepare for your test no matter where you are. Download the app here

The IELTS publication Information for Candidates has valuable information about the way the test is run and what to expect on the day.

For OET practice, you can buy helpful OET guidance packs online.

The OET also offer a preparation portal full of material to help you study for the test, including free practice materials.

How else can I study at home? 

Successful IMGs have told us that one of the most effective ways to improve their general level of English and help them on their journey to improving their English Language scores in both IELTS and OET, is to study at home. 

Whilst exam papers are an essential weekly part of your overall study plan, too many exam papers can lead to boredom or frustration. 

Most find the following helpful (and enjoyable): 

  • Listen to podcasts
  • Speak to native English speakers (you can always give us a call!)
  • Watch relevant YouTube videos for your chosen exam
  • Watch movies
  • Listen to radio
  • Read articles relevant to your exam

In summary:

Neither exam is easier than the other. Both Academic IELTS UKVI and OET Medicine show you have an advanced level in English. It really is up to you! 

You may find OET simpler to understand as it is healthcare related and tests the language you use in daily practice. 

The same can be said about IELTS, you may find the general nature of the topics more suited to you. 

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