OET vs IELTS – which should I choose? 

  • July 04, 2022

For overseas doctors looking to register with GMC, passing an English Language test is essential. 

Doctors regularly ask us which test is the most suited for IMGs to sit and which is more suited to the medical professional? There are different scenarios in which you’ll need to provide a pass in an English test. This article should hopefully help you decide which English Language Test would suit you best and includes the following topics: 

If you are an IMG relocating to the UK to start a doctors job, you will be required to take an English Language exam, enabling you to register with the GMC (General Medical Council).

What are IELTS & OET? 

Both IELTS (International English Language Testing System) and OET (Occupational English Test) are used to test the English language levels of healthcare professionals in different parts of the world. 

They 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 international doctors 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). 

Which test is accepted by which registration body? 

The good news is that recent changes to the rules means that both IELTS and OET are accepted for GMC registration and your Tier 2 visa for both EEA and non-EEA applicants. Check out the recent updates here

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


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) 


OET and Tier 2 visas: Only one test now required for both UK registration and visa purposes. 

What are the similarities and differences? 


Each consists of four areas, one for each English language skill: reading, listening, writing and speaking

Both tests take place in one day. 

Both give a graded score (not pass or fail)

Both are recognised by the GMC and other healthcare regulatory bodies in the UK


The content of each exam is different

IELTS tests overall academic English (as an IMG you must select the Academic IELSTS UKVI test as this is the one recognised by the healthcare regulatory bodies, i.e. GMC & Home office). 

What does this mean in practice? This includes the ability to write essays, follow lectures, understand academic articles, journals and newspapers, discuss a wide range of topics including social, environmental, educational and cultural trends.

The OET is different, the OET has been designed specifically for medical professionals, including nursing, medicine, radiography, occupational therapists and so on. Be sure to choose the correct exam for you - medicine! 

The OET tests healthcare English, including the ability to communicate effectively in medical scenarios, write referral letters, understand a patient consultation, or follow a text from a medical journal. 

Your preparation 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, have told us that learning a range of exam techniques helps you to work quickly and effectively during the test day. 

What do I need to score in each test for GMC registration? 


IELTS is marked out of 9 in each paper. For GMC registration an overall score of 7.5 must be achieved, with a minimum of 7.0 in each area of the test.


OET is marked grades A to E in each paper. For GMC registration a minimum of grade B is required in all areas to pass the exam, or a point score of 350 points across all areas of the test. 

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 do I prepare for either 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, learn 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 tests in detail, but don’t worry, help is at hand, for more information on how to prepare, take a look at our blog series on English Language testing

Can I be exempted from the English language test?

Some specialisms that are hard to fill such as emergency medicine and various specialist medicines, however NHS hospitals do not like offering exemptions - and they are only offered to candidates who exhibit excellent language capabilities at interview. IMG Connect strongly recommends all doctors to practice for and pass an English language test. Get in touch if you would like to know more about exemptions or think you are eligible.

Which test do I choose? 

Neither exam is easier than the other. Both IELTS 7.5 and OET B 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. 

I have my ELT in place, what next?

Depending on what other qualifications you have in place, you may have to pass an accepted postgraduate qualification in order to be eligible for full GMC registration. Regardless, passing your English test is a huge achievement and will take you that one giant step closer to working in the NHS. So congratulations!

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 and English Language Tests, including discussions regarding a typical doctor salary in the UK and the most suitable locations for you. 

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