OET vs IELTS – which should I choose? 

  • March 22, 2023

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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Relevant Jobs

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A Welsh Health Board are looking to appoint an experienced consultant histopathologist to work in a joint clinical and educational supervisor to four innovative CESR Fellows, all FRCPath Histopathology holders. 

This is a unique opportunity to work in a developing initiative that will bring immense social good to the local the people of Wales. 

Short / mid / long-term ambitions for this role.

Short-term, there is the opportunity to work a close group of four international doctors, with specialist qualifications in histopathology including FRCPath. You\'ll have the opportunity to shape the careers of hungry pathologists ready to absorb all the knowledge and experience from an experienced NHS colleague like yourself.

Mid-term you\'ll be jointly responsible for the successful portfolio submissions for these individuals, helping the laboratory at Glangwili General Hospital to establish a newly qualified consultant team to provide stability and excellent pathological services for the patients of Wales, UK.

Long-term, the potential is enormous. As part of ‘A Regional Collaborative for Health’ or ARCH a regional hub for South and West Wales is being built in Swansea, to house a 30-35 consultant lead service for histopathology alone. Fully digitalised regional services for half the Welsh landmass would be provided via one central and digitalised hub. 

Life in the area

It\'s a beautiful life with Wales offering beaches, beautiful forest, lakes and mountains all available to you in your free-time. It\'s a low cost of living and a a bit of a dream for the right person. We can chat more about that over our call. 
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IMG Connect are representing a Southern-based molecular oncology facility with a fully equipped laboratory, integrated process platforms, an in-house bioinformatics team, and a huge genetic database for precise and updated reporting.

The UK Lab is based in Surrey, and the facility is ISO 15189 accredited and ISO 27001 certified.

The department provides the latest technology and several years of extensive research offering highly effective treatment solutions to cancer patients for whom, multiple lines of treatment have failed.

The UK lab receives samples that are received from private practices around the UK, Europe and USA. 


With roughly two hours of work needed per day, mostly remote, with twice weekly attendance onsite likely required, the pathologists responsibilities will be along the lines of the below.
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    • Signing out solid organ cancer reports
    • Turnaround time is required within 24-hours. 
 Any successful candidate will be given a laptop and training to enable successful completion of the role.

  • GMC registration 
  • Right to work in the UK
  • Ability to travel twice per week to Surrey, UK.
  • FRCPath or Specialist Registration is not required for this post
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An exceptional NHS job opportunity awaits a Middle Grade Microbiologist to join the Microbiology Pathology Department at an \"outstanding\" rate NHS Trust.The role involves diagnosing and managing infections caused by microorganisms, contributing significantly to patient well-being.

This is an ideal chance for overseas Microbiologists or Middle Grade Doctors to establish themselves in the UK NHS system, with potential CESR support. Suitable for EEA-specialized candidates or experienced IMGs seeking career advancement.

What is the NHS Foundation Trust like?

This NHS Foundation Trust is a dynamic organization with an £180 million turnover, employing 12,000 staff to serve 500,000 people across acute and community healthcare services. Recognized for excellence by the CQC in 2016 and 2019, it primarily serves an urban population but extends its care across a rural expanse from the River Tyne to the River Tweed, offering picturesque landscapes. The Trust operates three major hospitals and numerous community facilities, including the state-of-the-art Specialist Emergency Care Hospital. With ongoing capital investments, it ensures modern, purpose-built facilities and expands its services to meet evolving healthcare needs.

They provide an extensive array of specialties, boasting some of the region\'s largest specialist departments. These include the foremost trauma and orthopaedics service, a significant cardiology department, and one of the region\'s most expansive units for colorectal surgery services.

The NHS Foundation Trust prioritizes supporting its staff in achieving a healthy work-life balance, irrespective of individual circumstances. Applicants unable to work full-time due to personal reasons will still be considered for the position, and adjustments to job responsibilities can be discussed on a case-by-case basis upon appointment.

What is the Department & Team like?

The Clinical Support and Cancer Services Business Unit manages Radiology, Pharmacy, and Pathology departments, as well as cancer services, across several hospitals. These services also extend to six community hospitals. With modern facilities and dedicated staff, the Pathology department, including the microbiology laboratory, benefits from significant capital investment and supports medical education initiatives.

The Microbiology team offers clinical consultation services through various channels such as ward rounds, telephone, email, and multi-disciplinary team meetings. They collaborate closely with Infectious Diseases, Infection Prevention and Control, Public Health teams, and the laboratory. Encouragement for networking with Consultant Microbiologists in the Newcastle area is given to improve patient care across organizational boundaries.

The microbiology laboratory holds a central position within the hospital complex. It comprises 240 m² of laboratory space and 74 m² of office space, established during the hospital\'s original construction in 1987. Specimens from clinical areas within the North East site are transported to the laboratory via a vacuum air tube system, while collections from GP practices and other hospital sites across the region are managed through regular courier and van services.

Life like in North East

The North East of the UK offers a diverse landscape, blending urban hubs like Newcastle and Sunderland with picturesque rural areas. Residents enjoy a vibrant cultural scene, from historic sites like Durham Cathedral to sandy beaches along the Northumberland coast. The region hosts reputable universities such as Newcastle University and Durham University, complemented by excellent schools. Transportation links are robust, with rail and road networks connecting to major cities and airports like Newcastle International Airport. Housing options range from city center apartments to suburban family homes and quaint countryside cottages, catering to varied lifestyles and preferences.

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An outstanding opportunity for a psychiatrist to join Forensic Psychiatry Department as Specialty Doctor that has received outstanding ratings from the CQC on three occasions. You will offer psychiatric input and conduct assessments, both psychiatric and physical, for patients on two wards. One ward is a self-contained low secure rehabilitation unit situated away from the main hospital premises, while the other is a medium secure rehabilitation ward. This role offers exposure to a broad spectrum of clinical presentations, including personality, affective, anxiety, psychotic, neurodevelopmental, and substance-related disorders. Moreover, it provides a platform for developing knowledge and understanding of forensic mental health sections. This position also offers CESR support for those seeking progression within the UK NHS Jobs system.

This is a great opportunity for overseas Specialty Doctors who want to establish themselves in the NHS, and grow their career. The post is suitable for candidates holding specialisation in the EEA, or for experienced IMGs looking to complete CESR.

What is the NHS Trust like?

The Mental Health NHS Trust is a leading provider of mental health service serving a population of 1.2 million. With five main inpatient sites and 25 community locations, they offer comprehensive support for both mental and physical health needs, catering to young people and adults alike. From managing phobias and anxiety to addressing conditions like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, their services are diverse and inclusive. They integrate community health services with mental health care, enabling simultaneous treatment of conditions such as diabetes and mental health issues, promoting holistic patient care.

Forensic Psychiatry Team & Department

The Forensic Service enjoys a stellar reputation, earning an \'Outstanding\' rating from the Care Quality Commission. The Forensic Service delivers care in low and medium secure environments, featuring specialized facilities such as the National Stalking Clinic and the Fixated Threat Assessment Centre (FTAC). These services focus on evaluating and managing risks for prominent individuals. 

The inpatient service consists of one acute assessment and treatment medium secure male 4 4 ward, four treatment and intervention medium secure male wards, one female medium secure ward, one medium secure and one low secure male learning disability ward, one low secure male FICU ward and 4 low secure male wards. There are currently 25 Consultant Forensic Psychiatrists in post, working with 5 senior psychiatric trainees who rotate with posts at other forensic psychiatric services in the region. There are 5 junior psychiatric trainees, coming from the UCH training schemes. The service currently employs 10 specialty doctors, working in the prisons and in the rehabilitation parts of the service.

Life in the area

The area offers a blend of urban and suburban living, providing both rural escapes and city conveniences. Residents can explore scenic parks or enjoy activities at different parks. The area boasts a range of quality schools and easy access to universities like Middlesex University. Transport links are excellent, with frequent trains to central London and nearby cities, as well as efficient connections to major airports. Housing options vary from historic cottages to modern apartments, catering to diverse preferences and lifestyles.

Career Development and Opportunities Available

With an extremely active education/teaching programme supported by the consultant team, there is opportunity to work towards and complete CESR, RCPsych exams, get involved in active research and many aspects of CPD. 

Participation in research and educational activities will be encouraged.

EEA Candidates:

  • Experience of working in Forensic Psychiatry (Desirable)

Non-EEA Candidates:

  • MRCPsych
  • Experience of working in Forensic Psychiatry (Desirable)

UK based applicants

  • Experience of working in Forensic Psychiatry (Desirable)
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An excellent opportunity to join the dynamic team at an esteemed organization recognized for its excellence by the CQC. This is an opportune moment to become part of the Acute Medicine and Medicine Specialties Teams. With a strong history of achievements, they are committed to delivering exceptional patient-centered care. They seek a passionate and driven Acute and General Physicians to contribute to their mission of providing top-tier medical care across various clinical settings. This is a high performing and supportive department for overseas doctors new to the NHS, or UK-based doctors looking to further careers in the UK.

This is a great opportunity for overseas Consultants who want to establish themselves in the NHS, and grow their consultant career. The post is suitable for candidates holding specialisation in the EEA, or for experienced IMGs looking to complete CESR.

What is the NHS Foundation Trust like?

The NHS Foundation Trust stands as one of the nation\'s largest integrated healthcare organizations, delivering both hospital and community services to a populace exceeding 650,000 individuals. Renowned for their ambition and innovation, they boast a skilled workforce comprising over 7,000 dedicated colleagues. Operating across two acute sites for hospital services and encompassing centers and community hospitals in six towns for planned care, they extend their services even to patients\' residences.

Recognized as a high-performing entity with a history of accomplishments, the Trust has functioned as an integrated acute and community services provider since 2011 and achieved foundation trust status in 2007. Guided by their strategic framework \"Our Patients Matter,\" they articulate their short- and long-term objectives and delineate the path to their realization. This framework underscores their commitment to providing the safest, most compassionate, and seamlessly coordinated care to the communities they serve.

Within this NHS Foundation Trust, medical professionals are presented with a plethora of career prospects and exposure to diverse care settings rarely encountered elsewhere. Additionally, they have the opportunity to reside and practice in some of the most culturally rich and picturesque locations across the country!

What is the Department & Team like?

Within the Trust, there are 5 Care Groups: Urgent & Emergency Care, Integrated Medical Specialties, Surgery, Family Health, and Clinical Specialist Services. The Acute Care Team is housed under the Urgent & Emergency Care division. The Acute & General Medicine Department prides itself on delivering comprehensive and compassionate care to patients across a wide spectrum of medical conditions. Staffed by a dedicated team of consultants and junior doctors, the department ensures round-the-clock coverage to meet the needs of their patients. Their department handles a diverse range of cases, including but not limited to respiratory illnesses, cardiovascular conditions, gastrointestinal disorders, and infectious diseases. With access to state-of-the-art diagnostic and treatment facilities, including advanced imaging technologies and specialist clinics, they are equipped to provide timely and effective care to their patients.

The Acute & General Medicine Department boasts modern and well-equipped facilities, designed to optimize patient care and comfort. They have a 30-bedded Acute Medical Assessment Unit. On average, their department handles a significant number of acute and general medicine cases each year, reflecting the trust and confidence placed in their services by the community they serve. They prioritize patient safety, quality of care, and efficient service delivery, ensuring that each patient receives personalized attention and tailored treatment plans to facilitate their recovery and well-being.

The unit is adequately staffed and the working shifts are designed to ensure more doctors are present during the busy period of the day i.e. late evenings. They address the busy winter months by arranging extra locum cover during this busy period. In addition to the acute medicine registrar(s), there is a middle grade doctor, 1 IMT doctor and 4 FY1 doctors with staggered shifts throughout the day. In addition, there will be an on call registrar and 2 on call IMT doctors with staggered shifts. The night team comprises of one registrar, two FY2/IMT and one FY1 supported by an outreach nurse on most nights. 

What is life like in the area?

The North East of the UK offers a diverse mix of rural and urban settings, providing doctors with a range of living options. Residents can explore stunning coastal areas like Northumberland\'s beaches or venture inland to scenic national parks such as the North Pennines. The region is home to respected schools and universities, including Newcastle University. Transportation links are robust, with efficient road and rail networks connecting residents to major cities like Newcastle, Durham, and Sunderland, as well as international airports. Housing options range from quaint cottages in picturesque villages to modern apartments in vibrant city centers, catering to various lifestyles.

Career Development & Opportunities Available

EEA Candidates:

  • Experience of working in Acute & General Medicine

Non-EEA Candidates:

  • MRCP
  • Experience of working in Acute & General Medicine

UK based applicants

  • Experience of working in Acute & General Medicine

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