OET – Occupational English Test

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

They are chosen by regulatory bodies to ensure doctors, nurses and other professions have sufficient language skills to communicate at a high level with patients and colleagues, and so ensure safe and effective care.


There are a number of similarities between the two tests.

  1. Each one consists of four sub-tests, one for each skill: reading, listening, writing and speaking.
  2. A test takes place on one day.
  3. There is no pass/fail, but a graded score – different institutions need test takers to achieve different scores.
  4. In practice, the required scores in the two tests for professions such as nurses are for similar levels of language skill when measured on the Common European Framework of Reference.
  5. Both tests were developed in the late 1980s and are part-owned by Cambridge Assessment English. IELTS ownership is shared with IDP and the British Council. OET ownership is shared with Boxhill Assessment.

However, that’s where the similarities end. As you can see from the below, they are quite different tests in many ways.


  1. Content

IELTS tests academic English – at least the version of IELTS used by Higher Education institutions and healthcare regulatory bodies around the world. This includes the ability to write essays, follow lectures, understand academic articles and discuss a wide range of topics, from the environment to education to social trends to cultural values.

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

  1. Versions

IELTS offers 2 versions of the test – Academic as described, and General Training, used by organisations to test the more general language considered more appropriate for immigration or vocational purposes. The Listening and Speaking sections are the same for both. The Academic Reading and Writing is more geared to Higher Education than the General Training.

OET offers 12 versions of the test for different healthcare professions; nurses, doctors, dentists, pharmacists, optometrists, podiatrists, occupational therapists, vets, speech pathologists, dieticians, physiotherapists, and radiographers. The Reading and Listening sections are the same for both. The Speaking and Writing sections are tailored to the specific scenarios in which each profession uses English.

  1. Preparation requirements

Preparing for IELTS involves learning huge amounts of vocabulary on a wide range of academic subjects so test takers are prepared to read academic texts quickly and effectively, understand lectures and discussions, talk about abstract questions and give opinions in detail. Test takers need to learn how to write reports on a variety of data and a range of essay types. Written texts need to be at an advanced level and so include complex structures and grammar. Learning a set of key exam techniques is also crucial.

Preparing for OET involves learning a wide range of healthcare-related and profession-specific language, so test takers are able to follow, engage with and participate in a variety of clinical scenarios, as well as understand medical texts and talks. They need to be able to write a healthcare-related letter, such as a referral letter, at an advanced level. They need to acquire a range of exam techniques so they can work quickly and effectively in the test.

As a result, preparation courses for the two tests follow very different pathways and use very different materials.

  1. Scoring

IELTS is marked out of 9, with a separate score for each paper. Half marks are awarded as part of this. OET is graded from A (best) to E.

Healthcare regulatory bodies which use both exams to test English for healthcare professions tend to specify an advanced C1 level of language, i.e. around 7 in IELTS and a B in OET.

The score equivalencies between the two tests are as follows:

8 – 9 A
7 – 7.5 B
5.5 – 6.5 C
4.5 – 5.5 D
4 E


  1. Recognition

IELTS is recognised by universities, regulatory bodies, immigration authorities and companies in many countries around the world. This includes universities in non-English speaking countries where a course may be delivered in English. There are over 1,100 test centres in over 140 countries.

OET is recognised by healthcare regulatory bodies and Higher Education healthcare educators in Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Dubai, and Namibia. There are over 80 test venues in 35 countries.

  1. Numbers of test takers

Over 3 million people took IELTS in the past year, compared to around 25,000 for the OET. This reflects the size and reach of the global Higher Education market on the one hand and the specialist nature of the OET on the other. Until now, the main market for OET has been those professionals wishing to work in Australia.

  1. Preparation infrastructure

IELTS has a global infrastructure developed around preparing learners to take the test, including universities, private language schools, published materials, online content, and thousands of teachers and writers.

OET has a small, specialist preparation infrastructure, with a small number of providers and a minimal materials base.

Content provided by Specialist Language Courses (SLC)
 About Specialist Language Courses
Based at the University of Sussex, SLC is a leading expert in online technical, academic and business language training.
SLC works extensively with the medical sector, providing online Clinical English courses for doctors, nurses, healthcare assistants and carers, as well as multiple IELTS Preparation Programmes to international doctors and nurses relocating to English-speaking countries

What is OET?

OET: Occupational English Test

OET has been developed specifically for 12 healthcare professions: Dentistry, Dietetics, Medicine, Nursing, Occupational Therapy, Optometry, Pharmacy, Physiotherapy, Podiatry, Radiography, Speech Pathology and Veterinary Science.

Assessment Structure
OET covers all four language skills with an emphasis on communication in a healthcare environment.

OET examines 4 areas of language competence:

  • Listening
  • Speaking
  • Writing
  • Reading









OET test summary

Listening (50 minutes):

The Listening sub-test consists of two parts, with approximately 20-28 question items. The topics are of generic healthcare interest, accessible to candidates across all professions.

Each part consists of about 15 minutes of recorded speech, containing pauses to allow you time to write your answers. You will hear each recording once and are expected to write your answers while listening.

  • Part A – consultation (20-25 minutes)

Part A assesses your ability to follow facts during a consultation. You will listen to a recorded health professional-patient consultation and complete a note taking task, guided by relevant headings.

  • Part B – presentation (20-25 minutes)

Part B  assesses your ability to understand a short talk on a health-related topic that might realistically occur in the workplace. You’ll listen to a recorded talk or lecture (monologue) by a healthcare professional and complete a range of open-ended and fixed choice tasks.

More info on the OET official webpage: https://www.occupationalenglishtest.org/test-information/listening/


Speaking (20 minutes)

  • The Speaking sub-test is delivered individually and takes around 20 minutes.
  • You take this part of OET using materials specifically for your profession. In each role-play, you take your professional role (e.g. as a nurse) while the interlocutor plays a patient/client or sometimes a patient’s relative or carer.

More info on the OET official webpage: https://www.occupationalenglishtest.org/test-information/speaking/


Writing (45 minutes)

  • The Writing sub-test takes 45 minutes and is profession-specific.
  • There is one task set for each profession based on a typical workplace situation and the demands of the profession – a nurse does the task for nursing, a dentist does the task for dentistry, and so on.
  • The task is to write a letter, usually a referral letter. Sometimes a different type of letter is required: e.g. a letter of transfer or discharge, or a letter to advise or inform a patient, carer, or group.
  • Along with the task instructions, you will receive stimulus material (case notes and/or other related documentation) which includes information to use in your response.

More info on the OET official webpage: https://www.occupationalenglishtest.org/test-information/writing/


Reading (60 minutes)

  • The Reading sub-test consists of two parts and takes 60 minutes to complete.
  • The topics are of generic healthcare interest and are therefore accessible to candidates across all professions.
  • Part A – summary task (15 minutes)

    Part A assesses your ability to source information from multiple texts, to synthesise information in a meaningful way and to ‘skim’ and ‘scan’ material to retrieve information quickly. You are required to read 3-4 short texts (a total of approximately 650 words) related to a single topic, and complete a summary paragraph by filling in the missing words (25-35 gaps in total).

  • Part B – multiple-choice questions (45 minutes)

Part B assesses your ability to read and understand comprehensive texts on health-related topics similar to those in academic or professional journals. You are required to read two passages (600-800 words each) and answer a set of multiple-choice questions (16-20 in total).

More info on the OET official webpage: https://www.occupationalenglishtest.org/test-information/reading/

How is OET scored?

You will receive a Statement of Results which shows your grade for each of the four sub-tests, from A (highest) to E (lowest). Each of the four sub-tests is assessed in a specific way.

You can see an overview of your latest test grades via your online profile on the OET website, approximately 16 business days after each test day.

Official, hard copy Statements of Results are mailed within ten business days of the publication of results in online profiles.

The Statement of Results shows the scores obtained at the most recent sitting, as well as scores for all sittings within the last two years. Results for the four sub-tests that make up the OET are reported as one of five grades – A (highest) to E (lowest).


Your answer booklets for the Listening sub-test and for Reading Part A are marked by trained Assessors at the OET Centre. Answer booklets are assigned at random to avoid any conflict of interest.

Your answer sheet for Reading Part B is computer scanned and automatically scored.

Listening and Reading Assessors use a detailed marking guide which sets out which answers receive marks and how the marks are counted.

Assessors use this guide to decide for each question whether you have provided enough correct information to be given the mark or marks available. Assessors are monitored for accuracy and consistency, and the data entry of scores is also double-checked for accuracy.



The whole Speaking test is recorded and it is this audio recording that is assessed.
The Speaking sub-test is marked independently by a minimum of two trained Assessors. Neither Assessor knows what scores the other has given you, or what scores you have achieved on any of the other sub-tests. Your test day Interlocutor plays no role in the assessment of your performance.
OET Assessors’ judgements are targeted and specific, not a general evaluation of candidates’ ability in spoken English.
Assessors are trained to focus on how a candidate responds to the particular task on the day, and to apply specific assessment criteria which reflect the demands of communication in the health professional workplace. Remember that the OET is a test of English-language skills, not a test of professional knowledge.
Candidates who pay attention to the details of the specific role-play task, and who are familiar with the assessment criteria, have a better chance of demonstrating their ability in the key areas. Candidates who use pre-prepared material, or who rely on techniques which worked in other circumstances, tend not to perform to their full potential in the test.
Your performance on each of the two role-plays is scored against five criteria and receives a band score for each criterion:

  • Overall Communicative Effectiveness
  • Intelligibility
  • Fluency
  • Appropriateness
  • Resources of Grammar and Expression.


Your performance on the Writing sub-test is marked independently by a minimum of two trained Assessors. Neither Assessor knows what scores the other has given you, or what scores you have achieved on any of the other sub-tests.
Your performance is scored against five criteria and receives a band score for each criterion:

  • Overall Task Fulfillment
  • Appropriateness of Language
  • Comprehension of Stimulus
  • Linguistic Features (grammar and cohesion)
  • Presentation Features (spelling, punctuation, layout).


Reading Part A (the summary task) tests your ability to skim and scan quickly across different texts on a given topic in order to identify and synthesise selected information.

For that purpose, Part A is strictly timed and you must complete all the items within 15 minutes. To complete the task successfully, you will also need the ability to understand the conventions of different medical text types, differentiate main ideas from supporting information, and understand the presentation of numerical and textual data.

Reading Part B tests your ability to understand longer passages of text at the level of word/phrase, explicit meaning, and implied meaning. To complete the task successfully, you will also need the ability to identify the purpose of a text, to understand the relationships between ideas, and to understand at the level of the paragraph as well as the sentence.

Assessors who mark the Reading sub-test are qualified and highly trained. Candidate responses are assessed against an established marking guide. During the marking session, problematic or unforeseen answers are referred to a sub-group of senior Assessors for guidance.

Candidates with scores that are near the borderline automatically have their papers double-marked to ensure fairness and consistency.

NMC news and updates



Occupational English Test

OET Nurse’s Speaking Task

OET sample role plays

OET Writing | LIVE TRAINING with Jay!

OET Writing Tips | Online OET

OET Listening Part A | LIVE TRAINING with Jay!

OET Listening Part A Overview & Hints!

OET Reading Part A Overview & Hints!

OET: Writing a nurse’s referral letter

Useful websites

OET – Occupational English Test


Find out more about the OET test date availability, by visiting your country website:

Sample Tests

OET Speaking: Sample Pre-test Introduction (Audio)

OET Speaking: Sample Warm Up & Role Play (Audio)

Nursing Speaking: Sample 1

Nursing Speaking Sample: Set 2

Nursing Writing Sample Test 1

Nursing Writing Sample Test 2

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