OET vs IELTS: A Comparison of
English Language Tests for Medical Professionals
English language proficiency is a
crucial requirement for medical professionals who want to work or study in an
English-speaking environment. There are two main English language tests that
are widely accepted by healthcare regulators and employers around the world:
the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) and the Occupational
English Test (OET). Both of these tests assess the four skills of reading,
writing, listening and speaking, but they have some key differences in terms of
content, format, scoring and recognition. In this article, I will compare and
contrast these two tests from the perspective of an experienced doctor who has
taken and evaluated them both.
What is IELTS?
IELTS is a standardized language
proficiency test that measures the general or academic English skills of
non-native speakers. It is designed for people who want to pursue higher
education, work or migrate to an English-speaking country. IELTS has two
versions: Academic and General Training. The Academic version is more suitable
for medical professionals who want to apply for further studies or professional
registration, while the General Training version is more relevant for those who
want to work or settle in an English-speaking country.
IELTS consists of four sections:
Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking. Each section is scored on a band
scale from 0 to 9, with 9 being the highest. The test takers also receive an
overall band score, which is the average of the four section scores. The test
duration is about 2 hours and 45 minutes.
The Reading section has three
passages with 40 questions that test the ability to comprehend, analyze and
interpret various types of texts, such as academic articles, reports, graphs,
diagrams and charts. The Writing section has two tasks that require the test
takers to write a short essay and a report or a letter based on given
information. The Listening section has four sections with 40 questions that
test the ability to understand and respond to different types of spoken texts,
such as conversations, lectures, presentations and announcements. The Speaking
section is a face-to-face interview with an examiner that tests the ability to
communicate effectively in various situations, such as introducing oneself,
expressing opinions, discussing topics and answering questions.
What is OET?
OET is an international English
language test that assesses the language communication skills of healthcare
professionals who seek to register and practise in an English-speaking
environment. It is designed specifically for 12 healthcare professions:
Nursing, Medicine, Dentistry, Physiotherapy, Veterinary Science, Occupational
Therapy, Speech Pathology, Podiatry, Radiography, Optometry, Pharmacy and
Dietetics. OET covers the language skills that are relevant and essential for
healthcare professionals in their daily work.
OET also consists of four
sections: Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking. Each section is scored on a
letter grade scale from A to E, with A being the highest. The test takers do
not receive an overall score. The test duration is about 3 hours.
The Reading section has three
parts with 42 questions that test the ability to read and understand various
types of texts related to healthcare topics, such as health promotion
materials, research articles and case notes. The Writing section has one task
that requires the test takers to write a letter based on a specific scenario
related to their profession, such as a referral letter or a discharge letter.
The Listening section has three parts with 42 questions that test the ability
to listen and understand different types of spoken texts related to healthcare
situations, such as patient consultations, handovers and presentations. The
Speaking section is a role-play with an interlocutor who plays the role of a
patient or a carer that tests the ability to communicate effectively in a
How do they compare?
Both IELTS and OET are
internationally recognized and widely accepted by healthcare regulators and
employers around the world. However,
they have some significant
differences that may affect the choice of medical professionals who want to
take one of them.
The main difference between IELTS
and OET is the content of the test. While IELTS tests general or academic
English skills that are applicable for various purposes and contexts,
OET tests medical English skills
that are specific for healthcare settings and scenarios. This means that OET
may be more suitable for medical professionals who are already familiar with
the terminology and situations
Another difference between IELTS
and OET is the difficulty level of the test. Both tests are challenging and
require sufficient preparation and practice to achieve a high score. However,
some factors may affect the difficulty level for different test takers.
One factor is the familiarity with
the test content. OET may be easier for medical professionals who are already
familiar with the terminology and situations related to their profession, while
IELTS may be easier for those who are more comfortable with general or academic
English topics. For example, writing a referral letter or a patient
consultation may be more natural for a doctor than writing an essay or a report
based on graphs and charts.
Another factor is the scoring
system. OET uses a letter grade system from A to E, while IELTS uses a band
score system from 0 to 9. The letter grades are not equivalent to the band
scores, and different healthcare regulators and employers may have different
requirements for each test. For example, according to EnglishProficiency.com,
the GMC in the UK requires doctors to score B in OET with a B in each section
or an IELTS 7.5 with a minimum score of 7 in each section. This means that OET
may have a higher standard for writing and speaking than IELTS, as a B in OET
corresponds to an 8 or higher in IELTS.
A third factor is the availability
of practice materials and resources. IELTS has been around longer than OET and
has more official and unofficial materials and resources available online and
offline. OET has fewer materials and resources, but they are more tailored to
the specific needs and contexts of healthcare professionals. Therefore, test
takers may find it easier or harder to prepare for either test depending on
their access and preference for different types of materials and resources.
The final difference between IELTS
and OET is the recognition of the test by different healthcare regulators and
employers around the world. IELTS is more widely recognized and accepted than
OET, as it is considered the ‘gold standard’ of English language tests for
various purposes and contexts. OET is more specialized and accepted by a smaller
number of bodies and institutions that are related to healthcare professions.
According to BSC , OET
is recognized by healthcare regulatory bodies in the UK, Ireland, Australia,
New Zealand, Singapore, Dubai, Ukraine and Namibia. IELTS is recognized by more
than 10,000 organizations in over 140 countries, including healthcare
regulators, employers, universities, colleges and immigration authorities.
Therefore, IELTS may be a better choice for medical professionals who are
unsure of where they might work or study in the future, while OET may be a
better choice for those who have a clear goal and destination in mind.
The last difference between IELTS
and OET is the cost of the test. OET is more expensive than IELTS, as it
charges a higher fee for each test. The
IELTS exam fee ranges from USD 215 to USD 310 depending on the location, while
the OET exam fee is USD 455. This means that taking OET may be more costly than
taking IELTS, especially if the test takers need to repeat the test several
times to achieve their desired score.
Therefore, IELTS may be a more
affordable option for medical professionals who are on a tight budget or who
are unsure of their English level, while OET may be a more worthwhile
investment for those who are confident of their medical English skills and who
can afford the higher fee.
In conclusion, IELTS and OET are
both valid and reliable English language tests for medical professionals who
want to work or study in an English-speaking environment. However, they have
some important differences in terms of content, format, scoring and recognition
that may affect the decision of which test to take. IELTS tests general or
academic English skills that are applicable for various purposes and contexts,
while OET tests medical English skills that are specific for healthcare
settings and scenarios. IELTS has a band score system from 0 to 9, while OET
has a letter grade system from A to E. IELTS is more widely recognized and
accepted than OET, while OET is more specialized and accepted by a smaller
number of healthcare bodies and institutions.
Having evaluated both tests, I would recommend choosing the test that best
suits your needs and goals. If you are looking for a more general or academic
English test that is accepted by a wide range of organizations around the
world, then IELTS may be a better option for you. If you are looking for a more
medical English test that is tailored to your profession and accepted by
specific healthcare regulators and employers in certain countries e.g. GMC ,IMC ,PLAB etc, then OET may
be a better option for you. Whichever test you choose, make sure you prepare
well and practice your skills before taking the test.