For thousands of overseas doctors looking to move to the UK to work for the NHS, deciding which language test to complete can often be confusing, especially with little prior knowledge.
For any doctor from a non-English speaking country wanting to work in the UK, it is required by the General Medical Council (GMC) that you pass an English language exam. Prior to February 2018, there was only one option: the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) — a non-medical English language test.
What is the OET exam?
However, there is a better alternative for internationally trained doctors: the Occupational English Test (OET).
Unlike the IELTS, the OET is a test that is specific to the medical sector. As the bulk of the test is made up of medical language and terminology, it is considered much easier for doctors who are experts in their field to pass.
But it’s not just about being easier to pass. The questions are related to your profession which offers the respect you deserve for your expertise, as well as giving you the confidence required to answer questions related to genuine, real-world medical scenarios. Ordering a caramel soy latte at a coffee shop is, after all, less important for a medical professional than administering the right medicine.
The OET has proven to be advantageous in more than one healthcare sector. From doctors who work in medicine to occupational therapists and radiologists, the OET has been widely accepted as the best choice for knowledgeable medical professionals. This is the case across almost all English speaking countries — but especially in the UK.
What is the OET exam like?
The OET differs between medical professions. The test is broken up into four core categories: listening, reading, writing and speaking. Here we break them down into their four components to give you an idea of what to expect.
The OET listening exam is the same for every medical professional moving to the UK. It is made up of two parts.
The first is a simulated patient consultation with questions at the end of the test. Only short form answers are required. The second is a presentation on a health-related topic with multiple choice questions; this must be completed afterwards.
The whole process is relatively simple, and doctors with expertise in their area should have little difficulty passing the exam.
Unlike the OET listening exam, the OET writing exam is specific to your area of expertise. For example, if you are a gastroenterologist, you will have a completely different exam to a radiologist. The method, however, is the same.
You will be required to write a letter related to your profession. This could be a discharge letter or advice to a patient or carer. You will be provided with case notes too, so you won’t be expected to be creative. For experts, the OET writing task should be relatively simple, especially for doctors with a good understanding of the English language.
As with the OET listening exam, the OET reading exam has the same content for all medical professionals. So no matter what line of medicine you work in, you will complete the same assessment. The assessment is made up of two parts.
In the first, you will be expected to read health-related texts and fill in missing words in a summary paragraph.
The second is a longer text from which you are required to answer multiple-choice questions. The reading test should be a simple process for doctors looking to move to the UK to work as a medical professional.
If English is not your mother tongue, it is often the speaking element that is most difficult. However, when you do the OET exam, you will find that the speaking element is the most heavily related to your profession. This should make things a little easier.
Lasting just 20 minutes, you will act in two role-play scenarios as a healthcare professional, with the examiner acting as a patient or carer. They are based on typical, real-world scenarios, reflecting what your day-to-day life would be like as a doctor in the NHS.
Will I still need to take the IELTS exam as well as the OET?
Whilst doctors looking to move to the UK are required to take the IELTS for visa purposes, the OET pass rate required is an overall score of 4.0. This is much lower than if a doctor was relying on IELTS alone for GMC qualification, which carries a requirement for an overall score of 7.5.
For almost every doctor, we would recommend that you take the OET test towards qualifying for GMC registration. It may be a slightly more expensive option, but it is a much quicker way to get you one step closer to your new dream job as a doctor in the UK.