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The Occupational English Test (also known as OET) is an international English language test for the healthcare sector. It assesses the language communication skills of healthcare professionals who wish to register and practise in an English-speaking environment.
OET is available for the following 12 professions: dentistry, dietetics, medicine, nursing, occupational therapy, optometry, pharmacy, physiotherapy, podiatry, radiography, speech pathology, and veterinary science.
OET is recognised by regulatory healthcare bodies and councils in Australia, New Zealand and Singapore. Many organisations, including hospitals, universities and colleges, are using OET as proof of a candidate’s ability to communicate effectively in a demanding healthcare environment. In addition, OET is recognised by the Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection for a number of visa categories, including work and student visas.
Each recognising organisation determines which grade results mean that candidates meet the language competency standards to function in their profession. A full list of regulatory organisations which accept OET can be seen on the official website.
OET provides a valid and reliable assessment of all four language skills – Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking – with an emphasis on communication in medical and health professional settings. OET consists of four sub-tests:
Listening (approximately 50 minutes)
Reading (60 minutes)
Writing (45 minutes)
Speaking (approximately 20 minutes).
The listening test consists of two parts. In Part A, candidates listen to a simulated consultation (dialogue) between a professional and a patient and are required to take notes under headings. In Part B, candidates listen to a health professional giving a short talk on a health-related topic and are required to complete a range of open-ended and fixed-choice questions.
The reading test consists of two parts. In Part A, lasting 15 minutes, candidates are asked to skim read 3 or 4 short texts and complete a summary paragraph by filling in the missing words. It is designed to test the reader’s ability to scan texts within a time limit, source information from multiple texts, and synthesise information. In Part B, lasting 45 minutes, candidates are asked to read two passages on a general healthcare topic and answer 8–10 multiple choice questions for each text. It is designed to test the reader’s ability to read and comprehend longer texts.
The writing paper asks candidates to write a letter, usually a letter of referral. For some professions a different type of letter is required, e.g. a letter of transfer or discharge, or a letter to advise a patient, carer or group. Candidates are given case notes which must be included in their letter.
The speaking test is in the form of one-to-one conversations with an interlocutor. It starts with a short warm-up interview about the candidate’s professional background. This is followed by two role plays. Candidates have 2–3 minutes to prepare for each role play. Role plays last about five minutes and are based on typical interactions between a health professional and a patient. The candidate adopts their usual professional role (e.g. as a nurse) and the interviewer plays a patient or sometimes a relative or carer. For veterinary science the interviewer is the owner or carer of the animal.
Each of the four sub-tests that make up OET are graded A to E, where A is the highest grade and E is the lowest. There is no overall grade.
OET grade Description of ability
A Very high level of performance
B High level of performance, i.e. able to use English with fluency and accuracy adequate for professional needs
C Good level of performance; however, not acceptable to a range of health and medical councils
D Moderate level of performance; requires improvement
E Low level of performance; requires considerable improvement
Listening and reading
There is no fixed score-to-grade link for the listening and reading tests. Grade boundaries are continually reset because different test materials are used at each administration. A mean average of the percentage of candidates in each grade for the writing and speaking tests is applied to the spread of performances on the listening and reading tests to establish the grade boundaries.
Writing and speaking
In writing and speaking, the score is generated through statistical analysis of the two sets of scores from two independent assessors. This is converted, following established practice, to the final grade