OET or IELTS for medical professionals?

This article follows on from our introductory post on the UK’s English language requirements for overseas Healthcare professionals which discusses how you can prove your level of English so you can register with your professional body and work in the healthcare sector as a doctor, nurse, dentist, pharmacist or other role in this country. The article below provides a brief comparison between the two English language tests that can be taken by overseas healthcare professionals – IELTS and OET.  

Now that many professional bodies offer a choice between taking the IELTS (International English Language Testing System) or the OET (Occupational English Test) to prove your English language level, it can be difficult to decide which route to take.

Here is a very brief guide to the differences between the two qualifications.

An introduction to IELTS and OET

IELTS is possibly the better-known qualification of the two. It has been used by organisations such as universities and immigration authorities, as well as professional bodies, for decades as a way of testing English language skills. It is based on academic English and tests the four skills or reading, writing, listening and speaking.

OET has only been accepted by professional healthcare bodies in the last few years. It focuses on the English used in different healthcare environments and also tests the same four skills as IELTS.

A brief comparison between IELTS and OET

Here’s a few facts to help you decide between the two:

  • Content: Whilst IELTS focuses on academic English and covers a broad range of subjects, OET is based on medical English. There are also 12 types of OET test, including one for doctors, nurses and pharmacists.
  • Skills covered: Both tests cover the four main skills of reading, writing, listening and speaking with separate tests for each.
  • Format: Both tests can be taken on paper or computer. The tests comprise of different tasks. For example, in IELTS Writing, you have to produce a report on some data and an essay on a commonly discussed topic. In OET Writing, you produce a referral letter using patient notes that are provided.
  • Score required: The majority of professional bodies will require a band 7 or 7.5 in IELTS and a Grade B in OET. Both equate to a C1 or above on the CEFR scale
  • Recognition: Both tests are accepted by the majority of healthcare regulatory bodies in The UK now. IELTS can also be used to gain admission to universities, immigration authorities and a number of companies for employment purposes.
  • Price: In 2021, taking the OET test cost approximately £320 in the UK. The IELTS cost between £170 to £195 depending on location.
  • Location of test centres: Both tests can be taken at numerous centres throughout the UK and worldwide.

This is only a quick guide to these two English language tests. To find out more about both tests, visit their websites:

  • IELTS (International English Language Testing System)
  • OET (Occupational English Test)

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