An Employers Guide to OET and IELTS

Doctors, Nurses and AHP’s play a vital role in the provision of healthcare across the globe. As a professional, it is their responsibility to make the safety and wellbeing of those in their care is their primary concern. A key part of this is communication, and the need to be able to communicate clearly and effectively in the national language the professional is working.


Most healthcare registration bodies across English speaking countries recognise the OET and IELTS as suitable tests that demonstrates English proficiency, allowing overseas professional to join the professional register. Selecting an English language proficiency test can seem challenging because they all assess candidates’ basic English skills.


This article is going to explore each test, their similarities and differences. Allowing you (the employer), to better understand the journey prospective overseas healthcare candidate go through when registering, allowing you to give guidance and the various supporting avenues available for candidates.

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Occupational English Test (OET)

OET is a well-respected international English language test for the healthcare sector. Established in the late 1980s under contract to the Australian Federal Government, OET continues to remain relevant through continuous research and validation. To learn more about OET click here.


What is the format of the Test?

Limited language proficiency is an obstacle to effective communication affecting quality of care.  OET is designed to replicate the critical tasks of healthcare workplace settings and measure abilities across the skills of listening, reading, writing and speaking. Learn more about the OET testing structure and for sample tests, click here


Underpinned by Cambridge Assessment English and the University of Melbourne, OET has featured prominently in research literature relating to language testing in specific-purpose contexts.


What is the cost?

Delivered in more than 40 countries through secure facilities with highly-trained staff.  Robust identity and malpractice checks, test material assessed centrally, and secure results verification service for recognising organisations. The costs is currently £305 to sit the exam.


Most English speaking countries expect overseas healthcare professionals to cover the costs of the OET, however as staff shortages worsen, many employers in the United Kingdom are offering refunds or partial payment and many are willing to sponsor candidates through OET preparation programmes to increase their candidates chances to pass.


Employers can pay for the OET test on candidate behalf, via the OET website, to find out more, Click Here. Candidates can register and book for the test, for more information, Click Here. 


How to support candidate’s preparation?

There are many colleagues, tutors and recruitment agencies who offer OET preparation programmes at a cost to either you or the candidate. There is a growing concern that healthcare professionals are being targeted by fraudsters and recruitment agents pray on promises of working abroad at a cost. To ensure you (as an employer) and the candidate is protected and supported, only accredited OET resources should be utilised.


  • OET offers preparation packages for all health professionals who need to extra support to break through and pass the exam.
  • They also offer on-demand OET Masterclasses allow you to prepare at a time and place that fit your needs. We have an OET Masterclass for each of subtest, so you can practise your reading, writing, speaking and listening from anywhere.
  • If candidates would like a personal approach, through virtual or classroom preparation courses, OET has a large number of accredited providers.


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The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) Academic

The IELTS Academic test is for candidates who are applying for professional registration in an English speaking environment. It reflects some of the features of academic language and assesses whether candidates are ready to begin studying or training.


In most countries where English is the main language of communication, evidence of acceptable English language skills is a prerequisite for applicants and international healthcare professionals seeking registration. Required proficiency levels vary between organisations, professions, by country and by jurisdiction. It is up to individual professional registration bodies to determine the IELTS band score. IELTS provides a reliable and internationally accessible means healthcare professionals coming from overseas to demonstrate their language proficiency..



What is the format of the test?

The Academic IELTS test assesses candidates abilities in listening, reading, writing and speaking – in less than three hours. Healthcare professionals must undertake the Academic IELTS which tests candidates listening, speaking, reading and writing. Listening and Speaking are the same for both tests, but the subject matter of the Reading and Writing sections differs depending on which test candidates take.


The Listening, Reading and Writing sections of all IELTS tests are completed on the same day, with no breaks in between them. The Speaking section, however, can be completed up to a week before or after the other tests. Your test centre will advise. The total test time is 2 hours and 45 minutes.

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What is the Cost?

There are over 1,600 IELT testing centres across 140 countries, giving candidates easy access. All testing facilities are well secure, with highly-trained staff.  Robust identity and malpractice checks, test material assessed centrally, and secure results verification service for recognising organisations. Candidates can find an accredited IELTS testing centre via the website, Click here to find a location or global testing centres. The costs is £160 – £190 depending on the location and testing centre.



How to support candidate’s preparation?

Similar to OET, there are many colleges, tutors and recruitment agencies who offer IELTS preparation programmes at a cost to either you or the candidate. There is a growing concern that healthcare professionals are being targeted by fraudsters and recruitment agents praying on promises of working abroad at a cost. To ensure you (as an employer) and the candidate is protected and supported, only accredited IELTS resources are recommended. IELTS offer online sample test papers and also offer a range of additional resources. 


Candidates can undertake official practice tests, this is a great way for candidates to understand the conditions of the test, which also provides candidates with a detailed feedback report, allow them to understand where they need to develop. It is also a great way for employers to predict candidate’s potential deployment timeline. The mock tests are not timed and costs only £33.


To find where tests are conducted, Click Here. 


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How to verify results?

It is understandable as an employer you want to invest in prospective candidates. It is therefore essential all OET and IELTS certificates are verified. Many employers will rely on recruitment agencies to do this on their behalf, however with many incidences that have led to patient harmed.  It is still the responsibility of the employers to ensure all health professional candidate documentation is verified.




Similarities between IELTS and 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.
  • While IELTS is another internationally acclaimed English language test that has two sections: general and academic. Candidates who want to go abroad for higher studies or for any specialised job, need to clear the academic IELTS and others take the general one.
  • They both test four English skills, namely reading, listening, speaking, and writing.
  • For both tests, you will be given a score that will determine your current level of English.



Difference between IELTS and OET

IELTS and OET differ in several categories.  Let’s have a look:


  1. Context

The main difference is the context within which each test is taken. The IELTS test will test your English within the context of a wide variety of topics. The OET will test your ability within the context of your medical profession. Therefore, if you are a nurse or a doctor, you will be tested on things related to your job.


  1. Cost & Availability

IELTS is much cheaper than OET and is available in more places. OET costs about three times more than IELTS.  There are also more IELTS test dates available than OET. Anecdotal evidence suggest healthcare professionals are more likely to pass OET as the language used within the exam reflect their occupation, therefore whilst the OET is much more expensive, candidates may only need to undertake the test fewer times to pass.


  1. Preparation

They are both English tests, so a good level of general English is required, but there are also key differences in ‘test skills’. Therefore, the preparation for each test will be different.


You will have to invest a significant amount of time and effort into preparing for each of them. If you have already invested a large amount of time in one, it may be a bad idea to throw that away and switch to the other.


There are also 3 million IELTS test takers every year and only 25,000 OET takers. This means that there are far more preparation options for IELTS, ranging from a huge number of free options to online courses and private tuition. The range for OET is rather limited.


  1. Acceptance

IELTS is viewed as the ‘gold standard’ and is accepted everywhere. OET is accepted by a smaller number of bodies and institutions. IELTS may be a better choice if you are unsure of where you might work or study in the future.


  1. Retaking the test

One of the most frustrating things about IELTS is that if you fail one of the four skills, you have to take all four again. This is very disappointing for students who struggle with any one section.


An OET candidate can ‘bank’ the higher scores and focus only on the skills they ‘failed’. For many candidates, this is the biggest benefit of OET and one that IELTS should consider introducing.


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How Candidates Choose Between the IELTS and OET?

If money is a factor, the IELTS test is a better choice. Candidates might have to repeat the test a few times before they get the score they need, so this needs to be taken into consideration. Also, if you have spent a significant amount of time preparing for one, it will be difficult to switch to the other test. Preparation costs money, time and energy.


The main reason why students score lesser than the desired band is that their English level is not up to the required standard. Switching to a different test will not solve that problem. Candidates must focus on improving your general level of English and test skills, no matter which one you choose.


Do you have any tips to give to healthcare employers? Please comment….


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