What is the OET?



OET for Pharmacists


If you live in the UK and are a pharmacist by profession, you may have been really excited to hear the news that the General Pharmaceutical Council now approves the Occupational English Test (OET) as a standard to prove your proficiency in English.


Up until now, the IELTS has been one of your only options to prove your competency in the English language, but I know, having taught many pharmacists over the years, that the IELTS can be a tricky test to score well in.


In this blog post, we’ll look at the differences between the two tests, and point out the benefits of each, so you can compare both and decide which test is right for you.


What is the OET?


The Occupational English Test (OET) is a test run by Cambridge Boxhill and is designed for the healthcare sector.


It’s split into four sub-tests: Listening, reading, writing, and speaking.


So as you can see, in this respect, it’s exactly the same as the IELTS.



Is the OET easier than IELTS?

Well, the simple answer to that is no! Both the IELTS and the OET test your proficiency in English to the same standard. The tests themselves are equally hard. However, while the context of the reading and listening texts, and speaking and writing tasks are incredibly varied in IELTS - anything from space travel to football - in the OET, all the material is based around healthcare.


This means that whilst also giving you the opportunity to learn and practice the kind of language you will need every day at work, the test tasks themselves are designed to help you prove that you have the right level of English for work or study in the field of health,


Let’s look at each of the OET sub-tests in more detail and look in particular at the specialised pharmacy sub-tests.



OET Listening Sub-Test


Whereas the IELTS has four sub-sections for the listening which is split into two listening texts about general English (such as asking for personal details when joining a gym, or listening to a museum talk) and two listening texts on academic English (e.g. a group of students discussing a project, and a lecture about film studies), the OET listening is based entirely around healthcare situations.


It’s split into three.


OET Listening A: Consultation Extracts


  • You’ll hear two consultations between a healthcare professional and a patient.

  • The consultations are not connected.

  • Tests your ability to identify specific information during (e.g. nature of injury, duration, effects).

  • 12 x 2 questions.

  • Gap fills to complete the health professional’s notes using the information you hear.

  • 5 minutes x 2.

  • Total score possible 24.




OET Listening B: Short Workplace Extracts


  • You’ll hear 6 workplace extracts (e.g. team briefing, handover sessions, professional discussion between colleagues).

  • Assesses your ability to identify the detail, gist, opinion or purpose of the extract.

  • 3 multiple choice answers per extract.

  • 1 minute x 6.

  • Total score possible 6.



OET Listening C: Interview & Presentation Extracts



  • You’ll hear two extracts on healthcare topics.

  • One will be an interview between a journalist and a healthcare professional.

  • The second will be an extract from a presentation given by a healthcare professional.

  • The two extracts are not connected.

  • 5 minutes x 2.

  • 6 multiple choice answers per extract.

  • Total score possible 12





OET Reading Sub-Test


If you’ve tried the IELTS before, you’ll know how varied and long the texts can be. The skills they’re looking for are really very academic - skimming and scanning and more careful reading.


The OET is similar in some respects, but rather than focusing on academic skills, it focuses on practical skills that you would need at work. For example, finding the correct dosage; learning about an update to workplace policy when dealing with chaperones; reading about a healthcare topic that is making the news.


It’s split into three sections.


OET Reading A: Expeditious Reading Task (15 minutes)


  • You’ll be given four extracts from the same healthcare topic (e.g. pneumonia in children).

  • The texts will be the kind you’d read with a patient in front of you.

  • You want to double check a medication pathway, or find out if a particular drug has any contraindications, so read short extracts to find out.

  • There are 20 questions in total, so you have to be efficient in your reading.

  • Once the 15 minutes is over, this part of the test will be taken away.

  • The questions types are: matching, sentence completion, short answer questions.

  • Total score possible 12.




OET Reading B: Short Workplace Extracts (45 minutes for both B & C together)


  • You’ll be given 6 workplace extracts (e.g. an email to nursing staff outlining a change to dress code; an update to a safety feature for a piece of equipment; guidelines on how to handle a certain situation).

  • Assesses your ability to identify the detail, gist, opinion or purpose of the extract.

  • Each extract is between 100-150 words long

  • 3 multiple choice answers per extract.

  • Total score possible 6.



OET Listening C: Healthcare Interest texts (45 minutes for both B & C together)




  • You’ll be given two extracts on healthcare topics.

  • The two extracts are not connected.

  • They could, for example, be an opinion piece on the efficacy of a vaccine rollout, or the need to do more to prepare for a new pandemic.

  • Each text is around 800 words long and will be the kind of text you’d read for professional interest or development.

  • 8 multiple choice answers per extract.

  • Total score possible 16



The OET Reading and Listening sub-tests are the same for all professions, but the speaking and the writing are different.



OET Writing Sub-Test

  • You’ll be given a set of casenotes.

  • The task is to write a letter based on the information in the casenotes.

  • The letter types include:

  • a referral letter.

  • a letter of transfer.

  • a letter of discharge.

  • a letter to advise or inform a patient, carer or group (sometimes used in Pharmacy, Veterinary Science and occasionally for Speech Pathology and Occupational Therapy.

  • a written response to a complaint (for Radiography).

  • You’ll be given 5 minutes’ reading time.

  • And then 40 minutes to write the letter (you’ll still be able to see and refer to the casenotes during this time).



How is the OET Writing sub-test assessed?


Performance is scored against six criteria and receives a band score for each criterion:


  • Purpose (Whether the purpose of the letter is immediately apparent to the reader and sufficiently expanded in the course of the letter).

  • Content (Whether all the necessary information is included and accurate for the reader)

  • Conciseness & Clarity (Whether unnecessary information is omitted so that the letter is an effective summary for the reader)

  • Genre & Style (Whether the register, tone and use of abbreviations are appropriate for the reader)

  • Organisation & Layout (Whether the letter is organised and well laid out for the reader)

  • Language (Whether the accuracy of the grammar, vocabulary, spelling and punctuation communicates the necessary information to the reader)


There is a total possible score of 38

Watch our writing guides for an in-depth look at how to score well for each criterion.



OET Speaking Sub-Test

  • The OET speaking sub-test is divided into three sections



OET Speaking Part 1: Unassessed Warm Up


  • The interlocutor will ask you some questions about yourself and your job (E.g. why did you choose your profession, what do you like most about it etc).

  • It will be a chance to familiarise yourself with their voice and become more comfortable.

  • This part is not assessed.


OET Speaking Part 2: Role-Play 1


  • You’ll receive a task card with background information and a set of instructions.

  • You have three minutes to plan and prepare - you can make notes during this time and even ask questions, such as what the patient’s name is.

  • The interlocutor will tell you when the role-play will start.

  • You play yourself and the interlocutor will play the patient or carer.

  • The role-play will last for 5 minutes, after which time you’ll be stopped.

  • The interlocutor is not an assessor. Your roleplay will be recorded and sent to Australia to be double marked.


OET Speaking Part 2: Role-Play 2


The whole process is then repeated. You get another task card, another 3 minutes to prepare, and another 5 minutes to carry out the role-play.


The situation will be different, but the interlocutor will be the same, although they will take the role of another patient or carer.



How is the OET Speaking Assessed?



The criteria is split into two categories: linguistic and communication.


Linguistic Criteria:

  • Intelligibility: The impact of your pronunciation, intonation and accent on how clearly your listener can hear and understand what you’re saying

  • Fluency: The impact of the speed and smoothness of your speech on your listener’s understanding

  • Appropriateness of Language: The impact of your language, tone and professionalism on your listener’s understanding and comfort

  • Resources of Grammar and Expression: The impact of your level of grammatical accuracy and vocabulary choices on your listener’s understanding.

Clinical Communication Criteria:

  • Relationship-building: The impact of your choice of opening to the conversation and demonstration of empathy and respect on your listener’s comfort

  • Understanding and incorporating the patient’s perspective: The impact of how fully you involve the patient in the conversation on your listener’s understanding and comfort

  • Providing structure: The impact of how you organise the information you provide and introduce new topics for discussion on your listener’s understanding

  • Information-gathering: The impact of the type of questions you ask and how you listen to the responses on your listener’s understanding

  • Information-giving: The impact of how you provide information and check this information is being understood on your listener’s comfort and understanding.


Watch our videos on the speaking sub-test to find out more.


To get a discount on our on-demand, pre-recorded Speaking Course for Doctors, please click here, and for a discount on our course for Nurses, please click here.