The Occupational English Test:
medical English testing
By Virginia Allum
Why test medical English?
• Compulsory in some countries for
registration as a healthcare
• Useful as proof of language
• Healthcare professionals must be safe
practitioners – language proficiency is
part of this
What tests are available?
• IELTS – but not specific to medical environment
• CELBAN – for nurses wanting to register in
• sTANDEM - Standardised Language System for
Medical Purposes ( doctors, nurses, pharmacists)
• OET – Occupational English Test for healthcare
professionals wanting to register in Australia,
New Zealand and Singapore
OET – what is it?
• Medical English testing of reading,
writing, listening and speaking
• Covers 12 healthcare professions
• Used as a benchmark to prove
language proficiency for registration
as a healthcare professional
What is the reading test like?
• The reading test is the same for all
• may cover any topic relating to the 12
• reading texts may include graphs or
• may contain medical terminology
Preparing for the reading test
• Practise locating key words in each
• Websites like BBC Health, ABC Health,
MedlinePlus and Patient.co.uk have texts
on health topics – use them to scan for
• Review medical terminology including
prefixes and suffixes
The listening test
• The listening test is the same for all the
• There are two parts: part A is a
dialogue, part B is a lecture style text.
• Whilst the listening is only heard once,
it is paused after each section to allow
candidates to write
Preparing for the listening test
• Practise listening for key words – the
speaker may pause a little or emphasise the
key words when speaking.
• Use websites such as ABC Radio National
Health Matters – listen first then check the
• Check pronunciation of medical terms – they
may be different from your language
The speaking test
• Consists of two role plays – each
professional has a slightly different type
of role play but
• All role plays practise communication
• Each role play presents approx. four
examples of communication strategies
e.g. explaining, reassuring, advising.
Format of the speaking test
• A two-minute introduction – the
interlocutor gets to know the candidate
briefly and checks ID.
• Two 5 minute role plays – a variety of
• Most role plays have two issues which
are connected in some way.
Preparing for the speaking test
• Role plays follow a basic conversation
structure – introduction, discussion of
topic and rounding up of the
• Prepare and practise phrases of basic
communication strategies e.g. asking
• Review everyday language for medical
What is the writing task?
• Each profession has a specific task –
usually a letter.
• Stimulus material is provided (no
underlining or note taking allowed) –
only relevant details to be used.
• The letter must be set out correctly and
be clearly written and well organised.
Prepare for the writing task
• Practise of handwriting essential – writing
must be legible
• Review abbreviations of medical terms e.g.
• Practise a standard layout of letter – identify
the parts which do not change and which can
be used each time.
• Review how to set out the address, salutation
Other things to consider
• Clear communication is the key – review
common grammatical structures e.g. verbs +
infinitives with ‘to’ and verbs + infinitives
without ‘to’, gerunds, discourse markers.
CLEAR COMMUNICATION IS THE KEY