Should I choose

Medical English Plus specialise in preparation courses for both the IELTS and OET tests. To help you decide which test would suit you best, please read the following information.

Both IELTS and OET are used to test the English language of healthcare professionals in different parts of the world, including the UK and Ireland. They are chosen by regulatory bodies to ensure doctors, nurses and other professions have sufficient language skills to communicate at a high level with patients and colleagues, and so provide safe and effective care.

There are a number of similarities between the two tests.

  1. Each one consists of four sub-tests, one for each skill: reading, listening, writing and speaking.
  2. A test takes place on one day.
  3. There is no pass/fail, but a graded score – different institutions need test takers to achieve different scores.
  4. In practice, the required scores in the two tests for professions such as doctors and nurses are for similar levels of language skill when measured on the Common European Framework of Reference.
  5. Both tests were developed in the late 1980s and are part owned by Cambridge Assessment English. IELTS ownership is shared with IDP and the British Council, whilst OET ownership is shared with Boxhill Assessment.

However, there are also a number of differences.

1. Content

The Academic version of IELTS used by Higher Education institutions and healthcare regulatory bodies around the world tests academic English. This includes the ability to write essays, follow lectures, understand academic articles and discuss a wide range of topics, from the environment to education to social trends to cultural values.

OET tests healthcare English, including the ability to communicate effectively in medical scenarios, write a referral letter, understand a patient consultation, or follow a text taken from a medical journal.

2. Versions

IELTS offers 2 versions of the test – Academic as described, and General Training, used by organisations to test the more general language considered more appropriate for immigration or vocational purposes. The Listening and Speaking sections are the same for both. The Academic Reading and Writing is more geared to Higher Education than the General Training.

OET offers 12 versions of the test for different healthcare professions; nurses, doctors, dentists, pharmacists, optometrists, podiatrists, occupational therapists, vets, speech pathologists, dieticians, physiotherapists, and radiographers. The Reading and Listening sections are the same for all. The Speaking and Writing sections are tailored to the specific scenarios in which each profession uses English.

3. Preparation

Preparing for IELTS involves learning huge amounts of vocabulary on a wide range of academic subjects so test takers are prepared to read academic texts quickly and effectively, understand lectures and discussions, talk about abstract questions and give opinions in detail. Test takers need to learn how to write reports on a variety of data and a range of essay types. Written texts need to be at an advanced level and so include complex structures and grammar. Learning a set of key exam techniques is also crucial.

Preparing for OET involves learning a wide range of healthcare-related and profession-specific language, so test takers are able to follow, engage with and participate in a variety of clinical scenarios, as well as understand medical texts and talks. They need to be able to write a healthcare-related letter, such as a referral letter, at an advanced level. They need to acquire a range of exam techniques so they can work quickly and effectively in the test.

Because of these different preparation requirements, courses for the two tests follow different pathways and use different materials.

4. Scoring

IELTS is marked out of 9, with a separate score for each paper. Half marks are awarded as part of this. OET is graded from A (best) to E.

Healthcare regulatory bodies, which use both exams to test English for healthcare professions tend to specify an advanced C1 level of language, i.e. around 7 or 7.5 in IELTS and a B in OET.

The score equivalencies between the two tests are as follows:

8 – 9A
7 – 7.5B
5.5 – 6C
4.5 – 5.5D

5. Recognition

IELTS is recognised by universities, regulatory bodies, immigration authorities and companies in many countries around the world. This includes universities in non-English speaking countries where a course may be delivered in English. There are over 1,100 test centres in over 140 countries.

OET is recognised by healthcare regulatory bodies and Higher Education healthcare educators in Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Dubai, Namibia and now by the Nursing and Midwifery Council, the General Medical Council and the Medical Council in the UK and Ireland. There are over 80 test venues in 35 countries.

6. Test takers

Over 3 million people took IELTS in the past year, compared to around 25,000 for the OET. These numbers reflect the difference in size of the global Higher Education market against the smaller, specialist nature of the OET. Until the recent recognition by UK and Ireland regulatory bodies, the main markets for OET have been those professionals wishing to work in Australia and New Zealand.

7. Infrastructure

IELTS has a global infrastructure developed around preparing learners to take the test, including universities, private language schools, published materials, online content, and thousands of teachers and writers.

OET has a small, specialist preparation infrastructure, with a small number of providers and a minimal materials base.

Medical English Plus specialise in both IELTS and OET preparation. We work with hundreds of candidates every year and specialise in working with healthcare professionals. Clients include many large NHS Trusts, Care Home Groups and Private Healthcare Groups in the UK. We are one of the first two OET endorsed Premium Preparation Providers in the whole of the UK and Europe and one of only ten worldwide.

Want to know more about preparation for either test?

Then please call 07713 250037 or email:

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