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IELTS vs OET - Differences and Similarities

Both IELTS (International English Language Testing System) and OET (Occupational English Test) are used to test the English language of healthcare professionals in different parts of the world.

They are chosen by regulatory bodies to ensure that healthcare professionals have sufficient language skills to communicate at a high level with patients and colleagues.

SIMILARITIES

There are a number of similarities between the two tests, as follows:​

  • Each one consists of four sub-tests, one for each skill: reading, listening, writing and speaking.

  • A test takes place on one day.

  • There is no pass/fail, but a graded score – different institutions need test takers to achieve different scores.

  • In practice, the required scores in the two tests for professions such as nurses are for similar levels of language skill when measured on the Common European Framework of Reference

DIFERENCES

Content

IELTS tests academic English 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.

Versions

IELTS offers 2 versions of the test – Academic as described, and General Training, used by organizations 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 both. The Speaking and Writing sections are tailored to the specific scenarios in which each profession uses English.

Preparation requirements

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.

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.

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, around 7 in IELTS and a B in OET.

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