In the midst of all of the gloom and disruption caused by COVID-19, there has come some very exciting news: this month, OET has been accepted in the United States for medical professionals. This means that doctors and nurses who are seeking jobs in the USA are now allowed to validate their English language abilities with OET. The ECFMG Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates) and the FAIMER) Foundation for Advancement of International Medical Education and Research are both recognising the OET, as are the nursing boards in the states of Florida and Oregon from late 2020.
Differences in grades for OET in the USA
As far as the grades demanded by those who are now taking the OET for the US are concerned, there are some differences, depending on the authority you are taking the test for. The ECFMG assesses the readiness of overseas graduates in medicine to go into residencies or fellowship programs, as well as a path to receiving a license to practice medicine in the States. This will now include the option of taking the OET and getting a B (350+) in every section.
For nurses, depending on where you are applying, you may be required to achieve at least four C+ (300+) grades or four B grades. Whatever your destination, make sure you check!
E2Language has recently seen a significant (and very welcome!) increase in the number of students joining Live Classes and tutorials from North America. Many new OET United States test-takers are not familiar with two central aspects of what makes the Occupational English test unique: the writing and speaking sections. This blog will explain how to approach each of these tasks and pass with flying colours.
In the OET you are required to sit with an interlocutor for two role plays. These are scenarios specific to your profession, of which the OET covers at least a dozen.
When you enter the room, the interlocutor introduces themselves at a safe social distance, then asks you some questions. Don’t worry about this part: it is not assessed, and the questions aren’t complicated (e.g.: Where are you from? What do you like about being a nurse?). This time should be used to calm yourself down and get used to their accent. It’s worth noting that the interlocutor could be from anywhere and that they aren’t the examiner. The marking is done based on a recording of the session later.
You then have to complete two role plays, one after the other. These are scenarios which should be familiar to you, like a patient who is recovering from a heart attack at a suburban general practice, or the parent of a little girl who has presented at the ER following her first asthma attack. You will have three minutes to underline relevant words, take a few short notes and, if you want to, ask the interlocutor to clarify anything you didn’t quite understand. Then the role play starts!
You’re expected to initiate the conversation and use your knowledge of English to guide it from point to point. The role-play card has a series of tasks for you to follow, each of which is attached to a function verb (e.g.: suggest, recommend, insist). It’s very important that you understand and speak to the function verbs in an appropriate way, but you needn’t complete all of the tasks, nor do you have to deal with them in order.
Candidates who do well in the speaking section sound more natural and empathetic, so think beyond the words you are using and focus on how you are talking.
The writing section of the OET seems straightforward on the face of it. You must first read profession-specific case notes, then plan and write a three to a five-paragraph letter in 40 minutes.
There are several important things to consider before you get down to writing your OET letter: Who am I writing the letter to? What is their job? What do they need to know about my patient? Have they met my patient before? Once you have established the answers to these questions, you can get stuck into the case notes themselves.
They may seem quite overwhelming at first, and it is true there is a lot of information to sift through. Do not lose sight of the fact that your letter is being written with one person in mind, and the act of arranging the notes gets much easier. It might be tempting to include the patient’s BMI, but does the social worker need to know it? You should also be careful about repeating relevant information. How many times does the reader of your letter need to know that your patient is diabetic? That he lives alone? Or that she had a miscarriage?
Once you are satisfied with your organisation of the case notes, you need to plan, and the way you do this in the OET is quite different to how you would go about the writing task in the TOEFL or IELTS tests. In the OET, you are encouraged to be flexible about how many paragraphs go into your letter, whether it is three, four or five. The order of the letter might change, depending on the case: Should the presenting issue go before or after family and social history? Ought I move onto his medical history after the introduction?
The 180-200 words you will write should be economical, well-structured and clear. Do not make the reader have to go back over every sentence to decipher what exactly you meant. When you get to the penultimate sentence “Please do not hesitate to contact me should you require any further information”, your imaginary correspondent should not be reaching for her phone!
While the OET is not the easiest test, it is far more relevant and interesting for medical professionals than its competitors. Knowing what to expect and how to achieve your objectives, especially in the writing and speaking sections, is half of the road already travelled.
Written by Colin David, OET specialist