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Why the changes?

When you write a test, any test, the first thing you have to do is define what you’re testing. The technical term for this is the test construct and the construct of the Occupational English Test is something like “the English language communication skills of healthcare professionals”. Now you don’t have to be a medical or language expert to realise that this is a rich and complicated construct or that the skills healthcare workers are expected to have will change over time. And it’s this reality that’s behind the latest updates to three of the OET skills subtests. In short, the new changes to the OET are based on an improved understanding of what communication skills are significant for success in the medical workplace.  

OET test changes for nurses and doctors
The test changes go LIVE from September 9th!

So what’s changing exactly?

The latest update involves an interesting array of changes to the design of three of the four sub-tests; Speaking, Listening, and Reading.

That’s right! There will be no changes to the OET Writing sub-test task or how it’s evaluated so let’s have a look at the other three one by one.

New OET Test Changes for Speaking subtest.

The task and format of the speaking subtest aren’t changing at all but from September performances in the speaking role-plays will be assessed against a wider range of workplace communication skills. More specifically, one of the current assessment criterion Overall Communicative Effectiveness will be replaced by a new category Clinical Communication Skills. Here is a list of clinical communication skills from the OET website.

    • relationship building
    • understanding the patient’s perspective
    • providing structure to the conversation
    • gathering information from the patient
  • establishing what the patient already knows

The OET test changes in Speaking subtest is based on interesting and comprehensive research from the University of Melbourne that investigated “what matters” to healthcare professionals in terms of communication skills. What they discovered was a set of skills that are important in what’s usually called Patient-Centred Care. Now to define this idea would be a whole different blog, but the idea is that medical professionals should be respectful and responsive to each patient’s need for information and for sharing in decision making about their health and treatment. This idea has become standard practice in English speaking medical systems all around the world and the Clinical Communication Skills criteria is an expression of this reality. As OET themselves say clinical communication skills are “the skills you will need to be successful at work.” So to sum up, the OET Speaking subtest is the same except for the replacing of the old criterion of Overall Communicative Effectiveness with the new category of Clinical Communication Skills.

New OET Test Changes for Reading subtest.

The updated OET Reading subtest will be expanded from 2 to 3 sections; parts A, B and C.

In Part A, you will still read four workplace texts on a related topic but the update includes new tasks types such as matching and short answer questions and there is a much clearer focus on what is called expeditious reading. Expeditious reading is the technical term for reading quickly and efficiently to get the information you need. Like the current version of the test, you will have 15 minutes to complete part A before your question papers are collected in.

In part B of the updated test, you have to read 6 short, around 100 -150 words, workplace texts. Part B expands the types of texts you have to read in the test to include a broader range, such as policy or procedure documents or internal emails.  

In the new Part C, you will need to read two longer texts of around 700 – 800 words each. Unlike part A and B where the choice of readings is taken from things you need to read at work to do your job, Part C reading passages are described as of general medical interest. What this means is that these reading texts will probably present the results of research or clinical updates. They will very often present opinions and attitudes which you will have to pick up on in the test. It’s probably best to think of these as the type of thing you might read outside of work to catch up with the latest ideas or opinions in the medical field but it’s also important to realise that you won’t need to be an expert in the topic to understand the reading. The whole of the new OET Reading test will take 60 minutes.

New OET test changes to the Listening subtest

Like it’s reading counterpart the new Listening sub-test will have 3 sections but at around 40-45 minutes long it will actually be shorter than the current version.

The updates to this subtest are all about introducing a broader range of accents and a greater focus on professional-to-professional interaction e.g. a doctor to doctor conversation. In the latest update,  Part A will still test your ability to follow facts during a professional/patient consultation. Part B uses 6 short extracts of around 1 minute to test your understanding of aspects of professional to professional communication at work. Finally, Part C is similar to Part B in the current version in that you will need to listen and answer questions about a short talk or an interview.

Overall, these seem like very positive and well thought out changes. Although it remains to be seen, my feeling is that these latest updates will be an improvement on the current version.

At E2Language, we will be updating our content to reflect these changes and help our students prepare for the OET. More updates to follow.

Written by Craig

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