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In the IELTS and the PTE you have to write an ‘essay’. You are given a prompt and you write according to your thoughts. In the OET, you do not write according to your thoughts. In fact, there is very little room for creativity at all.
In the OET writing you have case notes and a task. You need to select from the case notes according to the task, create a logical structure for your letter and then make sure that the letter is written in your own words.
Whether you’re a nurse, doctor, dentist or physiotherapist, this blog post will show you how to write the OET sub-test to get an A (or a B)!
The task is the most important past of the case notes. It should be the first thing that you look at in the 5 minutes reading time. The Task tells you WHO you are writing to and WHY. By understanding the Task (who and why) you will then be able to select case notes that are relevant to the reader.
Does the reader already know the patient or are you introducing the patient to the reader?
Compare these two tasks:
Using the information in the notes, write a letter back to the referring GP, Dr Jones, detailing your findings and suggested treatment plan.
Using the information in the notes, write a letter to Dr Jones detailing your findings and suggested treatment plan.
In task 1 the doctor already knows the patient. In task 2 the doctor does not know the patient.
How do you think your selection of case notes will change if the doctor knows or does not know the patient?
The answer to this is significantly. For instance, if the doctor already knows the patient, do you need to include much information from the medical history? No. But if the doctor has never met the patient before? Yes!
Whether read knows or does not know the patient will influence which case notes you choose and why.
Who are you writing to?
Consider these two tasks:
Using the information in the notes, write a letter of referral to Dr Jane Smith at Cicil Dermatology Clinic.
Using the information in the notes, write a letter of referral to Dr Jane Smith at Cicil Neurology Clinic.
The person you are writing to – or what their job is – will almost completely change the way you write your letter. For example, which person would want to know about acne – the dermatologist or the neurologist? Who would want to know about visual perception issues – the dermatologist or the neurologist?
The OET examiners purposefully put in case notes to distract you from the Task. Make sure that you understand the task – who you are writing to and why. If you understand the Task your chances of completing the task successfully will increase dramatically.
Read the sample writing sub-test letters to see how they are constructed according to the Task.
The E2-OET Writing Tips and Method
E2Language.com has created a powerful method to help you to write your OET letter successfully. The method works for nurses, doctors, dentists – all professions.
The method is simple and has three steps:
- OET Writing Tips 1 – Selecting case notes
- OET Writing Tips 2 – Organising case notes
- OET Writing Tips 3 – Transforming case notes
Let’s look at each of these steps in more depth.
OET Writing Tips 1 – Selecting case notes
We’ve already talked about the importance of understanding the Task in order to select relevant case notes. That is a big part of it.
After you have understood the Task you then need to be able to look at the case notes and understand WHICH ONES ARE IMPORTANT, and WHICH ONES ARE UNIMPORTANT.
The OET examiners purposefully put in UNIMPORTANT case notes to distract you. Be sure not to include these case notes. For example, if you are writing to a doctor about a patient’s diabetes don’t include that they broke their wrist twelve years ago. It’s completely irrelevant.
OET Writing Tips 2 – Organising case notes
You need to organise your case notes into neat paragraphs. This is a very common mistake made by OET candidates. They just mix all of their case notes into what looks like a paragraph, put a space under it and start another mixed paragraphs. I can’t emphasise enough how important it is to have a CLEAR STRUCTURE.
The way you structure your OET writing should be according to:
- Introductory sentence
- The main issue
- The secondary issue
- Any other details
- The request
The issue will most likely be medical but it might be social. The secondary issue might be medical or social. Any other details may include medication of something else of relevance that did not fit into 1. and 2. Finally, your letter should end with the request to the medical professional or whomever you’re writing to, and this often takes into account the discharge plan or management plan.
Let’s look at this structure in more detail:
The introductory sentence
In the case notes there will be one particular medical issue that will stick out. It is usually found in the ‘admission diagnosis’ section of the case notes. For example it may be “recurring headaches”. And in the Task, Discharge Plan or Management Plan you may be asked to refer the patient to a neurologist for assessment.
Therefore you need to include two pieces of information in your introductory sentence. (Let’s say that the neurologist knows this patient.)
I am referring Tim back into your care for full assessment of his recurring headaches.
You can see here that there are two pieces of information:
- The request
- The main medical issue – the headaches
In a single sentence we have summarised what is happening is what we want the reader to do. This is a great way to start your letters.
The main medical issue
Following on from the introductory sentence we then need to specify in more detail the main medical issue – in this case the recurring headaches. So we should scan the case notes for ANY information relating to Tim’s headaches. We can then write this up into a single paragraph that encapsulates all the relevant information that the neurologist needs.
The secondary issue
You will notice when you are scanning the case notes that there will be a secondary issue emerging. This will be less important than the main medical issue but it will warrant its own paragraph. For example, following on from our example of headaches, let’s say that Tim is also getting dizzy. There will be several (3-4 case notes) explaining something about Tim’s dizziness. We then outline this secondary issue in the second paragraph.
It’s important to understand that we want to keep our paragraphs single-themed. That is, paragraph one should be about headaches and headaches ONLY. It should not include any other information. The second paragraph – though related to headaches – should only include information related to dizziness.
MIXING IDEAS IN YOUR PARAGRAPHS WILL RESULT IN A LOW GRADE
Any other details
There may be a few odds and ends in the case notes that are worth mentioning to the neurologist. For example, let’s say that Tim has been on a new diet, been drinking more and doing less exercise. Are these directly related to headaches or dizziness? No! Therefore, we do not include them in Paragraph 1 or 2. Instead, we can create a third paragraph for related information that the neurologist may want to know.
We have mentioned the Request in the introductory sentence but we should make it more explicit in the final paragraph. Here we should loudly say to the neurologist (or whomever) what it is that we want them to do. Remember, this information will be in the Task, Discharge plan or Management plan.
I am referring Tim back to your for assessment of his recurring headaches.
It may sound repetitive but it’s okay. You need to say the request twice: once at the beginning of the letter and once at the end of the letter.
OET Writing Tips 3 – Transforming case notes
The final step after you have selected and organised the case notes is to TRANSFORM the case notes for you MUST NOT copy the case notes directly into your letter. Of course, some allowance is given for transferring and some case notes you simply cannot change but most of the case notes are short and ungrammatical. Your job is to tell a story to the ready. You are taking the case notes and re-working them so that they make sense and fulfill the task.
To conclude our OET Writing tips…
You need a good approach to writing these types of letters. Without a good approach the case notes can be overwhelming. There is often a lot of information and for physiotherapists, dentists and doctors, there is often more than there is for nurses…
Remember, you need to be able to:
- Organise, and
- Transform the case notes into a letter of between 180-200 words.
It’s no easy task, but it is possible with practice, feedback and guidance.
Written by Jay Merlo