In the OET speaking sub-test, you will be required to participate in a role play with an interlocutor. This whole section will take about twenty minutes, and be comprised of two five minute role plays, with a little time between them to prepare, as well as a short warm-up conversation.
Whereas in other English tests, the candidate can just sit and answer questions provided by the examiner, in OET it is quite different. Here, you will need to act out a role. The role will be decided by the type of OET that you choose to take – for example, nurses will do the nursing OET and doctors will do one for doctors. In the speaking sub-test, they will have different role plays that are tailored to their particular specialty. These will replicate a typical situation that might occur in the daily life of a doctor or nurse.
This sort of test will require many skills from the candidate, but the one we shall examine here today is the ability to start a conversation.
How to begin the OET speaking sub-test
In a typical OET speaking test, the role play will require the candidate to play a role such as doctor or nurse and to deal with a situation involving a patient (or patient’s carer) who will be played by the interlocutor.
For this reason, you are going to have to start the conversation. Think about it: Imagine a consultation between a patient and a doctor. Is it reasonable to expect the patient to go into the room and for the doctor to stay silent while the patient starts to explain the visit? No, this would be a terribly unprofessional thing for the doctors to do… or any other sort of healthcare professional.
Instead, in that situation, the doctor would always say something like, “Hello, what can I do for you today?” or to introduce himself. There are various possibilities, but basically the doctor will speak first and begin to guide the conversation from there. He will be the one also continues it, asks the most questions, and then brings the discussion to a close.
As such, for the OET speaking sub-test, you should also attempt to guide the conversation from the very beginning of the test. Rather than wait for the interlocutor to start speaking, you should be the first one to talk and from that point you should take control of the situation just like you would in a true professional setting.
The setting is important, of course. Before you start talking, the interlocutor will hand you a role play card on which there will be some information written. This information will tell you everything you need to know in order to begin the conversation, including the location and your position, so you should make sure to read it carefully. There will also be some tasks, but you will get to them later in the conversation. First of all, you need to start the conversation.
It might say for example that the location is a hospital ward, and if you are doing the OET for nurses, you will then have to introduce yourself accordingly. You might say something like, “Hello, I’m ___ and I’m the staff nurse here today…” You could equally say “the on-duty nurse” or “the head nurse,” according to your particular situation. You should adapt the introduction to yourself and your position, unless otherwise stated on the card. If you prefer, you can also alter this greeting to “good morning” or “good afternoon” according to the time the test takes place.
Once you have introduced yourself, you can ask the patient for some basic information. There are myriad possible ways to do this, including, “What brings you here today?” and “How can I help you?” Either of these, or another similar phrase, allows you to pass the conversation over to the interlocutor, who will probably introduce himself/herself and then let you know the initial reason for the visit. From there, the conversation will become much more fluid and natural. Remember that beginning these sorts of dialog is usually the most stressful part. Once you are talking, you can treat it like a normal conference with a patient and let it unfold naturally.
Practicing for OET Speaking
You can get some valuable practice for this sort of scenario by finding a speaking partner and running through some typical OET role play cards. You could do this with a professional colleague, taking it turns to swap roles, or else you could enlist the help of a friend or family member. In either case, it would be useful to find some role play cards online or else make up some believable scenarios.
When you practice, you should try to conform to realistic exam conditions. Challenge yourself to start the conversation promptly and don’t let it awkwardly start with no one knowing what to say. In those practice sessions, you will probably find that some conversation starters naturally occur to you and you will thus find it much easier to go into the real test and just begin speaking with confidence. Pick up some ideas from your speaking partner, too. If they have a great way to begin the conversation, you can learn from them and adapt it to your own exam performance.
In conclusion, by doing this sort of practice as preparation, you will feel much more comfortable sitting in the real test and beginning it in a confident manner.