Until mid-2018, the OET was graded on a system running from A to E, with A being the highest score and E being the lowest. However, since September 2018, that has changed and the grading system now gives a number between 500 and 0, with 500 as the highest possible grade.
If you are wondering what you need to do in order to get the highest possible score for OET speaking, then you will need to be familiar with the exam. Achieving what used to be a grade A, but is now between 450 and 500 (which is the range covering the former grade A), requires giving an excellent performance that demonstrates a very high level of English proficiency.
In this article, I will tell you what you need to do in order to get a really high score.
What is being marked during your OET speaking test?
When you sit the OET speaking sub-test, you will do a role play that is recorded and marked by assessors, who will look at a variety of different elements in your performance in order to determine your level.
There are nine criteria by which your speaking is judged. Four of these are based upon your actual English speaking ability:
- Appropriateness of language
- Grammar and expression
In addition to this, you are marked in terms of your awareness of the task and communicative issues pertaining to the situation:
- Relationship building
- Understanding and incorporating the patient’s perspective
- Providing structure
- Information gathering
- Informative giving
The first set of criteria (language) is all marked on a scale of 0 to 6, while the second set is marked from 0 to 3. This is converted into your final score, which will be between 0 and 500, with 350 (formerly a grade B) considered by most institutions as a “pass.”
Of course, most people don’t just want to pass… they want to score highly, and that means getting more than 450 (formerly a grade A).
Advice for getting a grade A (450+) in OET speaking
When you know what the speaking grading system is for an exam, then you can begin to prepare more carefully, and so you should pay attention to what I wrote above, as well as reading the in-depth reports on the official OET website. These will help you to some extent, but it can still be a little baffling trying to figure out the dense terminology of these marking rubrics.
You should also become familiar with the actual OET speaking exam format in order to become accustomed to the unique style of that particular test. Remember, the OET exam is very different from other exams like IELTS and TOEFL, especially in terms of the speaking section. If you have done sufficient OET preparation, it could be a very difficult and stressful experience to do it.
As such, here are a few pieces of very important advice for scoring highly in this tricky test.
Take control and speak confidently
In other English tests, your job as the candidate is to sit and answer questions, but in OET speaking sub-test you must take control of the situation and do most of the questioning. This is because the OET speaking sub-test is structured as a role play and in this role play you will be acting as a healthcare professional. For example, in the OET for nurses, you will act in the role of a nurse during some kind of common nursing procedure.
You might well guess that the examiner (who will be referred to as the interlocutor) will play the role of the patient, and as such they will hardly be expected to guide the conversation. Instead, the doctor or nurse will guide the conversation by starting and ending it, as well as doing most of the questioning during the middle. This makes sense, as it accurately reflects the majority of real-life interactions.
In order to score very highly, you need to speak with authority and confidence. This is absolutely vital. You cannot wait awkwardly for the examiner to say something, nor can you let silences engulf the conversation. Remember there is a strict timeframe of 5 minutes after which the role play recorder will stop. You need to take control by speaking first, asking pertinent questions, and ensuring the steady and intelligent flow of information. Ultimately, you will be following a set of tasks given to you on a card, so you don’t really need to use your imagination. Instead, you are using your English skills and acting as a professional.
Speak fluently and appropriately
Obviously, as the OET is a test of your English as a nurse or doctor, you will be penalized for mistakes and rewarded for good language. There are many layers to this, including grammar and vocabulary, but two of the important things that help distinguish a very high level speaker are a good degree of fluency and an appropriate use of the English language.
Fluency means speaking freely and without much disruption. Some common issues that hinder fluency are long pauses or audible hesitations (such as “uh” or “er”). While these are acceptable to a very limited extent, you should keep them to a minimum if you want to score in the highest levels of the marking rubric. This takes years of practice, but it’s worth continuing to work on improving your fluency by practicing every day and building your confidence to avoid these sorts of problems. It can really help to record yourself so that you can diagnose problems such as hesitation, which you would not normally realize in your daily speaking.
In terms of appropriate language, we don’t just look to see if a candidate is using the correct medical terminology. The assessors are also looking to see that the language has the right tone for the situation. For example, in the OET nursing test, you need to speak calmly and carefully with patients to address their fears without further upsetting them. If children are involved, you need to speak even more carefully to avoid antagonizing the parents or disturbing the children. Healthcare professionals, be it doctors or nurses, don’t just need to know the right words for medical issues; they also need to know how to delicately but effectively communicate ideas, and this is something else that will differentiate an exceptional OET candidate.
Prepare well and relax
Success in most language exams requires prior preparation and a relaxed mind. Thankfully, the first causes the second, and so these can be achieved together.
Before you consider booking your OET test date, you should make sure that you are likely to be able to prepare before the exam. This means that you should basically have the right level of English ability because, in the remaining time, you will mostly focus on exam preparation.
This exam preparation should be aimed at familiarizing you with the structure and requirements of the test. For speaking, you should know what sorts of scenarios you may encounter, and what you will need to do in order to score highly. You should practice often under realistic conditions, perhaps taking turns doing a role play with a partner.
When you have prepared fully, you will surely have a calm mind and be able to go into the OET exam without fear. Remember that stress causes mistakes and mistakes will cost you points. If you are able to boost your confidence and go into the test with a clear mind, you will have a good chance of getting the highest level of score. Just treat the role play as a normal, everyday situation that you would deal with at work, and do not try to view it as an exam in which you are being judged.
If you follow the advice above, you will give yourself a good chance of succeeding in your OET goals. However, it is absolutely essential that you prepare fully for this exam. There is no substitute for hard work and knowledge. The best part is every effort you’ve put into your OET preparation will actually help you in your daily work as a healthcare professional as well.