OET FORMAT

The Occupational English Test, or OET, is an exam for English learners who are trained or are training in various medical fields. Unlike IELTS or TOEFL, the OET is not a general English exam that can be taken by anyone or used for general immigration purposes.

Instead, the OET exam is designed solely for professionals in the healthcare industry who wish to move to an English-speaking country and need to prove their language skills prior to being accepted for employment. The OET exam is accepted as proof of English ability in places like the UK, the UAE, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, and many more.

OET in 2022 is broadly categorized in 2 types:

  1. Paper-based OET (same as before)
  2. Computer-based OET (introduced in 2021)
    • OET on Computer at Test Venue
    • OET at home

Note that both types of OET have the same format and the only difference is how the OET exam is organized. Paper-based OET takes place at a test center and is taken using a pen/pencil and paper. On the other hand, computer-based OET can be taken either at home or a designated OET test center location. Visit Paper-based OET vs Computer-based OET for complete details.

1. Healthcare Professions Covered by the OET Exam Syllabus

There are twelve healthcare professions that are included in the OET exam syllabus:

  1. Dentistry
  2. Dietetics
  3. Medicine
  4. Nursing
  5. Occupational Therapy
  6. Optometry
  7. Pharmacy
  8. Physiotherapy
  9. Podiatry
  10. Radiography
  11. Speech Pathology
  12. Veterinary Science

Designed specifically for the healthcare industry, the OET format helps test takers assess the level of English that they are expected to know to succeed as a healthcare professional. It opens the door for you to work or study in your individual specialty.

2. Language Skills Tested by the OET Exam

The OET exam pattern looks at these four areas of English language proficiency, in the order you will take them during your exam. The exam for each area is called a “sub-test.”

  • Listening Sub-Test
  • Reading Sub-Test
  • Writing Sub-Test
  • Speaking Sub-Test

Of these four skills tested, the Listening and Reading sub-tests are more general, so these two sub-tests use the same syllabus aka format for all OET professions. The pattern of the Writing and Speaking sub-tests is specifically tailored to your medical specialty.

For example, the OET exam format for doctors will have a letter writing task that reflects what they may be expected to write at their job. The exam syllabus for nurses will have two speaking role plays that reflect how a nurse would communicate with a real patient at a hospital or clinic.

Even though the content of the OET exam is different for each profession, the syllabus and pattern of the exam is identical, and the scoring is also the same.

3. How Much Time Does the OET Exam Take?

The actual OET exam will last almost three hours, though you should also allow extra time for checking in, reading instructions, etc. You will get a break before you take the Speaking sub-test, especially if it is scheduled later in the day. However, each exam center is different and may have a different schedule.

Here is a breakdown of how much time is allowed for each sub-test.

OET Exam Sub-testsOET Exam Duration
Listening45 minutes
Reading60 minutes
Writing45 minutes
Speaking20 minutes

Now, let’s take a look at the pattern of each individual sub-test in more detail, starting with the first section on your OET exam – the Listening sub-test.

OET Course

4. OET Listening Sub-Test

The OET Listening sub-test lasts 50 minutes and the pattern consists of three parts, A, B, and C. You will have a total of 42 questions about general healthcare topics. These will be similar to everyday healthcare situations and conversations you might have with your colleagues. Remember, the OET Listening sub-test uses the same syllabus for all OET occupations.

4.1. Listening Part A

The pattern of OET Listening Part A will assess your ability to identify specific information. You will hear two conversations, or “extracts,” between a medical professional and a patient. On your OET answer sheet (or on the screen if you are taking OET on Computer), you will see written case notes containing empty blanks.

What You Need to Do
If you are taking the OET exam on paper, you will use a pen or pencil to write the answer into the corresponding blank. If you are taking OET on Computer, you will type your answer into the space provided. In the Listening section, correct spelling and capitalization are not essential, as long as you have done your best and the answer is recognizable to the assessors.
Each blank will require one word or a short phrase. You will have time to read through the questions before you listen to the audio. As you listen to the extract, you will fill in each empty blank with the correct word or phrase. There will be 2 extracts with 12 questions each. Each extract will last approximately 5 minutes, for a total of 10 minutes for OET Listening Part A.

4.2. Listening Part B

The pattern of OET Listening Part B tests your ability to understand the general idea, or “gist,” of a short extract. If you are taking OET on paper, you will need to use a number 2B pencil on a computerized answer sheet for this section. Follow the instructions carefully, because you may lose marks if your answers are not entered correctly.
What You Need to Do
The syllabus for Listening Part B asks you to listen to six short extracts. After you have listened to the audio, you will answer one multiple choice question about the information you heard in the extract. Each question will last approximately one minute, depending on the length of the extract.

4.3. Listening Part C

The syllabus for Listening Part C is very similar to Listening Part B; however, the extracts are longer. The syllabus for Listening Part C tests your ability to understand and follow an interview or a presentation. These audio extracts contain general medical topics suitable for all professions.

What You Need to Do
You’ll hear two different extracts, with six multiple choice questions to answer for each extract. You will have time before hearing the extract to read the questions, which appear in the same order in which you will hear the information in the extract. Answer the questions as you listen. The overall time allowed for each question is around 5 minutes.

Tips for the Listening Sub-Test

  • All three parts of the Listening sub-test are patterned after real-life situations and workplace conversations from the healthcare industry.
  • The total length of the listening sub-test is 50 minutes, including time to read instructions, preview the questions, listen to the audio, and write your answers.
  • You will have a total of 42 questions. Some questions are fill-in-the-blank, and some are multiple choice.
  • Each recording can be heard only once.

5. OET Reading Sub-Test

Like the Listening sub-test, the pattern of the Reading sub-test is also three sections, A, B, and C. You will have 60 minutes to complete this sub-test.

5.1. Reading Part A

The syllabus of Part A tests your ability to skim and scan for information. You will see a collection of three or four short texts, all relating to one health-related subject. You will need to answer 20 questions that require you to find specific information in the texts. The pattern of question types in this section consists of matching, fill-in-the-blanks, and short answer.

What You Need to Do
You have 15 minutes to answer the questions in Part A. Answers will be written on the answer sheet (OET on paper) or typed into the corresponding boxes on your computer (OET on Computer). However, unlike in Listening Part A, spelling and capitalization DO matter in Reading Part A. If your answer is not spelled correctly, you will lose the point for that answer.

5.2. Reading Part B

In Part B, you will be tested on how well you can identify detail, gist, or the main point of six short texts. Again, these texts contain medical information of general interest to any profession, such as an extract from a manual, or an internal communication.

What You Need to Do
There are six texts in the syllabus of Reading Part B. Each text will have one multiple choice question, for a total of 6 questions. As in Listening Part B, the test pattern requires candidates to complete Part B on a computerized answer sheet with a number 2B pencil.

5.3. Reading Part C

Your time for Reading Parts B and C is combined. You have 45 minutes total, and it is up to you to manage your time well so you can complete both sections.
The OET exam format for Part C contains two longer texts and will test your ability to identify the attitude and opinion of the writer, as well as meanings that may be implied by what you read. Again, the topics of these texts are of general medical interest.

What You Need to Do
Each text has 8 multiple choice questions, for a total of 16 questions in Part C. And like Listening Part C, the questions are in the same order as the information is presented in the text.

OET Writing

6. OET Writing Sub-Test

The syllabus of the OET Writing sub-test asks you to write one formal letter based on a typical workplace situation. This task is based on your profession. In other words, the OET exam pattern for doctors is to write a letter specific to medicine, and the OET exam pattern for nurses is to write a letter specific to nursing, etc.

What You Need to Do
The most common type of letter that you will be asked to write will be a referral letter, though you may be asked to write a letter based on case notes pertaining urgent, discharge or update scenario. The OET writing case notes will provide you with background information relevant to your task. As you read through these notes, you must choose the appropriate information to include in your letter. You will have 5 minutes to look through your information, and 40 minutes to write your letter.

How Your Writing Task Is Scored
Your writing task will be scored by two assessors, neither of whom will know what marks the other assessor has given you. They will give you a score based on content, clarity and organization, and whether or not the purpose of the letter is immediately apparent to the reader. You’ll also be scored on how well you use English grammar, sentence structure, and vocabulary.

Also, be sure your letter is written in the correct OET letter format, at least 180 words and no more than 200, in the body of your letter.

7. OET Speaking Sub-Test

Your appointment for the OET Speaking Sub-Test may be on the same day as your written exam, or it may be on a different day. In any case, you can be sure it will be scored together with your Listening, Reading, and Writing sub-tests.

The OET syllabus and test format for these role plays asks you to meet one-on-one with an interlocutor, who will help you complete two role-playing situations. You will be the health care professional, and the interlocutor will play the part of the patient. If you are taking the OET on paper, you will meet with an interlocutor in person. If you are taking OET on Computer, you will have an online meeting using the conferencing software Zoom.

What You Need to Do
First, you will chat informally with the interlocutor, to help you feel more comfortable. This chat is not scored. Then, the interlocutor will give you a role play card, which is specific to your OET profession and describes a scene that would be common in your normal workday. For example, the OET test pattern for a doctor may be to help a mother and young child at a clinic.

You will have three minutes to review your role play card. You will see background information about the patient, and several topics you must cover during your conversation. Then, you will have five minutes for your role play.

The OET speaking format requires you to complete two role plays with the interlocutor. Your conversations are recorded, and these recordings will be sent to experienced OET assessors for scoring. The assessors will not see you; they will only hear your voice.

How Your Speaking Task is Scored
The assessors will score you according to two sets of criteria – linguistic criteria and clinical communication criteria. Linguistic criteria will assess your level of English (grammar, fluency, etc), and clinical communication criteria will assess your ability to communicate successfully with the patient (building relationships, giving and gathering information, etc.)

Just like the Writing task, your Speaking task will be scored by at least two independent OET assessors. They will look carefully at the details and specific criteria to score your role play. Remember that the OET is a test of English language skills, and not a test of your professional knowledge.

8. OET Scoring

Scores for the four sections of the OET exam pattern are all given equal weight. In other words, no sub-test is worth more than another, and they are all of equal importance. You will receive a score from 0 to 500 which can later be converted to grade from A to E for each sub-test. Check with your registration body to be sure you know the OET grade/score you will need to satisfy their requirements. Here is a useful OET Grade Calculator to guide you further.
Let’s take a look now at the scoring pattern for each sub-test.

8.1. OET Listening and OET Reading

In the Listening and Reading sub-tests, your answers are either correct or incorrect. Remember that in Reading Part A, your answers must be spelled correctly to earn the point for that question. The computer will mark your answers for Parts B and C, with the answers being either correct or incorrect. Checkout this Listening and Reading Calculator to convert your correct answers to OET grades.

8.2. OET Writing and OET Speaking

Because of the format of the Writing and Speaking sub-tests, they do not necessarily have correct or incorrect answers. Again, your OET letter and your OET role plays will be scored independently by a minimum of two trained assessors.
For the syllabus of the Writing sub-test, candidates are scored based on their ability to write a formal letter in the OET letter format. The assessors will make sure your letter:

  • completes the given assignment (discharge letter, referral letter, etc.)
  • includes the necessary information from the patient notes
  • does not include unnecessary information for the purpose of the letter
  • has formal business formatting (includes address, greeting, closing, etc.)
  • is grammatically correct
  • uses the proper punctuation, spelling, and capitalization
  • contains appropriate word choice for the intended recipient

For the syllabus of the Speaking sub-test, assessors evaluate your performance based on the linguistic criteria:

  • intelligibility
  • fluency
  • appropriateness of language used
  • resources of grammar and expression

and on the clinical communication criteria:

  • relationship building
  • understanding and incorporating the patient’s perspective
  • providing structure
  • information gathering
  • information giving

It’s important to review these criteria ahead of time and practice various role plays, so you know the content you need to include in your official exam role plays. Even though role plays have different content, the structure is the same, so learn it and practice before test day.

9. Passing Scores

Passing scores for the OET are determined by the councils and boards of each respective medical field. The OET organization does mention that a ‘B’ on each subtest is usually the minimum passing standard, but this is not official and is subject to change based on a candidate’s specialty.

10. Summary

The OET exam is a test of English designed for healthcare professionals who wish to live and work in English-speaking countries. It contains four sub-tests, and a grade will be given for each of these sections, as well as a score ranging from 0-500.

In some cases, your registering body may accept your sub-test scores separately. Check with them for more details.

11. Booking Your OET Exam

One question many OET candidates ask – Can I take only writing in OET? Or Can I take one subtest in OET? The answer is yes and no. Yes, you can book only one sub-set, but ‘no’ it may not be acceptable when you try to combine your scores in two sittings. Nevertheless, you can take OET multiple times if needed.

Now that you know a little more about what the OET exam syllabus is like, we hope it gives you confidence and encourages you to discover more about each sub-test and how to succeed. Read this article to learn how to set up your myOET account and book your test.
Explore even more OET information on our website at edubenchmark.com! You’ll find all the resources you need to study for your OET exam. We offer:

  • Comprehensive OET prep, with unique practice materials for each OET sub-test
  • Full-length OET practice exams, along with answers and detailed explanations
  • Over 20 video lessons covering basic OET exam format, the OET syllabus and test patterns, advanced OET exam strategies, and much more
  • 24/7 reliable email support from our OET experts
  • Speaking mock tests with experienced OET trainers
  • Writing correction service, to help you improve your OET sample letters

We have everything you need to succeed at OET on paper or OET on Computer – be sure to read the reviews from our students who we have helped succeed!

Have questions? Email us at [email protected] for a quick answer. Start and end your OET journey with us – we’ll be with you every step of the way!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.