OET Grammar, OET For Doctors, OET, OET Writing, OET For Nurses

The two most common issues that we see when a candidate is given a C+ grade (or equivalent in points) are problems with articles and verbs. When it comes to verbs, verb agreement is an issue (see our article on this for more information) but the main problem is without a doubt; tense.

This is not surprising as there are so many tenses to learn and irregular verbs to be considered. In addition, as you will be aware, OET letters require the use of the perfect tenses due to their nature of reporting information which causes A LOT of confusion for many students (Don’t worry, it’s not just you!) This article will look at the perfect verb tenses, specifically related to OET writing to unpack some of the common issues that candidates face and give you some much needed clarity in this area.

The Present Perfect Tense

How is it formed?

The present perfect tense is formed with the verb “to have” and the past participle of the main verb.

When to use it?

There are various uses of the present perfect which I’m sure you have read up on in your grammar revision. To keep things simple, though, we like to think of this tense as joining the past and the present. The speaker/writer is referring to an action that happened in the past (but not at a specified time) and either continues into the present or is relevant to the present time of speaking/writing. Another way of thinking about this tense is that the action is ongoing, or not complete.

  • The patient has been referred for physiotherapy.
  • Mother and baby have made good progress.
  • The psychiatrist has prescribed diazepam 10mg.
  • During hospitalisation, the patient has been treated for depression.

OET Writing

When to use it in OET writing?

As the use of this tense is generally linking to the present, it is most commonly used towards the end of the OET letter. This may be when writing about “today’s” appointment or summarizing information at the time of discharge. it may also be used earlier in the letter, introducing the condition or treatment of the patient, for example, that is still relevant at the time of writing.

The paragraphs referring to specific dated appointments in the past would need to use a form of the past tense. (This is a common error)

The Past Perfect Tense

How is it formed?

The past perfect tense is formed using had + the past participle.

When to use it?

The past perfect tense is generally used to show that something happened before a specific time in the past or before another action. It does not usually refer to a specific time (for this you would use the past simple). However, it can be related to specific actions when reporting actions in the past as you will be inevitably following them with further actions. It is often used in conjunction with the past simple to report actions.

  • His wife reported that he had discarded his medications.
  • The patient had sought guidance from a herbal practitioner before coming for the consultation.
  • He had fallen from the stairs resulting in multiple fractures.
  • His balance had been slightly impaired by the accident.

When to use it in OET writing?

The past perfect tense can be used throughout the letter except when you are referring to actions that continue into the present, so avoid using it in that final paragraph, and earlier on when giving general information that is still relevant. Use this tense to describe the actions of patients, practitioner’s advice, procedures, prescriptions etc. in the various appointments or incidents in the past.

We hope this has cleared up some of the confusion about the perfect tenses in OET writing. Sometimes it is difficult to make links between generic grammatical information from a textbook or website and the use of grammar for a specific use or style of writing. Sometimes, one gets bogged down with the formulaic descriptions of how a tense should be used rather than focusing on how that tense intuitively makes sense in the context as a native speaker would. This is the key to getting a good grasp of the present perfect and the past perfect in OET letters. Reading sample letters will help enormously with this, so this is a great place to start.

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