When you go into the OET speaking test room, you will be given a role play card that will contain information about a conversation that you must have with an interlocutor*, who will play the role of a patient. The interlocutor will also have a role play card, and on their card will be the relevant information about their side of the conversation. Your job is to be a nurse and to hold a reasonable conversation with the interlocutor for a period of up to five minutes. (*an interlocutor is a person who takes part in a conversation with you and in the OET test, the interlocutor is not your examiner. This means that the interlocutor is not the person who will be giving you your marks)
This process can seem a little frightening or intimidating, and so the purpose of this article is to give you reasonable, practical advice on how to prepare for and excel in the OET speaking sub-test.
How to Succeed in OET Speaking
This is a role play and so you must get involved according to the role that you are given. It is not a typical speaking test like IELTS or TOEFL, in which you can sit and wait for the examiner to ask you questions. Instead, you must take charge and lead the conversation from the very start. Remember, in this role play, you are the medical professional so you need to start the conversation.
First of all, you should look at the role play card that you have been given. You will have a few minutes to read it and prepare what you want to say during the conversation. There will be a number of tasks assigned and you must ensure that you do all of these things. A good score will be awarded to candidates who effectively complete all the tasks on the role play cards with a high level of English proficiency.
As this is a test for nurses, the situations depicted on the cards will require you to play the role of a nurse and to talk about things related to a nurse’s job. For example, you may be asked to give a patient an injection, or to ease the patient’s worries. These are all normal parts of the job, and so you should feel comfortable doing these in the role play, too.
Other tasks include discussing illnesses and treatments with patients, or making simple recommendations. If a patient is required to do something at home, such as give themselves an injection or take another kind of medication, then you will need to explain to them how to do that. This should, of course, be done in the correct tone and manner. You should be straightforward and factual, but do not worry them by being too serious or strict. You should strike a balance between professionalism and friendliness. But, most importantly, get through the tasks listed on the card so that absolutely nothing is forgotten or overlooked.
You should treat the role play just like a normal day at work and don’t think too much about the fact that it is an artificial situation contrived for an English exam. You are a nurse and you are playing the role of a nurse. As such, just act like you normally would act in the situations that are given.
The first thing that you will be required to do is to greet the patient and begin the conversation. As I mentioned before, you cannot just wait for the interlocutor to start the role play. You should take the lead immediately by launching into the dialog. Your role play card will essentially tell you how to do this by giving you pertinent information such as whether or not you know the patient already. You might start by introducing yourself and stating your position, then asking the patient why they have come to see you. Of course, this would be different if the card indicated that you already knew them, but it is just an example.
You will need to keep the conversation going after that, and avoid there being any long silences or gaps in the dialog. You can do this by asking and answering questions, and listening to the interlocutor when they give their side of the conversation. You should strive to maintain a logical flow of information and don’t just go off on an unrelated topic. Try to keep things sensible and respond directly to what is said, rather than what you had planned or hoped to say.
Remember as well that nurses are supposed to be a calming and caring presence. You should act the same way that you would with a real patient. If they are worried, you should try to calm them down. Tell them what they need to know, and if there is nothing to worry about then you should make it clear that they should not panic. Be reassuring wherever possible, as this conveys an important understanding of the tone of English that a nurse should use.
Unlike other English tests, the speaking portion of OET requires listening as well as speaking. The examiner has a role play card that is filled with information that they will give to you, and so you need to listen to that and respond accordingly. This will include information like symptoms and concerns and questions. You will need to take in this information as it is given to you and respond to it. If you ignore something then it would not be considered a good sort of communication, and you would lose marks for it. Avoid interrupting the patient when they are talking, even if you feel that they are talking too much. Just listen and respond appropriately when the chance arises. In English, we often nod, say “ok” or “I see,” or respond with affirmative noises to show that we are listening while someone else is talking. It is a good idea to use these. It shows that you are paying attention, as well as displaying a subtle grasp of language and communication.
Of course, you should stay calm and professional at all times. Sometimes the examiner’s role play card will tell them to play the role of an exasperated, upset, or angry character. This is common in hospitals around the world, where people are worried, stressed or tired. You should not lose your temper or let this impede your communication. Again, treat this situation as a real life problem. Communicate appropriately as any professional nurse should do. Always take the opportunity to reassure the patient, saying realistic things about their condition improving or not having to worry about minor issues that will probably not get worse. You can usually tell the patient that their symptoms will go away after a certain number of days and that they can go back to their normal way of life. This should help solve the problem and calm them without making the situation worse.
Another good way of filling the gap in a conversation is to explain what is happening throughout a process. You might feel awkward when the part of the role play emerges in which you need to perform some sort of procedure, such as a check-up. It is normal to wonder whether you should act this out and say nothing, but it is ultimately an English test. You will not really take the examiner’s blood! Instead, you can tell them, “I am going to take a blood sample now so that I can…” and then continue talking. This will avoid any uncomfortable silences. Don’t just say what you are doing, but also say why you are doing those things, and what the patient can expect to feel. This is a good example of clear and open communication.
If there are children involved, of course you should be extra sensitive. Parents can be incredibly worried about their children’s health, even when it is clear to the nurse that the problem is not serious. In addition, the child can also be panicky and emotional. You should be particularly sensitive to this and communicate in a manner designed to calm them both down and to avoid any misunderstandings. Tell them what to expect and why things are happening. This sort of clarity is important, but make sure that it is softened a little to make it easier for the patient.
The conversation should draw naturally to a close. You don’t want it to end suddenly or to awkwardly phase out by remaining silent. Instead, you might want to review the things that have been discussed, direct the patient on what to do next, introduce them to a doctor, or whatever else the role play card has stipulated must happen. Try to keep the conversation flowing naturally until this point, and stay firmly in control of the flow of information.
If possible, end the discussion on a friendly and positive note, with encouraging words given to the patient. Don’t leave any trace of uncertainty or doubt for them. If there are dates or instructions that need to be given, you should give them. If you have already done this, then the end of the conversation is a good place to give it again as a reminder. It may be worth stating that the patient can get in contact with you at a certain time or to check back on a particular date. Of course, this depends on the tasks given and how much time you have left. Just remember that you need to end the conversation, just like you were expected to start the conversation.
When doing the OET speaking sub-test as a nurse, you should act just like you would in a real-life situation and stay in control of the conversation from start to finish. You should be professional and communicate directly and openly with the patient, but at the same time communicate carefully to show sympathy and avoid worrying them too much. Work to calm the patient and to put their fears to rest. Above all else, remember that this is an English test and you should simply go through the normal procedures but speak in clear and precise English, using an appropriate tone.