OET Speaking - interlocutor

The OET Speaking sub-test is a face-to-face speaking test where you will be doing 2 role plays with an actual person. Some OET candidates can get a bit nervous when they are faced with a real person in the test. Don’t worry. Let us introduce you to this other person in the test room with you.

Who is the interlocutor?

Well, the term ‘interlocutor’ is used for the person appointed by OET to administer your speaking test on your OET Speaking test day. This person may or may not be a native speaker. The interlocutor is not a healthcare professional either but is a language expert how can speak clearly to you.

Why is the interlocutor not a healthcare professional (doctor, nurse, etc)?

The reason for this is the interlocutor is supposed to do the role play with you. In the two role plays, you will always be the healthcare professional (depending on your profession, you will be the doctor, nurse, dentist, etc). The interlocutor will always play the other party – which can be the patient or the patient’s next-of-kin (i.e. relative). For this reason, since the interlocutor is not a medical expert, he/she can play the role naturally, just like a real patient or relative of a patient.

OET Speaking

What else does the interlocutor do other than play a role in the role play?

Well, the interlocutor is responsible to administer the test. This includes greeting you when you come into the room and making you feel at ease. Remember, the interlocutor is there to help you. The interlocutor will also guide you through the test. This is done in a few ways:

  • Greeting you and telling you their name. You can use their name as the patient’s name in the role play (if a patient’s name is not given in the role play card).
  • Asking you some warm up questions (e.g. how long have you been a nurse? Do you like being a nurse? What do you find most challenging about being a nurse?,etc). There are no marks for these questions, so just answer them naturally.
  • Giving you your role play card.
  • Answering your questions regarding the role play card (if you have any). Do note that the interlocutor is not obligated to answer all your questions, but will answer those that are within test boundaries. If he/she is not able to answer certain questions, he/she will tell you so politely. Do not be unduly worried about it.
  • Controlling the time (3 minutes for you to prepare once you have received the role play card and 5 minutes for the role play).
  • Telling you when to start and when to stop. Once the preparation time is over, the interlocutor will tell you that you can start. Remember, you have to start the role play and should not wait for the interlocutor to start. The interlocutor will also stop you once the 5 minutes for the role play is over. You should aim to finish the role play before you are asked to stop by the interlocutor.
  • Recording the role play.
  • Playing the role of the patient or patient’s next-of-kin.
  • Wrapping up the session by thanking you for your time. Please note that the interlocutor will not give you feedback about your performance.

What does the interlocutor NOT do?

The interlocutor will NOT be marking your role play. Instead, your role play will be sent to the examiners, who will listen to an audio recording of your role play. Since the examiners will not see you when they are marking your role play (but will only hear you through an audio file), eye contact and body language are elements which are NOT graded in the test. However, some candidates may feel more comfortable maintaining some sort of eye contact with the interlocutor. You should do what you think is best but just remember that eye contact will not be graded.


Another thing the interlocutor will NOT do is give you feedback. Once your role play is over, the interlocutor will not tell you whether you have done well or not. They also will NOT give you an estimated grade.

Why is the interlocutor silent most of the time in the role play?

Sometimes the interlocutor is silent because he/she wants to give you an opportunity to speak more and be able to gain more marks during the speaking sub-test. Do not panic when there is a silence. It may also be that in a real-life healthcare environment, you may also get patients who are silent most of the time. See this as a chance for you to show your speaking skills! If the interlocutor is silent, one surefire way you can get the conversation going is by asking, “Do you understand what I am saying?” or “Do you have any questions so far?”. In fact, you will gain marks by asking these questions because it shows that you are COMMUNICATING and not just talking.

Why is the interlocutor making things difficult for me?

Some OET candidates have remarked that during the OET Speaking sub-test, they met with an interlocutor who was hostile or  who was deliberately making things difficult for them. Please try to understand that the interlocutor also has a role play card to follow, which you do not see. Did you know that sometimes in the interlocutor’s role play card, it is stated that they are supposed to play the role of a difficult patient? Or a patient who complains a lot? That’s right. They are just playing the role. It is not that they are deliberately trying to make things difficult for you.

So what should you do? In these situations, you are actually being tested on your communication skills when you are faced with a difficult patient. In real life, I’m sure you will meet difficult patients as well. This is your time to shine! Be calm, respectful but firm. Keep your tone of voice pleasant and try to reassure the patient or empathise with the patient. You will score more marks if you can show that you are able to handle a difficult situation.

Why does the interlocutor ask me to repeat myself?

Sometimes, this is just to get the communication going. A good tip I can give you here is to repeat what you have just said EXACTLY as you have said it because the interlocutor/patient may not have heard you the first time, AND THEN ALSO paraphrasing and saying the same thing in different words (just to make sure there is no room for misunderstanding). For instance:

You (Nurse)After you have used the needle for insulin injection, you must dispose of the needle properly


Interlocutor (patient)I’m sorry, can you repeat that, please?


You (Nurse)After you have used the needle for insulin injection, you must dispose of the needle properly. This means that once you are done with the injection, you cannot simply throw the needle into the dustbin but you need to throw it into a special bin which I will show you.

5 thoughts on “OET Speaking: Understanding Your Interlocutor”

  1. Thank you so much for the tips for the speaking sub-test.
    Well, my question is, do you have OET Centers in Zambia? If not, why not? I see OET gaining popularity and somewhat fairer language test for medical practitioners.

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