The OET Writing sub-test is designed to attest the writing skills of different healthcare professionals. The test is different for each of the 12 professions, including medicine, dentistry, physiotherapy, pharmacy, radiology, occupational therapy and nursing. In deciding on the structure of this test, the ability to use written English in a relevant professional context was the main consideration. Keep on reading and discover more useful information on the subject.

1. Reading Time for Case Notes

The Writing sub-test is structured in two parts: reading time and writing time. For the first part, candidates are allotted 5 minutes; they are instructed to read the task instructions and case notes thoroughly. Candidates have 40 minutes to proceed with the writing and complete the task as instructed. During the reading time, you cannot use a pen or pencil to make notes or underline a text in the case notes.

Case Notes are generally 2 pages long, so 5-minute reading time is justified. We advise reading the case notes at least twice to make sure you have a good grasp of the scenario on which you are required to write your OET letter. There are 5 main type of scenarios – Referral, Urgent / Emergency, Discharge, Update and Transfer. It’s important to understand the difference between all of them as approach to writing each type of scenario can be different.

As mentioned above, the content is specific to each healthcare profession. However, all candidates will be required to write a letter, in a manner that is both clear and accurate. The main aim is to assess whether candidates are able to write a letter, with content relevant for the intended reader.

The test draws upon information from real workplace situations, preparing candidates for demands related to the chosen profession. Most commonly, they will be asked to write a letter of referral, transfer or advice; the letter is meant to be sent to another health professional, patient, patient’s next of kin or client. Candidates should base their letter on the clinical case notes, with a word count between 180 and 200 words.

1.1 Importance of reading time

The 5 minutes given to read the task instructions and stimulus material (case notes) are meant to be used as such. During this time, candidates should go through the information provided, paying attention to everything. This time can facilitate the understanding of the task, thus helping them formulate their response. During this part of the OET Writing sub-test, candidates are not allowed to write, underline the written text or make notes. Care must be taken not to use a pencil or pen using this period as this may lead to even disqualification.

2. Writing Time for OET Letter

After you have gone through the case notes carefully, it is time to start writing your OET letter. Candidates are given 40 minutes to respond to the task, formulating a letter that satisfies all of the requirements. The letter is written in the answer booklet and the allotted amount of time is enough to complete the task, as well as go over their work once more. Nevertheless, some planning is required to know exactly how many paragraphs you are going to write and what information to be included in each paragraph.

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The letter should record all essential pieces of information, including the treatment the patient has benefitted from so far. Moreover, as one is writing a referral letter, one has to include the issues meant to be addressed by the healthcare professional in question. This is also called discharge plan or ongoing care. The case notes contain a lot of useful details but also information that is meant to be confusing or superfluous, so attention should be paid whereas such matters are concerned.

3. Structure and Assessment Criteria

The structure of the OET Writing sub-test was not randomly chosen. Like the other sub-tests, it is meant to cover the assessment criteria for all candidates and decide on the level of occupational English.

Test takers will be assessed with regard to 6 writing criteria – Purpose, Content, Conciseness & Clarity, Genre & Style, Organisation & Layout and language. Moreover, the assessors will use the written sub-test to verify grammar and cohesion (linguistic features), as well as the spelling, punctuation and layout (presentation features).

It is important to know that all assessment criteria bear the same weight in deciding on the final grade. Candidates managing to demonstrate a superior level of performance on all assessment criteria will be given a higher grade.

The OET Writing module can be more useful than one imagines, in the sense that its structure bears a remarkable resemblance to everyday work situations. Healthcare professionals, whether they are doctors, nurses or physical therapists, have to prepare letters on a daily basis. These are often handwritten and under the pressure of time, just like in the test.

The task instructions and stimulus material are based on the healthcare workplace context, testing the ability of candidates to select and organize relevant information. OET test takers will also be tested on their ability to present the selected information in the form of a letter.

4. Writing Task Instructions 

Please visit to read some useful tips on how to write an OET referral letter, and you will also find sample letters there. Take your time to go through the content and do not hesitate to check out the tips for improving your writing skills.

Also, if you are looking for someone to check your letters and give expert advice, please use our Writing Correction service.

5. Quality or Quantity in OET Writing Assessment Criteria

OET writing task mentions the word limit of 180-200 words. Writing too much or too little may affect the OET score as it may leave a negative impact on the assessors. It is essential to understand the objective of word limit for OET writing word count. The aforementioned OET writing marking criteria include six descriptors only with no indication of meeting the word limit. It implies that candidates need to understand the importance of quality over quantity in this regard. The assessor will not count the words as the assessment criteria for OET letter writing.

6. Word Count: A guide for OET Test takers

This word count is set to guide test takers for an average length or else some doctors might write lengthy paragraphs over several lines and some might write too little to assess against the assessment criteria. In a situation where a letter contains more than 200 words, it is likely that the candidate has written irrelevant or unnecessarily repeated information from the case notes; whereas in a short OET letter, the candidate may have missed out significant information necessary for the reader. Therefore, OET writing word count is not a rigid criterion to meet, and the candidates should focus on (Content) not to leave out important information from the case notes and maintain a balance between (Conciseness and Clarity) by using appropriate vocabulary without over-repetition within the time frame of 40 minutes.

7. Counted and Uncounted Parts in OET Writing Word Count

In OET writing word count, only specific parts of the letter are counted. The addresses, date, salutation, job title, and complimentary close are not counted. Only the words in the body paragraphs are counted in order to grade OET writing against the OET assessment criteria. So, the candidates should manage time well for body paragraphs.

8. How to Count Words in OET Writing Subtest?

The candidates can count words in the body paragraph by counting the average number of words in a line written in their letter. Then, multiply the number of words with the total number of lines in their letter. It will give you an approximate OET word count which needs to be 180-200.  The word count is automatically given in OET on Computer mock test and OET@home test, but it includes everything (address, title, date, etc.). Therefore, test takers for computer based OET and OET @home tests also need to calculate estimated word count in body paragraphs only.

9. Utilizing Leftover Time

If a candidate completes the letter before 40 minutes are up, he/she can utilize that remaining time in thoroughly proofreading OET letter for grammatical mistakes, genre specific vocabulary, spelling, punctuation, and recheck information given in the case notes. It is wise to write concise and accurate letters keeping in mind OET assessment criteria for writing and score descriptors for marking rather than writing irrelevant or inaccurate lengthy paragraphs. Not meeting the word limit will not cost the test takers; however, writing with mistakes will surely affect the candidates’ scores.

18 thoughts on “OET Writing Sub Test Structure – All You Need To Know”

  1. I am looking for free printable practice tests (Nursing) so I have an idea of how the test is structured. Are these available?

  2. I need to know the structure of writting how to select case not n how to present for getting A grade

  3. will you send me the writing tasks after subscription to a writing correction package, or I will have to find them on my own?

  4. Does the 180-200 word count include the address and doctors name at beginning of letter or does the word count only begin when you start writing about the patient?

  5. Could you please provide the connecting words that can be used in oet writing.? Also, please clarify whether we can use (,) before who , as etc …

  6. if the recipient has three names in writing task..like ms sarah Mc Lachlan or Annie Davis Walker…….how can i address the recipient in the letter?

  7. good morning,
    I’m excited to get started, I need your help, thank you for giving me this opportunity.

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