Many prospective candidates for the OET speaking sub-test feel a sense of confusion and apprehension when it comes to preparing for and sitting this part of the exam. This trepidation is understandable because the exam is quite hard to predict. However, many of the questions that are commonly asked by those candidates can be answered quite easily.
The purpose of this article is to list some common questions about OET preparation and then to answer them in a simple and digestible fashion. Hopefully they can put some of your worries to rest and let you feel a sense of confidence about your upcoming exam.
First, though, let’s take a little look at the absolute basics of the OET speaking sub-test for those of you who are completely unfamiliar with it.
The Basics of OET Speaking
You can expect the OET speaking sub-test to last for about twenty minutes in total. It will be comprised of two different parts, each of which is a role play. Unlike other speaking tests in English exams, you will not be asked any questions by an examiner. In this case, the examiner will be acting as an “interlocutor,” which essentially means that they will be participating in the role play with you. The speaking test that you encounter will be different depending on your area of expertise. There is an OET for nurses sub-test, for example, as well as ones for dentists and doctors and veterinarians, etc. In most of these cases, the role play will require you to play the part of a medical professional and the interlocutor will act out the role of a patient or their next of kin. Obviously, for vets that is not a dog or cat, but rather the owner of the animal in question.
With all of that in mind, let’s look at some common questions about the OET exam.
Do I have time to prepare?
Yes. At the start of the exam, you will be given a role play card on which there will be some tasks and other pieces of information relevant to the subsequent role play. You should read this carefully, as it will guide the conversation that follows. You will have three minutes to look at it, and it is important that you internalize the requirements before you start speaking so that you are fully prepared.
Can I write notes?
You can make notes during those three minutes of preparation time if you wish. You can also glance quickly at your notes or the role play card during your speaking test, but I wouldn’t recommend more than a quick glance or else it will disrupt the flow of conversation. Also, try not to write too much as you have limited time that is best spent thinking and mentally preparing.
Do I need to be a great actor to do this role play?
No, of course not. The OET is a test of English skill in a healthcare setting. It is absolutely not a test of your acting abilities! It might feel strange to do a role play like this if you are not accustomed to it, and so it does sort of feel like acting. However, you are just playing yourself in an imagined scenario. If you are a nurse, then you will be acting as a nurse. You just have to do what you would normally do in the situation.
Are the situations realistic?
Yes, the situations presented in the OET speaking sub-test are quite typical, authentic healthcare situations that would be familiar to any professional in that area. You will not have to do anything that is unusual, and so you should feel prepared as long as you have the English skill to carry out your job. For example, you will encounter a situation like consulting with a patient on a very common matter relating to their health. You would not encounter any unique specialist situation that would be out of place in a normal routine.
So… Do I need to give accurate advice?
As a medical professional, you really should be giving the correct advice to the patient. However, in OET you are being tested on your English abilities rather than your medical knowledge. Obviously, you should try your best to give the right answer to any medical issues raised, but the examiner will be listening for accuracy in language rather than accuracy in medical advice. Of course, if you are indeed a medical expert then you should have faith in your ability to answer the patient’s problems and so this should not be an issue.
Do I have to demonstrate all my skills and knowledge?
Rather than thinking in terms of demonstrating all your skills and knowledge at once, you should just focus on doing the role play as required. The OET is designed as a test of English skill in a particular setting, and the role play will give you plenty of scope to do that. You don’t need to try and show off anything. Just follow the tasks that you are given and engage with the interlocutor as you would do with any patient in a real-world scenario. This will give you the opportunity to demonstrate your skills naturally, and you will be judged accordingly.
What if I am nervous and make a mistake?
Nervousness is natural, so don’t worry about it. Just go into the test and do your best. Remember that you will face a situation that is completely normal for your profession, except that you are doing it in English. There will be nothing unusual or unexpected. If you are prepared, you will succeed. Mistakes happen, but you will have the chance to show your English abilities. The grade that you receive should be a faith representation of your actual level.
What if I don’t understand something?
If you don’t understand something, you can ask the interlocutor to explain or repeat, but generally you need to understand in order to get a respectable score. If you cannot understand the role play card, then you probably have taken the test too early and you will not get a very high score. It is advisable only to sit for OET when you are ready. If you are fully prepared, then understanding the card should not be a problem. As for understanding the interlocutor during the conversation, you can of course ask them to repeat something if you did not hear them, or ask them to rephrase something. This is a natural part of language, and if you do it once in a reasonable way, it will not harm your score. However, don’t do it too often.
What if I make a lot of mistakes?
This is an English test and mistakes will result in a lower grade being assigned. Making a few small slips is probably no big deal, but it is important that, as a healthcare professional, you are able to communicate clearly and accurately. Therefore, errors will be penalized in terms of grammar and pronunciation and so on. You should make sure that your English level is very high before you decide to book your test and pay the OET exam fee.
What happens if there is a gap in the conversation?
Unlike other English tests, the examiner (the interlocutor) will not prompt you to speak. In this role play, you are the one in charge, and it is up to you to drive the conversation forward. It’s just like a real-life situation with a patient. You would not sit quietly and expect the patient to say everything, would you? You must begin the dialog, keep it going, and then end it. If you find there are silences, you need to fill them by asking a question or saying something, or else the role play will draw to an awkward end and you will be assigned a poor grade.
If you are totally prepared, then there is nothing to worry about in the OET speaking test. It is not a mystery and you can definitely go into the exam with confidence if you know your profession well and have a good grasp of English. This exam involves a role play that should be no great challenge for anyone with the requisite experience and skills, so if you are confident in yourself, then you are probably ready to take the test.