If you want to succeed in the OET Speaking sub-test, then you need to be thoroughly prepared for it. Part of that requires knowing how to structure the conversation that will take place. In today’s article, I will explain clearly and simply the three steps that you should follow in order to carry out a great conversation that will put you on track to a good score.
But first, before we introduce those steps, let me remind you that the OET Speaking sub-test involves a role play, so you will begin by reading the card that contains details about your role. You must take a couple of minutes to review the details on this card and mentally prepare to have the conversation. This conversation could last up to five minutes, so you must be prepared.
It can seem overwhelming sometimes to speak for such a long time, but if you follow the advice on the card and prepare appropriately, it is not too difficult. But, as I said before, you need to think in terms of a structure. This may seem alien as conversations usually take place quite naturally, but this is just a loose structure that you can follow to guide and support you through this part of the test.
You should think of the conversation in terms of three different stages:
- Start the conversation
- Continue the conversation
- End the conversation
Start the Conversation
The OET is rather different from other English exams such as IELTS and TOEFL because it is for medical professionals. For this reason, you don’t just sit and wait to be asked questions. Instead, you must play the role stated on the card. This will be the role of a medical professional and so you must act in that way during the speaking test.
From the offset, this requires you to take the lead and speak confidently from the very beginning. Your role play card will tell you everything you need to know about this. It will outline the situation clearly, with information about whether or not you have met the patient before. This can give you a major clue as to how you should start the conversation. If you have never met the patient, you wouldn’t say, for example, “It’s good to see you again.” Likewise, if you do know them, then you certainly should not begin by saying, “It’s nice to meet you,” or by asking their name.
You should thus endeavor to greet them appropriately according to the situation described. Following this, you will begin the task as stated on the card. Obviously, these will vary widely and so it is impossible to predict what you might encounter, so you should go into the test fully prepared to deal with whatever situation is given. Note those instructions and make sure to follow them completely. The examiner, who is playing the role of the patient (or sometimes, the patient’s next-of-kin), will have a series of instructions in front of him/her that directly relate to what you have, and that will be the basis of your conversation.
Continue the Conversation
In other English exams, the examiner will push the candidate to speak as much as possible. For example, if there is a lull in the conversation, they will ask questions to encourage the candidate to speak up so that the examiner can judge their pronunciation, grammar, and so on. However, in OET it is very different. The examiner will not push you to speak and so it is entirely up to you, the candidate, to drive the conversation forward.
Doing this requires confidence and skill, not just in your English ability but in your general communicative ability. If you quickly run through your ideas and stop talking, it would be a serious problem. Instead, you need to speak intelligently and ask useful questions. By “useful,” I mean that those questions should be relevant to the role play and also intended to further drive forward the conversation. If you just ask things like, “Did this start yesterday?” or “Has it happened before?” then these potentially lead to a dead end in the conversation. They are what we call “closed questions” because they could be answered with one word. As a medical professional, you need to elicit information from the patient, and that requires asking open-ended answers that require the patient to describe things.
Another difference between OET and other English exams is that you are being judged on your ability to extract information and listen, rather than just speak. Communication is what we call a “two-way street.” In other words, you cannot just talk and hope that it is enough. You need to ask insightful questions and then listen to the answer that is given to you in return. Remember, though, that you are not just listening… you need to respond to what is said. In this sense, the OET speaking sub-test is much more like an authentic conversation than a regular English test.
If the conversation starts to falter, then you will be the one responsible for reviving it and keeping it going. Fortunately, you don’t need to have an endless supply of ideas… you have the role play card in front of you! You can simply take a look at the card, ask another question, and then listen to the interlocutor’s answer. (Remember that they also have a card with answers directly related to your card.) You do not have to wait for the interlocutor to tell you about a problem. If the problem or idea is mentioned on your card, then you should raise it whenever you feel that it is necessary. This is perfect for when the natural pace of the conversation slows.
Of course, that is not to suggest that the whole conversation is one big cycle of questions and answers, with you asking all the questions. Remember that the interlocutor may well say something that requires your response. If this happens, you have to break with the cycle to address their worry or answer their question. You should then push the conversation forward when that is done or there is another lull in communication.
It is important to view this as a natural conversation, even though it is based on a role play card with details that both people know. If you ask questions seemingly at random, it makes the conversation awkward and unnatural. You should try to produce a logical flow of information from one question to the next. Let the examiner answer your question fully, and if they say something to you, you can respond. Otherwise, move on to the next question or statement in an orderly fashion.
Fortunately, the ideas on the card will be presented in a logical series and so it is worthwhile following them like that without jumping about from one concept to another at random. If one point does happen to get skipped, it is perfectly fine to go back and address it later.
End the Conversation
When you are speaking, particularly in a test environment, it can be very difficult to keep track of time. However, when the conversation does finally come to a close, you should take charge once again and avoid just letting it stop suddenly or awkwardly come to a slow close. Just like at the beginning of the test, you don’t want to leave it to the examiner to deal with things. You are the medical professional in this role play and you have to be confident and control the scenario.
When it comes to the end, one possibility is to review what has been discussed during the conversation. You can repeat your ideas and repeat the patient’s queries and problems. This will allow you to wind down the time in a natural way. It also draws the conversation to a logical conclusion, much like how a concluding paragraph helps bring an essay to an end without it suddenly just stopping.
You might finish by saying something like, “Ok then, Mrs. Dartmouth, I hope that I have answered your questions and helped ease your concern a little bit during our chat today. Just to reiterate, I told you that you should…” If you had any major advice to give during the conversation, then you should definitely finish by restating that.
The OET Speaking sub-test may seem difficult, but if you follow these three steps then you can break it down into manageable chunks so that it is a more approachable task. Think of it like a beginning, a middle, and an ending, and then practice those different sections prior to your actual exam. By doing this, you give yourself a better chance of dealing with the complexities of the test and avoiding the stress that comes with approaching the unknown.
Remember to take charge during the role play. This is a professional exam for professional people, and sitting quietly as the interlocutor looks at you will not be viewed positively. You should lead the conversation and following the advice given here.