Word limits: 4 FAQs
1. Which parts of the letter are counted?
2. Which parts of the letter are not counted?
3. What is the consequence if I go over the word limit?
4. What is the consequence if I don’t reach the word limit?
Read on and we will answer all your questions about word limits!
Why a word limit is necessary
Sometimes it can be frustrating for candidates to stick to a word limit in their OET letter as it can feel unnecessary or as stifling the flow of their writing. So why do we need a word limit? It is basically there to provide a guide so that you know what is expected. Without this guide, candidates may feel that they need to write more than is required in the time by covering even unnecessary case notes, which will ultimately affect the quality of their work. Equally, they could unknowingly provide an inadequate amount of information and lack of development in their letter and be penalized for it. The 180-200 words guide is based upon a reasonable expectation for an OET letter written in 40 minutes. It is also a suitable length for a medical letter in a real-life situation. Letters that are too short may not necessary including all important case notes, whereas long letters can be boring and waste readers’, such as doctors and nurses, time.
Which parts of your letter are counted
The words that are included in the count are those in the main body of the letter. The address, greeting, Re: section, closing remarks and sign offs are not included.
Why you should avoid counting words during your OET exam
There are so many things that you need to remember and focus on in that 40 minutes, counting words does not need to be one of them. You will be assessed on whether you have included all the necessary information from the case notes. Assessors will be looking for relevant order and paragraphing, correct use of vocabulary, grammatical accuracy and writing fit for purpose. There is no need to waste time thinking, “How many words did I write?” Assessors will NOT be counting your words.
How to achieve the word limit naturally
By the time you take the OET test, you will have written many practice letters and you will get a feel for the correct length of a letter without doing a word count. Some of your practice letters may be written on the computer and when writing a letter on Word, you have a word count built in. Some will be written by hand. When you are practising at home, by all means count your words so that you gradually start getting the length of your letters right naturally. If you are still struggling to estimate, here are two great tricks:
1. Count all the words in each line and add up the lines! On average, we write 8 to 10 words in a line – check what’s your average number per line as this will come handy in the exam.
2. Remember how many paragraphs are in 200 words.
Why NOT to write letters that are too long or too short
OET referral letters that go way over the word limit are generally not succinct. One of the key skills for which you are being assessed is the ability to select the relevant information from the case-notes and write such information in brief. An overly long letter will likely have some information included that should have been left out. You are also being assessed on your ability to write in brief and summarise key points. The word limit encourages you to develop these skills. Finally, and most obviously, the more you write, the more mistakes you can make. Common sense really! What’s more, you might not find time to proofread your letter at the end or even struggle to complete it on time.
As for writing letters that are under the word limit, you will have probably omitted some important information. Also, there is simply not enough writing available for an assessor to get an idea of your overall level of skill to give you the final grade.
So, what have we learned about word limits?
• The word limit is just a guide to help you.
• Don’t count your words!
• Use strategies when practising to get used to writing letters of the correct length.
Stop counting words. Start focussing on using relevant information from case-notes and writing it in the language of a true health-professional!
It would be an excellent idea to write a lot of letters and get those checked using our OET Writing Correction service. Our OET experts have plenty of experiencing checking nursing, medicine and other medical letters and will give you the right tips necessary to achieve A or B grade in your letter.