In the OET, there are four different sections, referred to as sub-tests. These are: writing, listening, reading, and speaking. In this article, we are going to take an in-depth look at the structure of the speaking sub-test so that you can understand it fully before you sit the OET exam.
A basic overview
The OET speaking sub-test is quite different from other English speaking exams because it does not require the candidate to engage in a question and answer dialog with a traditional examiner. In this case, the examiner is called an interlocutor and the conversation that takes place is a role play.
The whole test takes approximately fifteen to twenty minutes and will be split into two different role play scenarios, as well as a short warm-up conversation prior to the commencement of the proper test. The role plays will be based upon realistic scenarios that will be specific to your chosen field of expertise. In other words, if you are a nurse, then you will be doing a role play that takes place in a typical setting for nurses, such as dealing with an injury sustained by a patient. The role of the patient, or patient’s guardian or carer, will be played by the interlocutor. Similarly, if you are a doctor, you will deal with a patient or their next of kin in a clinical setting.
The structure of the test
When you go into the OET speaking testing room, you will sit down with the interlocutor and he or she will ask you some simple questions about your background. It is important to note that this is not an assessed part of the test. It can be thought of as a warm-up exercise whose purpose is to let you get comfortable speaking with the interlocutor. In other words, this short part of the process is when you should get over your nervousness and settle into the conversation.
You should not view the interlocutor as an examiner because, unlike in other English tests, they will not be assessing you. That will be done by others who listen to the recorded conversation at a later date. Instead, you should try to see this person as your speaking partner. Don’t feel nervous talking to them, and instead try to imagine this as a normal, everyday situation.
Following the warm-up, you will be given a role play card on which there will be some important information for you. Both you and the interlocutor will have cards containing information, and yours will also contain some tasks that you must complete. You will have three minutes to read it, so make sure to read it carefully and ensure that you understand everything you need to do. You may look at the card again later, but it is best not to do more than glance at it during the conversation or else it may interrupt the flow of the dialog and reduce the fluency of your speech. It is also worth noting that you may ask your interlocutor questions about the card or even write notes on it during these few minutes.
Your role play card will contain some background information about the situation that can help you to anticipate the conversation. It will also contain a few things that you must do. This may include asking about an issue, giving some key information, or attempting to ease the patient’s worries over their symptoms. These are things that you should pay close attention to and ensure to complete them during the role play. You must lead the conversation in those directions so that you get to do everything you need to.
When the role play begins, you will be expected to engage in a conversation lasting about five minutes. You should play the role assigned to you, which will be chosen according to your profession. For example, if you are a doctor then you will act as a doctor dealing with a patient. This means that you will do most of the talking and ask questions to the patient. You should aim to begin and end the conversation, and control it during the middle. Don’t wait for the interlocutor to do these things.
When the first role play is finished, the process will be repeated for a second role play card. Both role plays will have the same basic structure, but the scenario will be different for each one. Once both role plays are finished, the speaking test is over.
How is your grade calculated?
As I mentioned, the person sitting with you during the test is an interlocutor. They are not exactly an examiner and so they are not going to grade your performance. Instead, the role play will be recorded and this will be listened to and graded by assessors at a later time. Multiple assessors will listen to the recording and assign a grade, with the average grade being used to ensure fairness, so that nobody gets an examiner that is too strict or lenient.
The whole process is aimed at finding out how well you can speak English within the given medical context. You will be judged on a variety of skills that essentially look at how accurately, fluently, and appropriately you communicate. This means that you will need to speak English well, but even more than that you will also need to use language and tone that are expected of a doctor or nurse. The effective conveyance of information is utterly essential. Of course, you should be used to doing this in your own language, so it will be a matter of translating that into English.
Now you know the structure and content of the OET speaking sub-test. It is essential to be prepared for exams like this, and you are recommended to use this information to guide your practice in the weeks and months prior to sitting the real exam.