The OET Speaking sub-test is intended to replicate real-life situations between patients and medical professionals. It is a test of your English in a pretty specific area because it really looks at the communication between these two roles and does not deviate from that focus.
The exam takes the form of a role play rather than a traditional English speaking test. Here, the roles are almost reversed because in a traditional speaking test, usually the examiner will ask the questions. In the OET speaking sub-test, however, most of the questions will be asked by the candidate rather than the examiner. Actually, the ‘examiner’ that you will meet during the test is an interlocutor (a person who takes part in a conversation with you) and in the OET test, the interlocutor is not the person who will be giving you your marks. Instead, your conversation with the interlocutor will be recorded and sent to the examiners for marking.
Both you and the interlocutor will be given a role play card that will outline their part of a conversation. The candidate will play a role based upon their chosen medical field – for example, nursing – and the examiner will have a card containing information about the patient side of the conversation. Both cards feature information that is not shared with the other, and the two people will try to exchange this information.
Unlike in other English tests, you do not wait for the examiner to ask you questions, and you do not sit and politely answer them. In the OET speaking sub-test, you need to take control of the situation from the very beginning of the test. You will lead the conversation without dominating it, effectively signaling the beginning, middle, and end of the test.
Doing this may seem a little unnerving at first. If you are used to tests, then it may seem strange to be “the boss.” However, it’s important to remember that this is a role play and it is testing your situational abilities. As such, you need to treat it like your regular job. It wouldn’t be right for a patient to tell the doctor or nurse everything during a consultation, would it?
No. In fact, in normal situations like this, the doctor or nurse controls the conversation fully. They begin and end it, and they ask most of the questions. The patient follows what they say, answers questions, and listens to their advice. That’s what should happen in OET, too.
Importantly, though, you will have some tasks written on the role play card and you need to do what they say. These will guide you through what you need to know about the conversation. They may tell you that you need to ask or do something, and they will tell you a little about who the patient is. It is very important that you pay close attention to these points and respond to them appropriately throughout the whole of the speaking sub-test. You need to control the conversation enough to direct it towards these tasks.
It is important that you enter the role of the healthcare professional in this setting and do not think of yourself as the exam candidate. Introduce yourself at the beginning and mentally settle into the role of a professional. From there, lead the patient. Don’t be unnecessarily forceful, and certainly don’t be rude, but lead them where you want them to go. Make sure that the tasks on the card are completed by asking the right questions and saying the right things.
You should ask questions appropriately and then listen carefully to the responses that are given by the interlocutor. However, don’t just note them and move on to the next question. This is a matter of communication, so you may need to ask follow-up questions or respond by giving some sort of acknowledgement or advice. You can settle into the role of asking questions as a way of controlling the conversation, but also remember that you are the expert who is meant to be explaining things, and so that is also part of your role, and should not be overlooked. Try to strike a reasonable balance in terms of time spent talking and listening.
It is also worth noting that you need to take control of the time. Don’t let the conversation end too quickly, and avoid having it last too long as well. The role play should last for about five minutes.
The OET is respected by candidates and employers around the world because it is a better assessment of situational English than other tests. It is specific to your field of employment, and it checks your ability to communicate in a realistic way. This makes it a great test of ability, and if you are ready to sit for the exam, then you have absolutely nothing to worry about.
Just remember that you are in control during the test. This is your opportunity to succeed, and doing that requires having the right attitude. Don’t sit back and wait for the examiner to lead you, but rather take control of the situation and lead the examiner. If you prepare by becoming familiar with the test and its requirements, you will feel confident before you sit for it, and you will have no problem taking charge of the dialog and leading throughout the whole conversation.