two healthcare professionals and a graduate


The IELTS (International English Language Testing System) and OET (Occupational English Test) are both used to test the English language of doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals around the world.

These exams are chosen by regulatory bodies to ensure that healthcare workers have sufficient language skills to communicate effectively with patients and colleagues and deliver adequate medical care.

Which one is right for you? This article will help you decide.


Why do candidates take OET?

The Occupational English Test (OET) is recognised by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) and the General Medical Council (GMC) in the UK and Ireland. Visit the OET website for a full list of bodies that recognise the OET.

One noticeable difference is that OET tests the ability of a trained medical professional to communicate in English. In contrast, IELTS is more general, rather than particularly designed for healthcare workers. Having a good IELTS score can support you with university applications or other, non-medical job applications.

The exam is designed for 12 different healthcare professions. The Listening and Reading subtests can be on any profession (remember, it’s an English language test, not a test of your medical knowledge, so don’t worry if there is a part of the exam that is not on your profession!) The Speaking and Writing subtests are specific to your profession.


Is OET easier than IELTS?

Despite some rumours that OET is easier than IELTS, the English level required for both exams is the same. The difference here is that students preparing for OET only work in healthcare. They need to take an exam to prove their level of English: the test assess skills they already have. This is where OET-focused classes can really help, as they are designed to support you pass the test the first time they take it.

For example, the OET writing assessment involves writing a referral letter. As a doctor or nurse, you will need to do this on a daily basis, meaning that you will already have experience of writing them.

For IELTS writing, the two written tasks could be on a variety of different topics. Task 1 asks candidates to respond to a piece of visual information (a graph, chart or diagram, for instance), writing around 150 words. In Task 2, students need to respond to an argument, problem or opinion, using appropriate academic language. You should write at least 250 words for this task.




Both exams contain four sub-tests: reading, listening, writing & speaking.

Students receive a graded score rather than ‘pass’ or ‘fail.’ For example, the General Medical Council in the United Kingdom requires doctors to score B in OET with a B in each separate paper or an IELTS 7.5 with a minimum score of 7 in each paper.

Both a ‘7’ in IELTS and a ‘B’ on the OET is considered C1 or advanced level of English by the Common European Framework of Reference.



OET tests medical English, whereas IELTS tests academic English.

OET is recognised by healthcare regulatory bodies in Australia, Canada, Ireland, Maldives, Malta, Namibia, New Zealand, Philippines, Qatar, Singapore, Spain, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates and the United States of America.

Meanwhile, IELTS is recognised by universities, healthcare regulatory bodies, immigration authorities and companies across the world.

IELTS is marked out of 9 with a separate score for each paper. OET is marked from A to E with an accompanying numerical score to show your precise grade.


Comparing OET & IELTS

Compare the key factors of both exams:

An English language test for healthcare professionals. An academic English exam most often used for entry to university.
Every part of the exam is related to real workplace scenarios for healthcare professionals. Every part of the test can be on a different topic which may/may not be related to healthcare.
The writing exam assesses your ability to communicate effectively when writing in a healthcare context. For example, a letter of referral. The writing exam assesses your ability to produce a piece of academic writing that you would be expected to produce at university (e.g. an essay).
The speaking exam assesses your ability to communicate effectively in the workplace. This includes building relationships with your patients using role play. The speaking exam assesses your ability to communicate clearly in an interview format. You will discuss ideas and topics that are not always relevant to a healthcare professional.


OET Courses at BSC

We have three different options to support you with your exam. Our teachers use OET-specific material to help you with specialist exam training.

OET Masterclass: this is a week-long, exam focused class, offered face-to-face in all of our UK colleges. Regular start dates mean that you can choose the right time to fit in with your schedule.

Are you currently working? If so, don’t worry! One of our Online OET courses on Saturdays could be perfect for you. We have both 4-week and 6-week classes available. Contact our team to discover more.


At BSC Education, we’re here to guide you on every step of your language journey. Don’t hesitate to contact us and our team of experts will be able to give you expert advice on choosing the right exam preparation course for you.