How does OET assess the English language proficiency of healthcare professionals?

I came across this question in Quora. An interestingly worded question, I must say. Exactly how is it done anyway? It is relatively easier to talk about what the OET assesses. But how does it do that? For this, I believe, you have to look at the marking criteria for each sub-test. For those who are more familiar with IELTS, we are talking about “band descriptors” here.


Listening will involve you listening to 42 questions in total. The candidate will be exposed to different snippets of conversation scenarios:

  • patient-doctor consultation type
  • workplace conversations type
  • long-format presentation type

These extracts will check the test taker’s

  1. Basic listening skills – Part A does this. Listen to the conversation and just fill in the blanks. Are you able to follow this simple dialogue? Sometimes it becomes a kind of enquiry. The doctor wants to know something and the patient answers. At other times, the latter makes a valuable observation. Healthcare personnel will have to follow this kind of conversation and file away important bits of information gleaned from such interactions. Can you follow this type of conversation & make educated guesses regarding her response & grammatical accuracy?
  2. Ability to pick out the essential – This is the domain of Part B. When patients visit the doctor/GP, they are hardly ever in a peaceful frame of mind. Rather, they are often somewhat disturbed, anxious to know what is wrong with them, desperately hoping for the best yet fearing the worst. In such a mental state, they may speak vaguely and incoherently. Similarly, two healthcare workers, while discussing a particular matter, will, at the same time, tend to provide a certain amount of extra, extraneous information. You will have to actively look out for the answer to a question that you might be asking yourself. Can you eliminate the wrong options given and zero in on the one that matters?
  3. Extended listening capacity – In Part C, you’ll have to listen to longer extracts. You won’t be getting breaks for significantly longer stretches of time. In that period, you’ll have to follow the conversation between, say, 2 medical practitioners. Do you possess the requisite listening muscle to perform the task? or, do you quickly develop listening fatigue and miss out on certain parts of the conversation? The candidate’s willingness and ability to listen at length are assessed in this listening section.

This is the way you are tested on a range of listening and language skills: prediction, recognizing synonyms and paraphrases, identifying specific details, interpreting overall meaning, and so on. The ease with which you unconsciously perform these linguistic functions directly affects your performance in Listening. The overall marks you score in Listening, out of a maximum possible of 42, is then reduced to a grade.



Reading also requires you to answer 42 questions. The kinds of questions thrown at you are pretty much the same – Fill in the blanks and MCQ. A student’s Reading skill is assessed by testing his/her grasp of grammar and sentence structure, vocabulary range, structure & content predictive skills, and the matching ability. This last competency includes the candidate’s capacity to identify and choose the correct option from a multiplicity of choices.

NB: The minimum marks you require for a Grade B score in Listening & Reading is 30. NHS-UK, for instance, requires you to score B in both the above-mentioned sub-tests. Why? Because it shows them that you, the candidate, are equally proficient in these aspects of the English language.



Writing is manually corrected and the your letter is marked according to a set of pre-determined criteria. These are as under. A whole series of articles can be written on each writing marking criterion. But much has to suffice for the purpose of the current question.

  • Purpose – how clear is the purpose? Is it immediately apparent why the letter is being written?
  • Content – how relevant is your writing?
  • Conciseness & Clarity – is writing to clear & to the point yet comprehensive?
  • Genre & Style – is tone employed appropriate? tone differs depending on whom the letter addresses.
  • Organization & Layout – logically presented & extended? is the format followed?
  • Language – is it adequate to clearly convey the meaning? Is it relatively free of obvious errors



Speaking is the other module that is manually corrected. Your OET Speaking marks/grade is reached after evaluating your Linguistic & Communicative skills. The former includes Intelligibility, Fluency, Appropriateness, and Resources of Grammar & Expression. The latter deals with various Indicators (of Relationship building, Understanding the patient’s perspective, Providing structure to the roleplays, Information gathering, and Information giving/sharing.



Once again, this is not the place to deep dive into a discussion on the OET marking criteria. Suffice it to say here that some qualities are considered to carry more weightage than the rest. And a candidate’s final grades in Writing and Speaking are obtained only after a careful assessment of the various marking criteria discussed above. Once you have your scores of all the 4 sub-tests, all that we need to do is to measure them against the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR).

And voila! Your level of English proficiency is revealed!

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