Why Many Nurses Are Taking the Occupational English Test (OET), Recently Approved by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) | The Flame Lily, UK Nursing and Care Agency

Why Many Nurses Are Taking the Occupational English Test (OET), Recently Approved by the NMC

Posted on July 19, 2018

Cambridge Boxhill Language Assessment, which offers English test languages targeted to the healthcare industry reports a huge increase in candidate numbers. 

With the goal of offering a different way to test a healthcare provider’s command of English, the NMC now accepts Occupational English Test (OET).

In this article, we are going to look at the history of the OET, why it was accepted by the NMC, its features, evolution and future prospects.

Let’s get right to it!

The OET is Now Accepted Because It Promotes Overseas Recruitment


Until recently, the only exam recognized by the NMC is the International English Language Testing System (IELTS). The problem with this is that it hinders overseas recruitment.

After the NMC’s approval of the OET, there has been a significant rise in candidates taking the exam, particularly nurses. This is according to the Cambridge Boxhill Language Assessment, which offers OET.

The OET is Special Because it Tests in the Context of Healthcare


The advantage of the OET is that it tests English language skills within the context of healthcare. Sujata Stead, who is the Boxhill’s chief executive said that in just a few months, many candidates have taken the OET.

Here’s why:

Most of the candidates taking OET are nurses with a goal of working in the UK. In fact, from the time the test was approved by the NMC, there has been a 250% - 300% increase in test takers.

Most OET Candidates are From Asia and the Middle East


Most of the OET takers originate from South East Asia, South Asia, and the Middle East. There has also been a huge growth in OET test takers from the UK. 

OET’s Efficiency is Yet to be Determined


The OET test covers twelve healthcare professions. However, 70% of the test takers are usually nurses.

But here’s the deal:

Sujata feels that it is too early to judge whether or not the test can help boost the NHS’ international recruitment. At the moment, the NHS hopes to desperately fill nursing vacancies.

So as to assess the long-term viability of the OET, there are plans to conduct market research in October 2019. This will help measure its impact on staffing.

OET is From Australia but Offers Many Advantages Around the World


Language specialists from the University of Melbourne developed the OET in the 1980s. This was after they were commissioned by the government to create a test to cater for the increased demand from foreign professionals coming to Australia.

healthcare professional studying for an exam

Source: https://pixabay.com/en/student-biology-notes-think-study-732012/

But here’s good part:

According to Sujata, the nurses taking the OET have given positive feedback. Mainly, the test takers say that it fits the purpose and is appropriate for their profession. The OET focuses on communicating in a healthcare context.

Moreover, nurses are confident when taking the test because they can relate to the content.

The designers and supporters of OET believe that since it mainly focuses on healthcare, it proves more attractive to nurses who have a higher likelihood of preparing, practicing and finally succeeding.

Preparing for the OET Helps Nurses Improve their Skills


While preparing for the tests, it was found that nurses develop language skills that they can use in practice.

Preparing for and taking the test has two advantages. First, it increases one’s chances of getting hired by the NMC. Secondly, as one studies for the test, they develop the language skills that they will use in their profession.

Why does this matter?

Taking the OET is not just about ticking the right boxes. Its advantages are so much more.

The OET is Always Evolving to Meet the Needs of the Healthcare Industry


Another body that recognizes the OET is the General Medical Council. The OET continues to evolve and receives regular updates based on the feedback from nursing practitioners.

As such, the OET reflects the nature of the healthcare industry, where things are always changing. In September 2018, new changes are scheduled including a fresh assessment of clinical communication skills.

This will specifically test speaking in clinical communication. Other parts of the test include writing, reading, and listening. The new assessment criteria will assess communication between care providers and patients.

That’s not all...

Some of the skills tested in these tests include one’s information-sharing ability with patients and summarizing clinical notes. It also tests whether the nurse can explain technical language so that patients can understand.

Healthcare practitioner preparing for the OET exam

Source: https://unsplash.com/photos/FHnnjk1Yj7Y

Additions to the tests include introductions to many more accents in the listening test. At the same time, both reading and writing tests will focus on the professional realm, in areas such as consulting colleagues.

Candidates Will Need a B-Grade to enter the NMC Register


After doing the tests, the candidates will receive a grade out of 500 for each sub-test (ranging from A to E). If a nurse wants to enter the NMC register, they must get at least a B.

According to Ms. Stead, the company deliberately does not publish OET pass rates because it could discourage nurses from taking the test. 

Why does this matter?

So as to achieve the B-grade, there are several criteria that one needs to meet. If one’s level of English is poor, the chances of receiving a B grade are almost nill.

However, if one’s English is of grade C level, then with lots of preparation, it will be possible to get a B. Someone with a basic level of English will have a much easier time getting a B.

Just Like Any Other Exams, OET Candidates Need to Prepare


In a recent snapshot trial, the Specialist Language Courses (SLC) UK test center helped prepare nine candidates for the OET. Of the eight nurses, four of whom were working as healthcare assistants, six got 4Bs.

The key finding from the above test is that nurses need to prepare for the OET. Just like every other exam in life, it is taking the test in a timed environment that shows whether or not the candidate is prepared.

The best part?

There are many free courses on the OET website, and this helps the candidates prepare for their exams. At the moment, candidates can take the test at any of the 110 test centers distributed across 40 countries.

The organization behind OET will strive to ensure that it is accessible to as many people as possible. How? By frequently monitoring the demand for the test so that they can open more test centers in the areas that need it the most.

Plans to Increase OET Awareness in the UK


Boxhill Assessment is also working with trusts in the NHS and others to increase awareness of the test and to expand the UK-based team. This will allow for informed decisions on whether to choose OET or other language tests.

There will be an OET Forum event in London on 29th August as part of OET’s official launch in the UK. Among the speakers will be Professor Tim McNamara from the University of Melbourne, who developed the OET.

Similarities Between OET and IELTS


Each test has four sub-tests. The subtests assess listening, reading, speaking and writing skills.

Another similarity is that both OET and IELTS take one day to complete.

Also, both tests do not have a pass/fail. Instead, they have a graded score. Different healthcare institutions have different score requirements if candidates are to be employed by them.

Both the OET and IELTS were developed in the 80s and form part of the Cambridge Assessment English. IELTS is owned by both the British Council and International Development Program(IDP). OET is partly owned by Boxhill Assessment.

Differences Between IELTS and OET


a) Content

IELTS tests academic English. Among other things, it tests the candidate’s ability to write essays, follow lectures and understand academic articles. Candidates should also be able to discuss a wide array of topics.

On the other hand, OET assesses healthcare English, effective communication, the ability to write referral letters and understand the patient’s consultation.

OET examination room
Source: https://unsplash.com/photos/xPHmmVKS8lM

b) Versions

The IELTS test has two versions: academic and general training. The listening and speaking sections are similar for both tests. 

However, the academic reading and writing in IELTS focus more on higher education than general training.

Conversely, OET has 12 versions of its test focused on different healthcare professional groups. These include: physicians, pharmacists, podiatrists, vets, dieticians, radiographers, physiotherapists, speech pathologists, occupational therapists, optometrists, dentists and nurses.

c) Scoring

IELTS is scored out of 9 and each paper has its own score. However, OET is graded from A to E.

d) Recognition

IELTS is recognized by regulatory bodies, companies, universities and immigration authorities of many countries. This includes universities in non-English speaking countries.

OET, on the other hand, is recognized by healthcare bodies and universities in New Zealand, Dubai, Singapore, Namibia, and Australia.

e) Test Taker Numbers

Last year, more than 3 million people took IELTS, which is much higher than the 25,000 who took the OET. This illustrates the specialist nature of the OET in comparison to the global higher education market.

As of today, the people who mainly take the OET are those hoping to work in Australia.

f) Test Preparation

IELTS’ global infrastructure is designed in such a way that prepares learners to take the test. These resources can be found in private language schools, universities, published materials, and online content.

Conversely, OET’s learning resources are less, but more specialist in nature than IELTS.



In this article, we’ve seen that the NMC’s acceptance of the OET allows foreign healthcare professionals to work in the UK. Most candidates are from Asia and Arabia. 

To pass the OET, the candidate needs to earn at least a B, which requires a lot of preparation. The OET is a special test because it is designed around the healthcare industry.

There are a number of differences between IELTS and OET, which have been introduced in the article. IELTS is accepted by many countries and institutions around the world, while OET is mainly for those wishing to work in Australia.

So as to encourage candidates to take part in the exam, the OET deliberately fails to publish pass rates. Even with an average command of English, it is possible for candidates to pass the OET with thorough preparation.

The OET is always evolving to reflect the condition and needs of the healthcare industry. It is continually upgraded with new test areas, such as accents, speech, listening and communication.

At The Flame Lily, our goal is to support nurses as they build their careers so that they prosper. We make sure that you get full training support and other special benefits that make your professional life more convenient. Register with The Flame Lily to find out more.

What has this article taught you about OET? Has it changed your views? Is there something we didn’t mention in the article that you wish we would? Please share your views in the comments section below.

Show Conversation (0)
Leave a Reply
Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *
Bookmark this article

Follow us on

  • facebook
  • twitter
  • linkedin
  • youtube
  • googleplus

Recent Post

Stay in Touch

Subscribe for latest stories and promotions.

We’ll not be obstructive.