Selecting an English language proficiency test can seem challenging because they all assess your basic English skills. However, each of the tests has some special features that help the candidates to choose which is best suited to their purpose. This article is going to explore the similarities and differences between OET and IELTS.

All about OET (Occupational English Test)

The Listening section of OET is approximately 45 minutes. It assesses the candidate’s ability to follow and understand a range of health-related spoken materials such as patient consultations and lectures.

The Reading section is for 60 minutes, where it is checked whether the candidate can read and understand different types of text on health-related subjects.

The Writing section lasts for 45 minutes where candidates are asked to write about things specific to the profession, based on typical workplace situations.

The task is to write a letter, usually a referral letter. Sometimes, especially for some professions, a different type of letter is required: e.g. a letter of transfer or discharge, or a letter to advise or inform a patient, carer, or group.

The Speaking section lasts for approximately 20 minutes, where candidates have to talk about different issues related to the specific profession, based on typical workplace situations.

In a private room you will take part in two role-plays. You take your professional role (as a healthcare professional) while the interlocutor plays a patient or client, or sometimes a relative or carer.

All about IELTS (International English Language Testing System)

The IELTS Listening lasts for 30 minutes, where you will have to listen to four recordings of native English speakers and then write your answers to a series of questions.

Assessors will be looking for evidence of your ability to understand the main ideas and detailed factual information, the opinions and attitudes of speakers, the purpose of an utterance and evidence of your ability to follow the development of ideas.

The Reading section also lasts for 60 minutes. It consists of 40 questions, designed to test a wide range of reading skills. These include reading for gist, reading for main ideas, reading for detail, skimming, understanding logical argument and recognising writers’ opinions, attitudes and purpose.

The Writing section is a 60 minutes task where you write on topics that are of general interest. There are two tasks:

Task 1 – you will be presented with a situation and asked to write a letter requesting information, or explaining the situation. The letter may be personal, semi-formal or formal in style.

Task 2 – you will be asked to write an essay in response to a point of view, argument or problem. The essay can be fairly personal in style.

The Speaking task is the shortest. It lasts for 11–14 minutes and assesses your use of spoken English. It has 3 parts: 

Part 1 – the examiner will ask you general questions about yourself and a range of familiar topics, such as home, family, work, studies and interests. This part lasts between four and five minutes.

Part 2 – you will be given a card which asks you to talk about a particular topic. You will have one minute to prepare before speaking for up to two minutes. The examiner will then ask one or two questions on the same topic.

Part 3 – you will be asked further questions about the topic in Part 2. These will give you the opportunity to discuss more abstract ideas and issues. This part of the test lasts between four and five minutes.

Similarities between IELTS and OET

OET is an international English language test that assesses the language communication skills of healthcare professionals who seek to register and practise in an English speaking environment.

While IELTS is another internationally acclaimed English language test that has two sections: general and academic. Candidates who want to go abroad for higher studies or for any specialised job, need to clear the academic IELTS and others take the general one.

They both test four English skills, namely reading, listening, speaking, and writing.

For both tests, you will be given a score that will determine your current level of English.

Difference between IELTS and OET

IELTS and OET differ in several categories.  Let’s have a look:

1. Context

The main difference is the context within which each test is taken.

The IELTS test will test your English within the context of a wide variety of topics. The OET will test your ability within the context of your medical profession. Therefore, if you are a nurse or a doctor, you will be tested on things related to your job.

2. Cost & Availability

IELTS is much cheaper than OET and is available in more places. OET costs about three times more than IELTS.

There are also more IELTS test dates available than OET.

3. Preparation

They are both English tests, so a good level of general English is required, but there are also key differences in ‘test skills’. Therefore, the preparation for each test will be different.

You will have to invest a significant amount of time and effort into preparing for each of them. If you have already invested a large amount of time in one, it may be a bad idea to throw that away and switch to the other.

There are also 3 million IELTS test takers every year and only 25,000 OET takers. This means that there are far more preparation options for IELTS, ranging from a huge number of free options to online courses and private tuition. The range for OET is rather limited.

4. Acceptance

IELTS is viewed as the ‘gold standard’ and is accepted everywhere. OET is accepted by a smaller number of bodies and institutions.

IELTS may be a better choice if you are unsure of where you might work or study in the future.

5. Retaking the test

One of the most frustrating things about IELTS is that if you fail one of the four skills, you have to take all four again. This is very disappointing for students who struggle with any one section.

An OET candidate can ‘bank’ the higher scores and focus only on the skills they ‘failed’. For me, this is the biggest benefit of OET and one that IELTS should consider introducing.

How To Choose Between the IELTS and OET?

If money is a factor, the IELTS test is a better choice. You might have to repeat the test a few times before you get the score you need. Doing the OET 3 times will cost you around $1500 USD; around three times of what IELTS will cost you.

Also, if you have spent a significant amount of time preparing for one, it will be difficult to switch to the other test. Preparation costs money, time and energy.

The main reason why students score lesser than the desired band is that their English level is not up to the required standard. Switching to a different test will not solve that problem.

You must focus on improving your general level of English and your test skills, no matter which one you choose.


Many medical professionals choose to take OET instead of IELTS because it is quite specific in that way. However, this is not as big a consideration as there are plenty of other factors to check. At the end of the day, both OET and IELTS are English language tests and will assess you on language skills. Therefore, you must look decide wisely and choose the one that suits you best.

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About the Author

Indulekha Prabha

My name is Indulekha Prabha. I am an English teacher and a content writer by profession. When I'm not working you can find me writing fiction, reading poetry and painting.

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