If you’re moving to the UK to study medicine or to seek a doctors job, you will be required to complete an English language testing exam which will enable you to register with the GMC (General Medical Council) and take the PLAB tests.

There are two exam options and medical professionals are often unsure whether they should take; IELTS (International English Language Testing System) or OET (Occupational English Test). Both tests assess for reading, listening, writing and speaking and are marked on a grading system.

To pass the IELTS exam, an overall score of 7.5 must be achieved, with a minimum of 7.0 in each of the test areas. You’ll need to achieve a minimum grade B or a points score of 350 across all test areas to pass the OET exam.

From September 2018, the scoring system for the IELTS and OET is as follows:

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Note that OET results are scored by grades and points. Seeing your points score shows you how close you are to the different grades.

What’s the difference between IELTS and OET?

There are two versions of IELTS – ‘General Training’ and ‘Academic’. The latter is required for medical professionals wanting to practice in the UK. The test is designed for those wanting to study at an English-speaking university, so the content is not medicine-specific and in practice covers a very wide range of topics. IELTS is taken by over 3 million people every year and there are test centres around the world with weekly test dates.

In contrast to this, the OET has 12 different versions that have been designed for different medical professions, including nursing, medicine, radiography and optometry. The Reading and Listening papers are for all professions, whereas the Writing and Speaking tests are profession-specific.

For doctors, this means that OET tests your ability to communicate in a medical scenario such as identifying specific medical information during a consultation and writing a referral letter. OET is taken by fewer people than IELTS and there are currently test centres in around 40 countries, with monthly test dates.

The new version of OET: What changed?

From September 2018, OET 2.0 came into effect. As mentioned above, the grading system was changed with the introduction of points scores alongside letter grades, so giving a more precise insight into your mark.

The level of difficulty has not changed, but the structure of the reading and listening sections have changed and now both feature three parts. Read more on the changes to these sections of the OET exam here.

Choosing IELTS or OET

Neither exam is easier than the other from a linguistic perspective. Both IELTS 7.5 and OET B show you have an advanced level in English. However, you may find OET simpler to understand as it is healthcare-oriented and tests the language you use in practice. The GMC accepts both qualifications and since September 2019, both IELTS and the OET test is valid for UK Visa and Immigration purposes.

Help with English language testing

We’ve partnered with SLC, one of the leading English language test preparation companies in the UK. To help you pass your English language test first time, we can offer you a discount on 1:1 and online preparation courses for IELTS and OET, get in touch to find out more. The courses provide an invaluable insight into the tests and also helps to develop and prepare you to pass the test. The courses not only benefit the you, but also your new place of work, as you will have much greater communication skills which will also help you integrate into UK life.

There are four courses that we recommend, with a choice to suit your preference of either 1:1 video conferencing with one of SLC’s expert trainers or online self-paced courses:

1:1 IELTS training

1:1 OET training

Self-paced IELTS training

Self-paced OET training

Looking to find out more about relocating to the UK? Did you know our permanent recruitment team can help you with your relocation to the UK? If you want to find out more, call +44 (0)1277 217777.


Written in partnership with SLC.

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