For all nurses who trained outside of the UK and are considering moving to the UK for work, you will need to meet the English Language standards set by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC). To achieve this, you must complete either the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) test or the Occupational English Test (OET).

But which is the right test for you?

Whilst both tests assess you for reading, listening, writing and speaking skills, there are a number of key differences between the two. Here is a breakdown of what is involved for each, to help you decide which test is right for you.

What is IELTS?

IELTS is a universally recognised test designed to measure the English Language proficiency of an individual who wishes to work in the UK. Whilst there is two versions of IELTS – ‘General Training’ and ‘Academic’ – a nursing professional is only required to pass the IELTS Academic exam.

Although the IELTS exam is not specific to the healthcare profession, it will give you a much broader understanding of the English Language as it doesn’t just focus on workplace language. You will therefore feel more confident communicating in other aspects of your daily life here in the UK.

What is OET?

Initially the NMC were only accepting the IELTS exam, however since November 2017 the NMC have recognised the OET for overseas-training nurses looking to register with them.

The OET was designed specifically for the healthcare sector and its assessments primarily test healthcare professionals on the English Language used in a workplace scenario, which will be tailored for a nurse. However, whilst the Writing and Speaking tests are profession-specific, the Reading and Listening papers are for all healthcare professions.

How are the IELTS & OET tests scored?

To pass the IELTS exam, you will need a minimum overall level of 7 – although a level 6.5 in Writing will be accepted alongside a level 7 in Reading, Listening and Speaking.

Nurses who choose to take the OET exam will need to achieve a minimum of level B.

Locum RecommendationPermanent Recommendation
£200 credit towards your Athona appraisal* (Usually costs up to £475)

*available only to doctors.
£200 credit towards your Athona appraisal* (Usually costs up to £475)

*available only to doctors.
£200 contribution towards your CPD£200 contribution towards your CPD
£200 voucher of your choice£200 voucher of your choice

How long does each test last?

The overall IELTS exam lasts for 2 hours 45 minutes. Compared to the OET, which lasts for approximately 2 hours 50 minutes.

IELTS: Listening 30 minutes, Reading 60 minutes, Writing 60 minutes and Speaking 11-14 minutes.

OET: Listening 45 minutes, Reading 60 minutes, Writing 45 minutes and Speaking 20 minutes.

Why do I need to complete this test?

We understand the prospect of the English Language test can seem daunting, but it is important that the NMC, your future employer and Athona feel comfortable that you have the required level of English Language skills to be able to effectively undertake your role and deliver the safest and highest standard of care to your patients.

Partnering with SLC

To help you pass your English language test first time, we’ve partnered with the UK’s leading medical English provider. We are able to offer discounted access to preparation courses which include 1:1 training and online, self-paced courses for IELTS and OET. Simply email to request the discount code. There are four courses that we recommend for nurses, which you can find below. If you’re not sure which is more suitable for you, please read SLC’s advice on how to choose the right path for you.

1:1 IELTS training | 1:1 OET training | Self-paced IELTS training | Self-paced OET training

SLC Ielts oet

Looking to find out more about relocating to the UK and the IELTS or OET tests? Our permanent recruitment team are on-hand to make your relocation to the UK stress-free and simple. If you would like to find out more, give the team a call on +44 (0)1277 217777.