IELTS vs OET - English Language Tests

IELTS vs OET - English Language Tests

Unless you’re from a majority English-speaking country on the exempt list, overseas healthcare professionals need to pass one of two English language tests in order to work for the NHS in the UK.

You can either choose to study for the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) Academic Qualification or the Occupational English Test (OET).

Both of these will test your level of English and give you a score that is internationally recognised.

The IELTS and OET exams are both accepted by the General Medical Council (GMC) and the Nursing Medical Council (NMC).They test four basic English language skills: reading, writing, speaking and listening.

In this blog, we’ve researched and compared the two tests for overseas healthcare workers who are planning to start studying.


  • Content: The IELTS exam generally tests academic English whereas the OET tests your knowledge of medical English. This includes your ability to understand patients, conduct medical consultations and write discharge and referral letters.
  • Varieties: There are 2 versions of the IELTS exam, and 12 versions of the OET designed for different healthcare professions.
  • Grading: The IELTS is marked out of 9 with a separate score for each paper. The OET is graded from A to E with a numerical score to show your precise grade.
  • Recognition: The IELTS is recognised by universities, healthcare regulatory bodies, immigration authorities and companies across the world. The OET is recognised by healthcare regulatory bodies in the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Dubai, Ukraine and Namibia.  


  • An academic English language exam used for a variety of purposes.
  • Each section of the test can be on a different topic which may or may not be related to healthcare.
  • The writing section examines your ability to produce a piece of academic writing such as an essay.
  • The speaking exam assesses your ability to communicate clearly in an interview format discussing ideas and  topics that are not necessarily specific to a healthcare professional.


  • An English language test designed for healthcare professionals.
  • Each section of the exam is related to real workplace scenarios for healthcare professionals.
  • The writing section examines your ability to communicate effectively when writing in a healthcare context, such as a letter of referral).
  • The speaking section assesses your ability to communicate effectively in the workplace (e.g., building relationships with your patients) in the format of role plays.
IELTS vs OET Score
IELTS Test Results

What scores do you need to pass?

If you’re taking the IELTS exam, you’ll need an overall score of at least 7. For the writing section, you’ll need at least 6.5 as well as 7 in the reading, listening and speaking sections.

If you take the OET exam, you’ll need at least a grade C+ in the writing section, and at least a grade B in the reading, listening and speaking sections.

How much does the IELTS and OET cost?

As of 2021, the OET will cost you approximately £322. You can pay for it on the OET website when you apply.

The IELTS Academic and General Training exam costs between £170 to £195 depending on location.

You’ll receive a confirmation email five to ten days before the test date. It will tell you the start time of your test and the venue address.

The OET may cost more than the IELTS exam but, as most of the test is made up of medical language and terminology, it’s often easier for healthcare professionals to pass than it is for them to achieve the required IELTS grades.

Which should I choose?

The OET is becoming an increasingly popular test for healthcare professionals to take rather than IELTS. The OET is a professional-specific test that examines your English language skills related to your profession, so you can make use of your healthcare knowledge, vocabulary and experiences. It may be considered easier as it you’ll be more used to the situations provided.  

IELTS is often considered to be a better standard as it is a broader test of the English language, not just workplace specific. However, it can also be argued that the IELTS focuses on subjects and language that would be irrelevant to healthcare professionals. 

Healthcare professionals who gained their experience in speaking English within a workplace setting rather than a more general environment may find it useful to choose the OET exam.

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