What are the differences between OET and IELTS for healthcare professionals?

What are the differences between OET and IELTS for healthcare professionals

If you are a healthcare professional, you are in luck since there are innumerable opportunities for you to migrate and settle overseas through a salaried work route. It is usual for healthcare professionals to reach a juncture and face the dilemma of whether to choose OET or IELTS for pursuing their dream of settling overseas, as both tests are regarded as acceptable English proficiency certificates.

The key distinction between these exams is that OET is designed to assess a candidate’s ability to communicate in a healthcare setting, whereas IELTS assesses an individual’s overall ability to converse in the English language. Even though both these examinations evaluate the English proficiency level of candidates, their structure and content is entirely different. 

Knowing the fundamental distinctions between the tests is critical because it will help you select an option that best suits your abilities and needs.

Both OET and IELTS assess the four core English language abilities of listening, reading, writing, and speaking. At the end of both these tests, you will receive a score that indicates your current level of English proficiency based on the Common European Framework of Reference (CERF). These are the sole commonalities between the tests; let us now look at the differences:

Differences OETIELTS
Conducting bodyThe OET is conducted by the Cambridge Boxhill Language Assessment Trust (CBLA)The IELTS is conducted by IDP Education Ltd and British Council. ( currently only IDP operates in India).
Exam duration The exam requires approximately 2 hour 55 minutes to complete ( listening 45 minutes, reading 60 minutes, writing 45 minutes and speaking 20 minutes)The exam finishes in approximately 2 hour 45 minutes ( listening 30 minutes, reading and writing 60 minutes, speaking 12 to 15 minutes)
Context The OET only evaluates a candidate’s English language abilities in a healthcare setting. The examination’s listening and reading modules are the same for all healthcare practitioners. The writing and speaking questions, on the other hand, are tailored to each of the 12 vocations.The reading and writing components of the exam differ depending on whether you take General IELTS (for migration purposes) or Academic IELTS. ( study purposes and migration needs for nursing professionals).
Listening and reading module focusThe listening module is set in 3 parts which include patient- medical worker consultations and multiple choice questions in a healthcare scenario. The reading module also assesses your comprehension skills using health related articles which includes different types of questions like fill in the blanks and MCQs. The listening and reading for IELTS are taken from a wide range of materials as the examination is attended by people from a variety of sectors. The topics are mostly general and taken from articles, journals , newspapers and so on, which thus has no specific relationship to the healthcare framework. 
Writing module focusThe writing for OET is a letter written by a healthcare professional for referral, transfer or discharge of a patient. This subtest examines a medical professional’s ability to communicate crucial information in English in real time when confronted with a realistic health scenario.Medical professionals such as doctors and nurses mostly write the Academic IELTS which has two writing tasks. The task one is a report writing that tests a candidate’s critical thinking , accuracy, attention to detail and grammatical range. The task two is an essay which tests a candidate’s ability to construct and produce a piece of academic writing in a logical and lucid manner with proper paragraphing. 
Speaking module focusThe speaking subtest of OET evaluates the ability of a medical professional to communicate effectively in a healthcare setting. It includes two role plays between a healthcare worker and an interlocutor. The IELTS speaking assesses an individual’s capacity to communicate in an interview mode towards a wide variety of questions asked. The ideas and topics communicated are not relevant to a healthcare setting. 
Cost The OET is a pricey examination as the fee for one sitting is AUD 587 ( 33,681 INR). The IELTS is on the lower cost side as both General and Academic IELTS ( computer based and paper based) are priced at 15,500 INR.
Availability of test datesThe OET exam is conducted twice every month ( total 24 test sittings a year ).The IELTS exam has a test date almost every week. 
Declaration of Result Within 16 business daysWithin 13 business days (for computer based IELTS the test results are available in 5 days time)  
Preparation materials The OET has a limited amount of preparation materials available online. Most candidates depend on the samples given in the OET official website as well as a few materials published by the Cambridge University Press.  The writing and speaking materials are very limited for professionals other than doctors and nurses. IELTS has a wealth of materials available both online and in the form of hardcopy books. Hence even if a candidate intended to prepare oneself, they wouldn’t have to worry about the materials.  Cambridge University itself has published Cambridge IELTS 1 through 17 books and each book contains four tests. A single test comprises questions from prior IELTS tests on listening, reading, writing, and speaking.. 
Availability of preparation centresCentres and institutes for studying OET are lesser compared to IELTS. However,  there are many options if a candidate opts for learning online. The OET official recommends that the tutors who deliver OET classes should be TEFL/TESOL qualified. 

There are IELTS preparation institutes in practically every country across the world. Aside from traditional classroom-based instruction, many institutes also provide online group and individual sessions. However, one cannot always be certain of the quality of instruction provided in these institutes, therefore a candidate should narrow down their options and choose an institute or trainer judiciously to meet their required scores.
Recognition OET is recognised by healthcare regulatory bodies in the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Dubai, Ukraine and Namibia and by some bodies in Canada and the US. So, before you choose OET it is important to ensure that the country you plan to work for accepts it as a valid proof of English proficiency. The IELTS is recognised for migration and study purposes in practically every country across the world. IELTS is a better alternative for a medical practitioner who has not yet determined which country to migrate to because it is approved by all healthcare regulatory authorities.
Retaking the test The OET only accepts clubbing options for nurses, who can take the best of two scores from successive tests taken within six months. Unfortunately, due to the high cost of the OET exam, this would be an expensive endeavour.Until recently, if you did not meet the required score for even one module, you had to retake the entire IELTS test to obtain the required band. The IELTS now allows you to retake only one module in which you did not get the required band score.Similar to OET, nurses can do clubbing of IELTS scores too. 
Scoring In OET a candidate is awarded a grade between A ( 450 to 500) and E ( 0-90) for each subtest and NO overall score. Ideally, most health professionals require a band B (350-440) in each module to meet job requirements. For IELTS a candidate is given a band score between 0-9 for each subtest and an overall band score ( average of the four subtests). For study abroad, an overall band of 6.5- 7 would suffice. However , health professionals are supposed to meet a 7 band in all modules for work visa purposes. 

Which exam is a better option for a healthcare professional?

If you are a practising medical specialist working in the healthcare field, you may find OET to be a more feasible option. This is due to the fact that the OET exam content is profession-specific, and many settings and terminology will be recognizable to you. As a result, there is a greater likelihood that preparing for OET will be less stressful for you. Yet, the cost factor is something that restrains many candidate’s from pursuing OET.

IELTS measures communicative skills through the use of regular everyday materials and questions centered on socially relevant issues. If you are a medical practitioner who enjoys keeping up with current occurrences across the world and have not worked in a healthcare sector (or have taken a break), IELTS is a good option for you.

Can I easily transition from OET to IELTS if I fail in the former?

The transition between OET and IELTS is not a piece of cake.As shown in the table above, the context, structure, scoring criteria, and so on for both of these tests are vastly different. A different strategy of learning is needed when you choose to write the IELTS examination. Nonetheless, the communicative skills you developed while studying for the OET, particularly fluency, pronunciation, spelling, and grammatical accuracy, may be crucial when taking the IELTS. So it could be a win-win situation in that regard.

It is a tough call when you have to study for another exam after failing one , especially as it is for the same purpose to produce a valid English proficiency certificate. I would suggest that it is better to find your shortcomings, rectify it and re-attempt the same examination at least once before deciding to opt for a second option. 


In the current scenario, where a large number of medical practitioners are attempting to find a job overseas, both OET and IELTS are popular among healthcare professionals. It is important to have a good understanding about both these examinations before deciding on your preference. Of course, there are various personal considerations such as cost that would be a worry for candidates; thus, take into account all of the factors as well as your circumstances and then decide on an option. Keep in mind that whether you select IELTS or OET, what matters is the hard work and determination you put into achieving your required score and fulfilling your dream of settling overseas. Good Luck!

Shruthi Raveendran

I am Shruthi Raveendran, a TEFL-certified IELTS/PTE and ESL tutor who has 8+ years of experience working in the education industry. I am a passionate writer, logophile and film enthusiast

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