OET or IELTS: Choosing the Right Exam for you

The IELTS (International English Language Testing System) and OET (Occupational English Test) are both used to test the English language of doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals around the world. Both of these examinations are chosen by regulatory bodies to make sure that healthcare workers have sufficient language skills to communicate effectively with patients and colleagues and deliver adequate medical care.

What’s the difference between OET and the IELTS?

Both the IELTS and the OET exams are accepted by the GMC and the NMC, however, OET tests your ability to communicate in English in a healthcare setting, whereas the IELTS tests your overall ability to communicate in the English language. Please visit our OET course page for a full comparison of the two courses and to find out more about the difference between OET and IELTS.

Is OET easier than IELTS?

Although there are a few rumours that OET is easier to pass than IELTS Academic. This is not true. The level required from each examination by Regulatory Authorities in the UK is the same. This rumour seems to have appeared because many healthcare professionals who sat OET passed first-time (see the data from OET). This was not because the test is easier. It was because it assessed the skills that they were more familiar with.

For example, let’s look at the writing paper: when was the last time you wrote an Academic essay in English (like you need for IELTS exam) compared to the last time you wrote a letter of referral ( like you would need for the OET writing)? OET assesses the skills you already use in the healthcare profession and assesses how well you can communicate these skills in English.


  • Both exams contain four sub-tests: reading, listening, writing & speaking.
  • Students receive a graded score rather than 'pass' or 'fail.' For example, the General Medical Council in the United Kingdom requires doctors to score B in OET with a B in each separate paper or an IELTS 7.5 with a minimum score of 7 in each paper.
  • Both a '7' in IELTS and a 'B' on the OET is considered C1 or advanced level of English by the Common European Framework of Reference.


  • 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: While there are two versions of the IELTS exam (Academic & General Training) there are 12 versions of the OET for different healthcare professions including nurses, doctors, dentists, pharmacists, optometrists, podiatrists, occupational therapists, vets, speech pathologists, dieticians, physiotherapists, and radiographers.
  • Grading: IELTS is marked out of 9 with a separate score for each pape. OET is marked from A to E with an accompanying numerical score to show your precise grade.
  • Recognition: OET is recognised by healthcare regulatory bodies in the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Dubai, Ukraine and Namibia. Meanwhile, IELTS is recognised by universities, healthcare regulatory bodies, immigration authorities and companies across the world.

Comparing OET & IELTS

Compare the key factors of both exams.

An English language test for healthcare professionals.An academic English exam most often used for entry to university.
Every part of the exam is related to real workplace scenarios for healthcare professionals.Every part of the test can be on a different topic which may/may not be related to healthcare.
The writing exam assesses your ability to communicate effectively when writing in a healthcare context (e.g. a letter of referral).The writing exam assesses your ability to construct and produce a piece of academic writing that you would be expected to produce at university (e.g. an essay).
The speaking exam assesses your ability to communicate effectively in the workplace (e.g. building relationships with your patients) in the format of role plays.The speaking exam assesses your ability to communicate clearly in an interview format discussing ideas and topics that are not always relevant to a healthcare professional.

Why candidates take OET

The Occupational English Test (OET) is an English Language Test for healthcare professionals. It is recognised by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) and the General Medical Council (GMC) in the UK and Ireland. Visit the OET website for a full list of bodies that recognise the OET. The NMC and GMC accept OET and IELTS Academic in the UK and Ireland.

What our students say...

At British Study Centres, we're here to guide you on every step of your language journey. Don't hesitate to contact us and our team of experts will be able to give you expert advice on choosing the right exam preparation course for you.

We're here to help

Still need help choosing the right exam for you? Contact us to hear from one of our expert team.