Home MedEducation & Residency IELTS vs OET: Structure, Advantages, Similarities & Differences

IELTS vs OET: Structure, Advantages, Similarities & Differences

A lot of doctors planning to write PLAB are hung up on choosing between writing either IELTS and OET. If you are thinking about taking PLAB, you will need to write one of these exams to prove your English proficiency before you can even take PLAB 1.

Those who are opting for a postgraduate or a sponsored route for registration in the UK will only need to take an English proficiency test when applying for GMC registration.

If you are looking to apply for eligibility for the UK foundation program, you will also need an English proficiency test as part of your eligibility application. So it is very important to think about which exam is best for you.


Structure of IELTS

IELTS is probably the most common English proficiency test. It involves assessment on four modules. These modules are reading, writing, speaking and listening. IELTS assesses if you meet the criteria qualifications and requirements for PLAB, GMC registration or the foundation program.

There is a lot of confusion as to what version of IELTS to book. To clear this confusion, all you have to do is book the academic version of IELTS. Previously, most people were advised to take IELTS for UKVI because this saves you the stress of taking IELTS again when applying for your visa to work in the UK but now you don’t have to worry about that. IELTS Academic is the one you should go for.

For PLAB or GMC registration, you need to at least get a 7 in each module and 7.5 overall. That means in order to get a 7.5 overall, you cannot just get a straight 7 in every module. You will need to score a little bit more than 7 in one of the modules to push up your overall score above 7.5.

Those who are looking to get into the UK foundation program or a standalone program need a 7.5 in each module and 7.5 overall. When you are thinking about which one you need and what you actually need to score remember what’s applicable to you.

When you are taking the IELTS exam, you should remember that it is the most recent IELTS that will be considered. Even if you get a rechecked version and your recheck comes back after you have resat IELTS, your most valid and most recent one would actually be the rechecked version. Don’t recheck and then take an exam unless you have a good enough amount of a buffer in between.

Advantages of IELTS over OET

  • IELTS tends to be more available and pretty much easier to book.
  • It is also done regularly and creates a bit of ease to book when compared to OET.
  • IELTS tends to be considerably less expensive than OET.

Structure of OET

OET also tests the same four modules as IELTS; reading, writing, speaking and listening. However, OET has a numerical and an alphabetical scoring system. For GMC registration, the minimum score is a B across board (OET Grade B = 350 ~440). If you are applying  for the foundation programme or standalone, you need to score 400 across board.

You also need to know that OET allows a resit in certain subsets but this is not acceptable by the GMC. It has to be in one sitting and has to be the most recent sitting of that exam just like with IELTS. Both of the exams currently have at-home versions and the GMC has said it will accept these at-home versions.

Differences between IELTS & OET

Because of the nature of IELTS and its fairly wide availability, it isn’t necessarily specific to you as a doctor. Anyone thinking of going abroad will need to take IELTS at some point especially if it is for another professional kind of qualification or degree. For this reason, the exam is fairly generic and does not have to do with anything specific to your profession or qualification.

OET, on the other hand, has a medicine subset that you would be applying for. It has its own special exam for doctors and that’s what you are going to apply for.  So every single module will be based around medicine.

Because of this, you discover that the reading might be on some sort of medical topic, the speaking portion might be you talking to a patient and having sort of discourse about whatever topic you’ve picked up on your cue card, the writing module could involve you writing a discharge summary and the listening could involve you listening to some sort of conversation that is medical related.

Some people feel it is much easier for them to prepare for OET because it has an aspect of medicine to it and they are used to speaking English in that way or at least using English comfortably in that manner as compared to IELTS where they may not be as fluent or as confident conversationally.

Should you take IELTS or OET?

The decision to take any one of the two is subjective. Your decision depends on your fluency, your confidence, and your general know-how in English.

It is advisable that you assess yourself at the most basic level by taking mock exams for IELTS or OET without practicing or trying to learn anything new.  When you get the results for your mock, the one you did better in may just be so much easier for you to prepare for.

Don’t take an exam based on what others around you are doing. This is because their knowledge and method of preparation for the exam may be different.

It is important that you don’t take either exam lightly. They are very important for you to prepare for just like you would be preparing for PLAB or any other exam for your registration purpose.

It is left to you to take whatever exam you feel you will be able to best prepare for. The costs and availability of your exam of choice should also be taken into account as well but overall it’s about you and how well you think with your language experience you would be able to do in either exam.


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