IELTS Vs OET: Which Language Proficiency Test is The Best?

One of the questions that nursing students, who are planning to pursue their career abroad, frequently ask us at NCLEX Nepal is “which English language assessment test is easier, IELTS or OET?”. Well, there isn’t a straight forward answer to this question. So, in this blog, I, being a responsible member of the NCLEX Nepal team, would try and clarify my opinion about the two exams drawing from my experience of sitting both exams.

Let me give a brief overview of IELTS and OET first. International English Language Testing System (IELTS) and Occupational English Test (OET) are tests designed to evaluate one’s English language proficiency. But wait, there is a twist.

An IELTS test is such a standardized test that determines the English language proficiency of all non-native English language speakers while an OET test is specially designed for healthcare professionals (doctors and nurses) to evaluate their English communication skills in an English-speaking environment. Regulatory healthcare boards accept OET in 12 professions including medicine, nursing, pharmacy, dentistry and dietetics.
Almost all academic institutions of the United States, Canadian, Australian, Ireland, British, New Zealand, European Countries.

On the other hand, OET is accepted by the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Dubai, Ukraine, Ireland, Singapore and Namibia. Both the IELTS and OET tests are accepted as evidence of one’s English language skill by international medical and nursing registration boards such as the General Medical Council (GMC), UK, Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), UK, and the Australian Medical Council (AMC), Australia.

What are the similarities

There are a lot of similarities between IELTS and OET tests. Each test has 4 sub-tests; reading, listening, writing, and speaking. The minimum scores required are also comparable between the two tests.

The required score for IELTS is 7 in each sub-test with a 7.5 overall score while candidates sitting the OET exam need grade B (score of 350) in each sub-test. These scores are considered C1 or advanced English skills by the common European framework of reference. Hence, technically one exam is not easier than the other.

What are differences?

If you look deeper though, there are a lot of differences between the two tests. The most significant difference is the type of English language skill these tests are trying to assess. IELTS generally assesses your academic English skills and it could be for any profession. The tasks are general and could be from any topic.
However, OET assesses your medical English skills and is profession- specific. Even within the medical professional the tasks used to assess a nurse and a doctor are different. I will explain how this makes a difference in a while but let's talk about the other difference; COST.
The exam fee for IELTS is approximately AUD255 while the exam fee for OET is AUD 587. Also, the cost of preparatory classes for OET can be quite expensive compared to the ILETS. This raises a question; why are so many healthcare professionals preferring OET over IELTS considering OET costs more and technically is not easier than IELTS?

My experience with the tests

When I decided to pursue my career abroad, I found out that the first step is getting through either IELTS or OET. At that time, OET was recently coming into the fold and was a relatively unknown entity. On the other hand, I was confident in my English language skills and believed that with good practice I will be able to get the required scores in IELTS.
It took a lot of hard work and practice to hone my English language skills. At times it was difficult because the breadth of what IELTS is trying to assess is beyond the realms of health care professional communication. Trying to write a 250-word essay on topics like ‘Genetically Modified Crops’ or ‘Pollution and wildlife’ was challenging as I had little knowledge about those topics.
Similarly, in the speaking tasks, the topics were vague and I needed to speak few minutes on a topic I am not entirely confident on. In the end, I was able to get the required score but it took a lot of practice and perseverance. 2 years later, I needed to sit the English language test again for my GMC registration because my IELTS had expired.

This time around, I had clear ideas about both tests and it was easy for me to weigh in the pros and cons. While IELTS was cheap and I already had the experience of clearing it under my belt, I chose OET. The reason was that I felt IELTS was a lot riskier than OET. Sure I got the required score last time but there were a lot of factors at play that time. For example, the topic of the writing task on my IELTS was something I was familiar with and that helped me a lot to score high in the writing sub-test which is one of the banana skins of the IELTS exam. So, I booked my OET exam giving myself a time of 1 month to prepare.

Since I had some materials for OET available, I decided to give it a go without any formal classes. However, I would not recommend this for everyone asa majority of the candidates require preparatory classes to do well in the exam.

Without the classes sometimes you can be lost and aimless in your preparation. Similarly speaking task was another welcome difference between IELTS and OET for me. It consists of a role-play scenario with a patient where all the details are already provided and all you need to do is organize it and deliver it to the patient coherently and professionally.

After a month of preparation, I was pretty confident on the exam day and the exam went without any glitches. I got my results after a few weeks and they were even better than I expected.

Which one is easier?