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IELTS or OET? English Tests Explained

Updated: Feb 8

Even during the height of the pandemic, the hiring of UK Nurses has not stopped. Philippines had to temporarily restrict health care workers from leaving the country for safety reasons and to address the current needs of the country. But despite these restrictions, Filipino nurses are still exploring and yearning to work overseas, particularly in the UK, in the hope of a better life.

Landing a nursing job in the UK is not difficult if you have a UK registration pin or UK Nursing license. Overseas Nurses, like us Filipinos, have to go through a process to get this pin/license. If you want to know the complete process, visit our Ultimate Guide on how to become a UK nurse.

The first step to become a UK Nurse is to pass an English test. Although Filipinos, generally, know how to communicate in English language. We have found that this is one of most common stumbling blocks Filipinos face, nowadays.

We have asked IELTS Medical, a leading training provider based in the UK about these tests. IELTS Medical has been supporting international nurses and medical practitioners in preparing for their tests (CBT, OET, IELTS and OSCE) & helping them acquire their UK registration/license. Let’s hear directly from them as they answer these key questions, including the common pitfalls of a test taker and tips on how to successfully pass the English test.

What is the difference between IELTS and OET? What are their advantages & disadvantages?

The most striking difference between IELTS Academic and OET is that the IELTS exam is a general academic exam that spans many different subjects (eg. geography, history, politics, law, economics and more). The OET exam is healthcare specific and so the knowledge you gain through the process is useful for future healthcare jobs. Both exams have advantages and disadvantages when compared to each other. For example, the IELTS exam is a comparatively less expensive exam to take (the first time). Each test costs £150 - £175 to take, whereas each OET exam is approximately £250 - £330.

On the other hand, OET claims a higher pass rate than the IELTS citing that for every 1 person who passes the IELTS, 4 pass the OET.

Another advantage of the IELTS exam is that it is more widely recognised and can be used globally for registration purposes, immigration purposes, higher education purposes and more. That said, whilst the OET is not currently as widely accepted, it is gaining wider global recognition. For example, the OET was only recently recognised by the UK Foundation programme for doctors late last year.

A final advantage the IELTS exam has over the OET is the sheer volume of resources developed for it. For example, there are many books, courses, videos and podcasts developed for the IELTS. Conversely, as it is relatively niche, the OET really only has a handful of good resources developed specifically for it. On that point, we have developed a range of books and learning materials that are available in the IELTS Medical Bookstore. Our books are not only aimed at providing you with valuable tips and tricks for the OET, but they also work to bring the OET to life for readers. We have also developed a complete online video course that is backed by the latest in AI technology. It’s available now at

What are the three common mistakes test takers make during their English test?

One of the most common mistakes we come across in lessons during writing or speaking, for example, is when our healthcare professionals answer a completely different question to the one that has been asked. Sometimes we can be guilty of rehearsing answers and wanting to tell the examiner all about what we have practised. However, because of the way that the IELTS and OET are scored, there is only so much an examiner can award in this case.

Another common mistake we come across is when candidates run out of time. Both the IELTS and OET are timed exams and candidates only have between 15 – 60 mins to complete each sub-test. It is important to practice taking the test against the clock and to get used to producing your answers within the time set.

Start by working on your accuracy – the answers need to be correct – then once you are getting the answers right, work on getting accurate within the time set.

The most common mistake of all, however, is letting your nerves get the better of you. If you have studied hard and practised a lot, you have nothing to worry about. Go in there and give it your best shot. You can do it.

Can you give your top three tips for nurses who want to take OET and/or IELTS?

In order of importance, Number 3 would be to read often and widely. It does not just need to be healthcare-based journals – so no BMJ journal subscription required just yet. Reading in English is a really good way to improve your English language skills quickly. Find something you find interesting to read and go for it. Being well read is certainly an advantage when it comes to skimming and scanning texts quickly and this also helps when it comes to generating ideas in IELTS Writing.

Number 2 would be to study the exam. Sometimes we may think, “it’s fine. I know English – I’ll just rock up and take the test.” However, both the IELTS and the OET have nuances, tips and tricks that you need to be aware of in order to score the higher marks in the exam. Good IELTS and OET instructors will not only focus on enhancing your English and Medical English skills, but will also teach you the various techniques you need to know in order to succeed. For example, all of our IELTS courses and materials focus on helping nurses to score the 7.0 overall that you need in order to progress with your registration, which is ultimately what we’d like to help you do.

And the final, most important tip – besides making sure to arrive at the test centre on time – RELAX. Both the IELTS and OET are skills-based exams and you would be doing yourself a disservice if you allow your performance to be affected by nerves. So, relax and best of luck. You’ll be great.

How is testing affected by COVID?

With IELTS and OET, for example, some centres in some countries can open in a COVID-safe way. This means that in-person tests are available, albeit in a more limited way than we are used to. In addition, around two years ago, the computer-based version of the IELTS exam was released. As an extension of this, candidates can take a digital version of the IELTS exam from home called IELTS Indicator. The IELTS Indicator tests all four skills and is available once a week. Whilst IELTS Indicator is accepted by some educational institutions, it is not currently accepted by the NMC, who cited security concerns as the main reason for this. However, the OET have developed OET@Home which also tests all four skills. By using LIVE proctors and other technological advancements, it has also focused quite heavily on the security aspect of its test. OET@Home has been accepted by the GMC and may also be accepted by the NMC too. OET@Home will be available in September 2020, which will allow candidates to be able to progress with their registration through this route.

For the NMC CBT, Pearson Vue are keeping candidates informed of the closest test centres to them, to enable testing for as many candidates as possible.

For the NMC OSCE, all three test centres reopened on Monday 20th July. All three centres are taking extra steps to make sure that candidates are kept safe during the test. For example, some stations like in-hospital resuscitation have been suspended until further notice.

Are your services only available for those in the UK? Can a nurse outside UK avail your review services?

Our in-person courses are here in the UK, for example our NMC OSCE courses take place at our centre and in UK hospitals in order to allow nurses to practice the test day experience. However, our IELTS, OET and CBT courses are global. Our online courses, for example, are available online and on-demand. You can find out more at:; and


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