Specialist Language Courses

OET Forum, London, August 29th 2018

 It was a pleasure to have both attended and spoken at the OET Forum in London yesterday.

The keynotes from Tim McNamara, the man behind the development of OET 30 years ago, and Jonathan Silverman, both of which examined what matters in healthcare communication and how this can be applied to English language testing via the OET were of particular interest. As an ESP (English for Specific Purposes) specialist company, this is something we think about a lot.

It seems to me that significant progress is being made in terms of researching, defining and applying healthcare communication skills to the marking criteria in both the Speaking and the Writing papers. The new Speaking criteria being used from September now explicitly ask examiners to look at both linguistic features – grammar, fluency, intelligibility and appropriateness – and clinical communication, including relationship building, gathering and giving information, showing empathy and structuring the conversation. The influence of Silverman’s Calgary Cambridge Guides used by doctors around the UK is clear here. The criteria for OET Writing appear to be following suit, with McNamara highlighting the importance of appropriateness, conciseness, sufficiency of information, clinical accuracy and clarity in the writing produced by healthcare professionals.

The talks on from the panel of both healthcare and language professionals and from Dr Hilal Al Sabti, the Executive president of the Oman Medical Speciality Board, were also highly interesting, emphasising the complexity of communication in healthcare and the need for ongoing professional development for healthcare professionals, irrespective of background. Some great points were made about the issues around culture and how these impact on areas such as the willingness to challenge a decision made by a more senior professional.

The other talks on refugee doctors and how well they are adapting to OET, and on the updates to the test and the thinking behind the changes were also informative and useful. It was good to see our academic team take plenty of notes on the latter.  

My talk was one of three presentations on how OET preparation training has been going in practice. I was able to present the results we had from the OET pilot we ran earlier this year, as well as some early results from group courses we have been running for NHS Trusts around the UK. The data is certainly very encouraging – 56% achieving four Grade Bs with 81% of Bs achieved cross the four sub-tests – and a clear breakdown by skill highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of our candidates.


So, a large ‘thank you’ to OET for organising an excellent day. Looking forward very much to next year’s event.

Download the presentation here: OET Pilot, Early Results, Critical Success Factors