The OET September update: what you need to know
The OET exam on 9 September 2018 will be the first to feature several updates that will make the test more current, relevant and effective. The changes reflect the latest research and the feedback of candidates, experts and the many organisations that work with OET. The new test will not differ enormously from the present version, but it’s important for anyone preparing or applying for the test – or thinking about it – to understand the changes.
The first area the update addresses is the format of the test. The listening and reading sub-tests will have three parts each, rather than the current two, and the speaking sub-test will assess a wider range of communication skills. The writing sub-test will stay the same, and the exam as a whole will not be easier or harder than it is now – it will just be more reflective of the ways in which medical professionals communicate.
The way the results are reported will also change. They will now include a score out of 500 for each sub-test as well as a grade from A to E. This will give a greater insight into a candidate’s strengths and weaknesses in each skill, benefiting employers, regulatory bodies and other stakeholders – including, of course, the candidates themselves.
- Changes to the listening sub-test
The new listening sub-test will be divided into three short sections, so that overall it will be slightly shorter than it is at present. The first part, lasting around 15 minutes, will contain two dialogues between health professionals and patients. The second part will contain six conversations or monologues taking place in healthcare environments and will last around 10 minutes. The final part will contain two presentations or interviews featuring healthcare professionals and lasting around 15 minutes in total. Candidates will also hear a wider variety of accents than in the current listening test.
- Changes to the reading sub-test
The updated reading sub-test will also have one more section, but its length will not change. Part A will still be 15 minutes long and will test candidates’ ability to analyse texts quickly, but it will contain new task types, such as matching exercises and short-answer questions, as well as sentence and note completion. It will no longer be assessed through the summary completion task. Parts B and C together will last 45 minutes. Part B will contain six short documents that health professionals might encounter in the workplace, and Part C will contain two longer passages. The skills assessed in the reading sub-test – skimming, scanning, interpreting meaning from context and understanding the structures and vocabulary of English – will not change, but the texts will reflect more comprehensively the variety of reading materials encountered by people working in healthcare.
- Changes to the writing and speaking sub-tests
The writing sub-test will stay the same: a profession-specific letter based on case notes. The only change is the removal of the initial reading time, where notes could not be made. The updated Writing sub-test incorporates the initial reading time. The speaking sub-test will also remain specific to the profession of the candidate. It will still contain two dialogues between the candidate and an interlocutor playing the role of a patient or a patient’s relative or carer, but the range of speaking skills required will expand to place greater emphasis on ‘soft’ communication skills like relationship-building and understanding a patient’s perspective.
- How will the changes affect you?
Firstly, don’t be alarmed by the update. The changes have been made to improve the exam for everyone involved, from government agencies to test candidates, and the fundamental nature of the test is still the same: an assessment of English language ability in a healthcare context. Any work done to prepare for the current version of the test will not be wasted, as the focus and format of the test are only changing slightly, and candidates will have plenty of time to get used to the new features – or take the existing version of the test before it expires in August. OET and its Premium Preparation Providers will begin to release practice tests and study materials before registration for the September test opens on 21 June.
- SLC and the September update
As a Premium Preparation Provider, SLC has worked closely with OET to make sure we and our clients and students are ready for the updated test. Hundreds of hours of work have gone into revising our current courses and creating new content that will familiarise candidates with the changes to the listening, reading and speaking sub-tests. Organisations and individuals booking courses with SLC will receive the most up-to-date materials available, delivered by teachers who have been trained to highlight the new elements of the exam and develop the skills necessary to succeed in them.