Specialist Language Courses

The NMC reduces IELTS Writing requirement from 7 to 6.5


The NMC reduces IELTS Writing requirement from 7 to 6.5

SLC is delighted with the NMC’s decision to reduce the required level in the Writing paper of the Academic IELTS test from 7 to 6.5, as from December 5th 2018. 

Since 2016, international nurses have had to score 7 in the four papers of the Academic IELTS in order to show that their level of English was appropriate for delivering safe and effective care. In November last year, the OET was added to the requirements as an alternative to IELTS.

Academic IELTS was developed primarily for the Higher Education market, enabling universities to set English language scores as a prerequisite for overseas students applying for under- or post-graduate courses. Level 7 is high, typical of the requirements of a Business School or an elite university such as Oxford. Sussex University, where SLC is based, usually requires a score of 6.5.

As a result of the 2016 decision, nurses hoping to relocate to UK spent in many cases hundreds of hours preparing for IELTS. At SLC we worked with groups of nurse candidates at many Trusts and private healthcare organisations. IELTS proved a significant challenge, even for those nurses with strong levels of English, as the focus is academic across a broad range of disciplines.

Of the four papers, it was the Writing paper that consistently proved the most difficult. Candidates have to write a report on a piece of data and then a discursive essay on anything from ethics to climate change to cultural anthropology. Nurses in our experience found that to use the variety of vocabulary, complex grammar, and written structure required was something most had not even done in their own language. As a result, large numbers of candidates failed to achieve 7 and were not able to register in the UK. Many hit a ceiling of 6 or 6.5 and found that the sheer complexity of language required at 7 presented many months more of study and practice.

Understandably, many individuals and organisations also questioned the value of nurses writing English on such non-healthcare subjects at such a high level, and whether it was a useful measurement of what was required to provide excellent patient care. At SLC we were among those organisations pressing for a review.

We feel yesterday’s decision to reduce the score to 6.5 for Writing while maintaining 7 in the other papers – Speaking, Listening and Reading – is sensible and reasonable, while continuing to present a strong language safeguard to reassure patients that their nurses can communicate effectively.

We also understand that the new requirement will extend to all IELTS tests taken over the last two years – IELTS certificates are valid for two years – which will allow many of the candidates we worked with to register with the NMC. Given the current shortages, this is a timely and positive step.

Read the official NMC announcement here.