Language Tests and Registrations

OET vs IELTS

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OET vs IELTS: What are the differences?


If you’re relocating to the UK to work for the NHS, you’ll be required to evidence your English language skills (this applies for both GMC registration and your Tier 2 Visa). For the many overseas Doctors looking to move to the UK, deciding which language test to complete can often be difficult and confusing. To help you choose the right English language test for you, we’ve written this blog OET vs IELTS which will cover the following:


What is OET?

OET stands for Occupational English Test.

The OET is an international English language exam that has been specifically designed for healthcare professionals. 

The OET assesses a person’s English reading, listening, writing and speaking proficiency. 

There are 12 different versions of the OET test. Each version of the test is designed for the different healthcare professions such as nursing, medicine and radiography; the reading and listening sections ae the same for each, but the speaking and writing sections are tailored to each profession.

Overseas doctors wanting to register for a licence to practice with the GMC must sit the Medicine version of the test. 

What is IELTS?

IELTS stands for International English Language Testing System.

The IELTS is an international English language exam that assesses the language proficiency of people who want to work where English is used as a language of communication. 

Like the OET, the IELTS exam assesses a person’s English reading, listening, writing and speaking capabilities however, it is not medicine or workplace specific. Instead, it covers a variety of topics designed to test a person’s language capabilities in environments where English is used.

There are two versions of the IELTS test which are available: IELTS General Training and IELTS Academic.

Medical professionals wanting to practice in the UK, will need to take the ‘Academic’ test rather than the ‘General Training’ exam.

How are both tests scored?

The IELTS scoring system ranges from 0-9 (9 being at expert skill level). 

To pass the IELTS test, an overall score of 7.5 must be achieved with a minimum of 7.0 in each of the test areas.

The OET scoring system uses grades and points ranging from Grade E (0-90 points) to Grade A (450-500 points). 

For the GMC to accept your OET certificate, you will need to score a grade B or above (350 points) across all test areas. 

Costs and Availability of OET vs IELTS

IELTS test centres are based in more than 140 countries and over 1,200 locations. The cost of the IELTS Academic and General Training is £170-£195 (depending on location) and the IELTS UKVI (UK Visas and Immigration) is £195.

In comparison, the Occupational English Test (OET) is available in 44 countries and costs approximately £330 ($587 AUD). Again, this may vary depending on location.

OET Structure

The OET exam assesses all four language skills:

  • Listening
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Speaking

The OET listening and reading sections are the same for each version of the test, but the OET speaking and writing sections are tailored to each profession. 

The listening section of the assessment lasts approximately 45 minutes, whilst the reading section is approximately 60 minutes, the writing section approximately 45 minutes and the speaking section approximately 20 minutes. 

For a comprehensive breakdown of the OET, including details on each sub-test, view our OET blog by clicking here.

IELTS Structure

The IELTS exam assesses all four language skills:

  • Listening
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Speaking

The listening section of the assessment lasts approximately 40 minutes, whilst the reading section is approximately 60 minutes, the writing section approximately 60 minutes and the speaking section approximately 11-14 minutes. 

For a comprehensive breakdown of the IELTS exam, including details on each sub-test, you can view our IELTS blog by clicking here.

Preparation for OET vs IELTS

Although the OET and IELTS are both English language tests designed to assess a persons English language skills, they are distinctively different tests: the OET is profession-specific whereas the IELTS is not. 

For this reason, preparation for the two tests follow two very different pathways.

Preparation for the IELTS will involve learning large amounts of vocabulary on several academic subjects. Those taking the IELTS will also need to learn how to write reports and essays at an advanced level.

On the other hand, preparation for the OET exam will involve learning a wide range of healthcare-related and profession-specific language. Test takers will need to know how to write a referral letter in detail at an advanced level.

For a comprehensive breakdown of the OET, including details on each sub-test, view our OET blog by clicking here.

For a comprehensive breakdown of the IELTS exam, including details on each sub-test, view our IELTS blog by clicking here.

OET vs IELTS is one test easier than the other?

There is no evidence to suggest that one English language test is easier than the other. 

The OET is however healthcare orientated. Some doctors may therefore find this test more suited to them, given their healthcare experience, knowledge and vocabulary.

Are both tests accepted by the GMC and valid for UK Visa and Immigration?

Yes, the GMC accepts both qualifications. Since late 2019, both the IELTS and the OET are also valid for UK Visa and Immigration purposes.

Still need further information?

Click here to visit the official OET website.

Click here to visit the official IELTS website.


If you are interested in working in the UK, want to discuss available job opportunities or may have already begun your journey and need further advice, please contact our team today.